A mediator with the U. S. Justice Department plans to work with Santa Monica officials and police officers following charges by a local chapter of the NAACP that the Police Department has discriminated against black officers.
Vermont McKinney, senior mediator at the Justice Department's Community Relations Service in San Francisco, said his job will be to mediate among the parties rather than to investigate the charges.
McKinney said he was making initial contacts with key people involved, including Santa Monica's police chief, city officials and some of the former black officers whose charges prompted the complaint from the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
"We are currently conducting an assessment," McKinney said in a telephone interview.
The 250-member Santa Monica chapter of the NAACP last week asked the Justice Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate hiring and promotion practices by the Santa Monica police, charging that racism had "totally excluded (black officers) in the management process."
Norman Curry, president of the local NAACP, said the request was based on three complaints this year from black officers who felt they were treated unfairly, dismissed or denied promotion because of race.
"Black officers feel locked into (low-ranking) positions" in the Santa Monica Police Department, Curry said. "They feel they're going to be street cops all their life."
He said the most frequent complaint involved inability of some black officers to pass their probation period because of what those officers say is bias on the part of officers in charge of the probation.
Other incidents of racism that have been reported in Santa Monica include derogatory cartoons on the department bulletin board, the use of racial slurs and the telling of ethnic jokes in locker rooms.
Santa Monica Police Chief James Keane said last week he would welcome any "impartial investigation" at the department and defended the department's hiring record.
"I think we have a good program, and an investigation will show that," Keane said. He said he has only received one formal complaint related to racism.
There are 11 blacks on the 150-member Santa Monica police force. The highest rank held by a black is sergeant.
Curry said McKinney has already contacted him. Curry said he told McKinney that he was willing to sit down and talk with police officials but that he was skeptical of their willingness to change practices.
The Community Relations Service is a "conciliation and mediation" agency that seeks to meet with all parties in conflict and find a way to resolve differences, McKinney said.
He said he was "touching base" with people involved to "see what the issues are and see what is amenable to mediation."
He said he hoped to determine "what each group has in mind for resolving the concerns."
Earlier this year, the city hired a consultant to study attitudes toward race and women on the work force at the Police Department following complaints from several black officers.
The city was also concerned about a high attrition rate among minorities and women on the police force.
The consultant, Nat Trives, a former mayor of Santa Monica and former police sergeant, surveyed members of the police force and later held "cultural awareness" seminars.
Trives will make recommendations to the department based on his findings, Keane said.
Curry was critical of the program, saying it did not address the problem.
"It fell way short," Curry said. "It was a miserable attempt to say 'this will solve the problem.' "