Under fire because of a fatal shooting by police officers recently, the Glendale Police Department is reviewing its policy of immediately returning to duty officers involved in such an incident.
On June 1, three officers shot and killed a man wielding a TV remote-control device that was mistaken for a gun.
The officers said they fired 12 rounds at the man, Javier G. Alvarado, 23, at the intersection of Elk and Pacific avenues, because they feared he was going to shoot motorists.
Citing security concerns, Police Chief David Thompson refused to release the names of the officers or their backgrounds. All were returned to patrol duty the day after the shooting.
The Glendale policy, unlike most others in Los Angeles County, does not specifically address the aftermath of a shooting by police. Most police departments routinely transfer officers involved in shootings to administrative duty while incidents are under investigation.
The Glendale administrative manual merely provides a guideline for when use of a gun is justified: in self-defense, to stop a fleeing suspect who has threatened deadly force, or to protect people whose lives are in danger.
City Manager James M. Rez defended Glendale's policy.
"To deny them regular duty is tantamount to disciplining them," Rez said. But, he added, "Whenever we have a major crisis, it behooves us to take a look at everything, including policy."
City officials stood behind Thompson's decision to return the officers to patrol duty, but conceded in interviews this week that they are evaluating the police procedure regarding shootings.
"I back his decision not to release the names of the officers because each chief executive must decide how to run his police force," said Mayor Larry Zarian. "But there is a review of the policy going on to see if it needs to be revised."
The slaying has been heavily criticized by family and friends of Alvarado, who say he spoke little English and could not understand when police told him in English to drop the device. Alvarado had emigrated to Glendale from Mexico.
Immediately after Alvarado's death, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and a Glendale police review board launched investigations to see if there had been any violation of law during the incident. The investigations are expected to last several weeks, authorities said.
The inquiries and the criticism of the force by the press and public has had an effect on officer morale, Sgt. Steve Campbell said.
"People are acting like this is a cover-up," he said. "There is no cover-up; there really isn't."
An editorial in the Daily News, a Van Nuys-based newspaper, depicted Glendale as "Mayberry," the folksy North Carolina town from the popular Andy Griffith 1960s television series, and said the city needed to "grow up and deal with big-city problems."
"A double standard is clearly at work; if civilians had shot 23-year-old Javier Alvarado, police would not have hesitated to release their names," the editorial said.
Also criticizing the department was an editorial cartoon in the Los Angeles Herald/Examiner featuring a caricature of a Glendale police officer with a smoking gun saying, "Use a remote control . . . go to heaven."
Mayor Zarian called the cartoon "a cheap shot," and Campbell said the cartoon "shows us as non-caring individuals, and that is not the case. That hurt a lot of people who are trying to protect the citizens."
Chief Thompson at first said he would refuse to release any details of the shooting until after the police investigation was complete.
On Friday, however, after nearly a week of public pressure, Thompson issued a press release on the shooting.
In the release, Thompson alleged that Alvarado had taken LSD and PCP, both powerful hallucinogenics, on the evening he was slain. Police said they based that conclusion on interviews with witnesses who said they were with Alvarado when he took the drugs.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office said test results to show if Alvarado had drugs in his body will not be available for several weeks.
The police press release said the three officers fired on Alvarado 12 times after he "continued to hold the instrument out in front of him in a combat position and stated, 'Shoot me,' before turning and pointing at the approaching car."
Police also released the victim's criminal record, which demonstrated he had been arrested several times under a variety of aliases for burglary, assault and trespassing. Police also maintained that Alvarado could understand and speak English.
Jeffrey Bey, a Los Angeles lawyer who is representing Alvarado's widow, accused the department of "trying to obscure the fundamental issue."
Bey said: "The only issue is, at the moment they pulled the trigger, did they have justification, not what his past history is."