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Hawthorne Task Force Will Act on Race Bias Complaints

June 18, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

In response to a police sergeant's allegation that officers frequently use racial slurs, Hawthorne officials have set up a system to resolve racial problems and promote equal employment opportunities.

The city has established a permanent task force made up of minority employees to hear and investigate discrimination complaints and make recommendations.

In addition, all 324 city employees--25% of whom are minorities--will be required to attend workshops on cultural awareness and sensitivity. Supervisors will receive training on discipline procedures to assure consistency.

In the area of affirmative action, the personnel department and the task force will form a committee to set up guidelines to assure fairness in recruitment and promotion of minorities.

Minorities make up nearly 55% of the city's 62,000 residents, city spokesman Tom Quintana said.

In announcing the steps at a press conference Tuesday, City Council members and other officials said the city will deal aggressively with racial and sexual harassment, but they declined to comment on the sergeant's allegations or on the racial climate in the city.

The various steps were recommended by Booker T. Neal, a mediator with the U. S. Department of Justice's community relations service in San Francisco, who was called in to assist the city after Sgt. Don Jackson made the allegations of racism in April.

In an interview, Neal said his inquiry was never intended to determine the validity of the allegations, but to help identify and resolve the "real, potential or perceived racial problems that might exist within the city's work force."

Neal interviewed virtually all minority city employees but declined to say whether he believed Jackson's allegations or whether racism is widespread in the city.

"It's a difficult question to answer," Neal said. "Every city in America has racial problems. The question is: What is a city willing to do to address this problem?

"In this case, the employees were candid and the city was very cooperative. It wouldn't have worked if both sides didn't cooperate. They have made a good-faith effort to work together."

City Manager R. Kenneth Jue said the Police Department is continuing its internal investigation of Jackson's allegation. He would not say when it will be completed.

Jackson, a five-year veteran who is black, told The Times in an interview that officers frequently used slurs to describe nonwhites at morning patrol briefings and in the field.

He said racial slurs and jokes were posted on a board in the briefing room and that he was increasingly harassed after he was promoted to sergeant last December over a white officer who had been with the department longer.

He said he had complained to Chief Kenneth Stonebraker in March and went public a month later because the racial harassment continued and he was becoming disillusioned with police work.

Jackson, who is on paid medical leave because of stress, applauded the creation of the minority task force and said that if a similar system had been in place his problems may have been resolved.

"I'm almost certain that if I had had an avenue other than the press, my situation would not have developed as it has," he said. "It's long overdue. I'm glad that they are finally doing something. A qualified employee trying to perform his duty should not go through what I had to to bring attention to the problem."

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