The Hawthorne Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into allegations by a police sergeant that officers frequently use racial slurs in the station house and in the field.
Police Chief Kenneth Stonebraker acknowledged that an investigation is under way but said he has been advised by the city attorney not to discuss the matter.
Officers at the station Thursday night also declined to comment.
Sgt. Don Jackson, 29, a five-year veteran who was promoted to sergeant in December, said he went to Stonebraker last month and complained that derogatory terms such as "niggers," "wetbacks" and "gooks" are frequently used to describe non-whites at morning patrol briefings and in the field.
"You can't say all those things about 'niggers' and then expect to go out in the field and treat black people normally," Jackson, who is black, said in an interview. "The Police Department is the most visible branch of government. How can police officers talk like that and then expect minorities to get any justice?"
Of the department's 80 sworn officers, four are black and three are Latino.
Jackson was placed on administrative leave with pay after he told supervisors that he feared working in the field with some of the officers whose remarks he had reported to Stonebraker. Jackson said he has heard racial slurs in the department since he arrived in 1982 from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, including comments by his Hawthorne training officers.
He said he sometimes complained to the officers making the slurs, but did not make a formal complaint until he went to Stonebraker last month. He said he decided to go to the chief and the media because the continued racial harassment has disillusioned him about police work.
"I dislike my work environment," he said. "This has made me suspicious of whites as a group, which is a bad feeling to have. I did not feel this way when I started the job."
Jackson said he decided to go public with the problem last week so that pressure could be applied to resolve it.
Jackson said that on more than one occasion an officer brought a lawn statue of a black jockey into the morning police briefing and made racist jokes. Racial slurs and jokes often have been posted on a board in the briefing room, he said.
He said that Holly Park, a predominantly black area of the city, is often the butt of jokes and that several officers have joked that the area should be bombed with napalm.
He said training officers told him that any blacks seen in Bodger Park or Holly Glen, two areas almost exclusively white, were to be stopped.
Two other blacks dealing with Hawthorne officers said they have felt racial harassment directly or indirectly.
Kimberly Evans, 26, a Hawthorne police service officer for the past five years, said she, too, has frequently heard officers make racial slurs in the station.
A black police dispatcher who asked not to be identified said Hawthorne police officers frequently complain that black dispatchers slur their words and mumble. The dispatcher, who works for a regional center serving five police departments, said officers from the other cities have not complained.
The dispatcher told of a recent incident where Hawthorne officers were making disparaging remarks about Latino burglary suspects over a police radio frequency. The dispatcher said an officer from another department told the Hawthorne officers to stop making such remarks over the radio.
Jackson said he was increasingly harassed after he was promoted to sergeant in December after finishing first in the sergeant's exam.
He said that, on his second day of briefings as a sergeant, an officer gave him what was described as a training videotape. He said it turned out to be a tape of an old "Amos 'n' Andy" show, a 1950s television series featuring two black comics that many blacks today regard as racist caricatures.
Report Called a Joke
A few days later, Jackson said, he was given a fictitious intoxication report to review. The report, apparently a joke, Jackson said, described a drunk black man and contained pejorative stereotypes of blacks.
Jackson said that in his first two months as a sergeant, former peers whom he was then supervising repeatedly accused him of not being available to respond to radio calls and of showing preferential treatment to black suspects.
An internal investigation into those charges, according to Jackson, resulted in a finding of negligence for failing to properly file a report. It was recommended that he be suspended for two weeks without pay.
Jackson said he became incensed with the recommended discipline, particularly since he said other officers who had been found guilty in the past of more serious offenses--being intoxicated on the job and beating suspects--were not dealt with as harshly.
He said he stormed out of the station and did not return for two weeks. During that time, the punishment was reduced by the chief to a written reprimand, he said. The two weeks off were considered as paid injury time off because of the stress he was feeling, he said.
Stonebraker could not comment on that investigation because it is a personnel matter, which by state law is treated confidentially.
Between the time he complained to the chief about the racial slurs and April 9, when he started the current leave, Jackson said he was ostracized by the other officers.
"When I would walk down a hallway, they would walk on the other side," he said. "When I entered a room, they would all quiet down."
Jackson said that the worst part of this situation is that the accused officers do not consider their remarks a problems.
"They think this is all good fun," he said.