In a move that some city officials hope will inspire fear in criminals, a number of Santa Ana's all-white police vehicles are to be painted black and white under a trial program approved Monday despite protests from minority-group representatives and the police chief.
Chief Raymond C. Davis told the City Council that the department moved to white cars from black-and-whites in the early 1970s in a conscious effort to improve community relations. He said the switch went along with other measures designed to ease tension between residents and police, such as having all officers wear name tags and setting up foot patrols.
"It's not a desire to have a new bauble or bangle. It's not a desire to have a new item of clothing. It's much more important to us," said Davis, who called the move to white cars part of a "personal commitment" he made to the community.
The white vehicles, he said, symbolize an attitude of cooperation and non-aggression necessary to promote good relations. A return to black-and-whites would be a return to an early 1960s approach symbolized by police departments surrounded by sandbags and machine guns on the roofs, Davis warned.
However, council members, citing high crime rates and saying that they believe the Police Department is undermanned, voted 4 to 2 for the color change. Council members Robert W. Luxembourger and Patricia A. McGuigan dissented. At first, only crime-scene investigation trucks, accident-investigation station wagons and police-dog cars will be repainted; the rest of the police fleet would become black and white as replacements for current vehicles are needed. Davis estimated the cost of the repainting alone at $10,000 to $12,000.
The limited number to be painted at first, said Councilman John Acosta, will lessen the cost and give residents ample time to let the city know what they think about the issue. He said the council will be able to retain the all-white look if it is clear that residents do not like black and white. Davis said some new cars probably will be needed in about 14 months.
"Yes, I think it's time we scare some of the people in Santa Ana--the criminals," Acosta said.
Councilman Dan Young said his recent reelection campaign showed him that people in Santa Ana believe crime is the city's No. 1 issue.
"There is a lot of fear on the street," he said, adding: "We've just got to get out there and be willing to experiment."
But James Colquitt, head of the Orange County chapter of the NAACP, said he believes criminals will not be deterred by color, but that law-abiding citizens will.
"Kids relate to (the white cars)," Colquitt said. "They're not afraid to go up and say hello to an officer. If they go to black and white, I believe it won't be long before they're back to calling them 'pigs' again."
Former Councilman Ray Villa said he sees the switch as part of an overall change in the city's stance on illegal aliens. The recent election was rife with campaign mailers raising the issue, and some citizens have besieged council meetings, calling for Davis to rescind his policy of non-cooperation with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The police car change is expensive and unnecessary, Villa said. "If you want to scare people, we can dress our officers up in storm trooper uniforms and have them wear swastikas," he said.
Although McGuigan said she believes that the department's credibility will "go down the tubes" if the switch occurs, a police association spokesman said he believes that the rank-and-file police officers support the new colors.
Police association president Don Blankenship said that officers have wanted the change for a long time. He said he doesn't believe the proposal will have any effect on the city's Community Oriented Policing program.
"If that COP program works," Blankenship said, "then it wouldn't make any difference if (the cars) are white, black and white or pink."