HUNTINGTON PARK — Chief Geano Contessotto says he does not tolerate use of excessive force by his officers.
As proof, he cites his recommended firing of Officer Richard Musquiz in 1983 and disciplining of other officers during his three years as chief.
"If I know a guy has abused his authority and willfully mistreated a prisoner, I will get rid of him as soon as I can," the chief said of Musquiz, who was discharged for allegedly beating a suspect in custody that same year.
Contessotto said he also disciplined "a couple" of other officers for using excessive force in 1984 and 1985, though he declined to be specific about how many officers were disciplined. He would not say what their offenses were or what punishment was meted out.
In interviews, Contessotto said he runs a good department. The chief also dismissed a Los Angeles Times comparison of legal claims against area police departments as "totally misleading."
"They're just meaningless statistics being construed to make us look like bad guys," the chief said.
The chief said such figures are misleading because Huntington Park is a "unique" community that gives officers a "huge workload."
Number of Crimes
The latest crime statistics available from the FBI show the city had 3,263 crimes against persons and property in 1984 that included murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, theft and motor vehicle theft.
On a per-capita basis, the city crime rate was third highest in the Southeast area among cities surveyed by The Times, behind Long Beach and Compton, which had the highest per-capita crime rate in the area.
On a per-capita basis, Compton's crime rate is 46% higher, and Long Beach's 21% higher, than Huntington Park's. Both cities, however, had far fewer police brutality claims on a per-officer basis than Huntington Park.
Contessotto, 39, has been chief since 1983, when he was promoted from lieutenant, replacing Loren Russell, who retired. No other candidates from inside or outside the department were considered for the position, said Mayor Herbert A. Hennes Jr.
At the time, Hennes was the only council member who opposed Contessotto's appointment, which was approved by a 4-1 vote. Hennes said he had nothing against Contessotto but wanted competitive examinations for the job.
Mayor Pro Tem Thomas E. Jackson said in an interview that the council wanted to avoid the "rigmarole" of an extensive search because council members believed that Contessotto was well qualified for the position. The chief holds a 1969 bachelor's degree in industrial education from California State University, Los Angeles.
As chief, Contessotto is paid $56,964 a year.
In interviews, Jackson and other City Council members praised the chief for doing a good job and said the department does an effective job of holding down the crime rate.
The qualifications necessary for becoming an officer in the department are similar to those of 10 other departments in the area.
To become a Huntington Park police officer, a man or woman must be 21, have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and must complete a four-month training course at a police academy or university. The department gives written, medical and psychological exams to police applicants, as do other departments.
Huntington Park police officers are among the best paid, when compared to other area departments. The salary for Huntington Park patrol officers with three years' experience is $32,784 a year. Of 10 Southeast area departments surveyed, only Bell-Cudahy paid more, $33,120 a year. By comparison, the area's largest department, Long Beach, pays $31,440.