LONG BEACH — Reacting to charges that a police station commander had sex with a 16-year-old Explorer Scout, the Police Department has tightened fraternization guidelines and banned patrol ride-alongs of female Explorers unless a woman officer is present, department spokesmen said last week.
The moves are intended to decrease opportunities for sexual contact between the teen-age trainees and officers and to bolster confidence in the department's 20-year-old Explorer Scout program, they said.
"This is an excellent Explorer Scout program that provides service to the department and the community . . . This type of situation never happened before, and it's not going to happen again," said Cmdr. Al Van Otterloo, to whom program supervision was recently transferred.
Patrol Lt. Robert Padilla, 46, pleaded innocent March 17 to charges of unlawful sexual intercourse and oral copulation with a minor on two occasions in late February. Prosecutors say the female Explorer and Padilla met on the job, but that the alleged sex acts took place in the lieutenant's home when both were off duty. A preliminary hearing is set for June 3 in Los Angeles Municipal Court.
The girl's father filed a $250,000 negligence claim against the city last month that said Padilla had injured her physically and psychologically. The city plans to deny the claim because there is no evidence that the alleged crimes were related to Padilla's employment, said the city attorney's office.
Shaken by the charges against the 22-year veteran--which amount to statutory rape--department heads met with top local scouting officials in March to discuss options, including disbanding the program, said police and scout spokesmen.
Too Valuable to End
Police Chief Lawrence Binkley decided that the career-training program, which uses about 20 Explorer volunteers in non-hazardous assignments, was too valuable to abandon, Van Otterloo said. But the department shored up the program's chain of command and adopted several new procedures, he said.
Now, all Explorer patrol assignments must be approved by Deputy Chief Gene Brizzolara, head of the Patrol Bureau. No female Explorers may patrol alone with male officers, and Explorer ride-alongs have been reduced overall, Van Otterloo said.
"We don't want the same (Explorer) riding with the same officer repeatedly," Brizzolara said. "For the most part they were moving around, but when you get an officer who likes to have ride-alongs you tend to overburden him."
Existing Rules Tightened
Existing prohibitions against fraternization also have been more strongly emphasized. "Because of this, everyone is monitoring the conduct of the Explorers much, much more closely," Van Otterloo said.
And, instead of relying primarily on two patrolmen to oversee the program, Community Relations head Van Otterloo has been given that responsibility, he said.
Police spokesmen emphasized that Padilla was never involved in the Explorer program. They said he apparently came in contact with the 16-year-old girl when she was doing desk work in the station.
Scouting executives also said that the Long Beach Law Enforcement Explorer program has been well-run, tarnished only by the recent allegations.
"This is an isolated incident," said Kurt Weaver, Scout executive of the Long Beach Area Council of the Boy Scouts, which administers programs in Bellflower, Signal Hill, Lakewood and Long Beach.
Bill Brush, local Explorer director, said, "Careful background checks are done on the adults and on the young people who are allowed in the program . . . But some things slip through the cracks. So what do we do? If we discourage young people from getting involved with possible role models, what do we have? Do we have gangs? That's the important thing we have to keep in mind."
However, Brush said that parent concerns are legitimate and that they should be more involved in their children's youth programs.
"I'm sure there are concerns by parents every time they see this sort of thing. I have a daughter of my own, and I would be concerned . . . if I did not know the adult leaders in the Long Beach (Explorer) post."
Wide Range of Programs
Brush said that about 2,200 local youths, ages 14 to 21, are involved in Explorer programs ranging from law to medicine to computer science. In addition to the 20 Explorers at the Long Beach Police Department, 15 work at the Lakewood sheriff's station.
Over the years, perhaps 350 youths, all at least 15 1/2 years old, have participated in the Long Beach Police Department program without incident, Brush said. The only similar local scandal was in 1983, when three Signal Hill Police Department officers were fired for allegedly having sex with a 16-year-old Explorer, he said. That post was disbanded, he said.
Allegations in Other Areas