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Santa Monica Sets Investigation of Police Bias Charges

December 06, 1987|TRACY WILKINSON | Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica officials, while expressing support for the city's police chief, are examining charges of racism and discrimination levelled against the police administration.

The Hawthorne-based group, Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, has called for the removal of Santa Monica Police Chief James Keane.

The group accuses Keane of tolerating racism in the department and of allowing the harassment of minority officers who have denounced problems in the department. The group charges that the department "systematically discriminates" against blacks and other minorities by unfairly denying them promotions.

Keane rejects the charges and says he welcomes an investigation.

"We may have made mistakes here, but all in all it is a good program. When a complaint is made, we don't look the other way," Keane said in an interview. "If we have problems, we certainly want to correct them."

Support for Chief

City officials voiced support for Keane and point to an "aggressive" affirmative action hiring program at the department.

Nevertheless, City Manager John Jalili last week instructed Keane to give a point-by-point response to a series of specific charges the Hawthorne group made in a leaflet. Jalili is also reviewing the methods used to promote officers.

And, in an apparent effort to defuse the conflict, Jalili has sought a meeting with Norman Curry, president of the local chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

Curry has also charged that the police administration discriminates against minorities, but has stopped short of calling for Keane's removal.

City officials say that examination of race-related problems in the department was going on before the Law Enforcement Officers for Justice focused on Santa Monica. They say the department has made "great strides" under Keane.

Law Enforcement Officers for Justice was formed earlier this year by Hawthorne police Sgt. Don Jackson to denounce alleged racism in police departments in the Los Angeles county area.

Jackson, who is on "stress leave" from the Hawthorne police force because of alleged racial harassment, said the organization claims a membership of 28 to 30 current and former police officers and 76 support employees from departments in 14 area cities. He declined however to list members, saying they feared reprisals from their superiors.

Call for Ouster

Originally, the organization had planned to circulate a petition in Santa Monica this weekend demanding Keane's ouster. Jackson now says the move is being delayed pending the outcome of the meeting between Jalili and Curry.

On Nov. 28, five members of Jackson's group and about 15 supporters canvassed Santa Monica's Pico neighborhood, distributing leaflets door-to-door which describe seven incidents, ranging from allegations of racist and sexist insults by white officers to the harassment of minority officers who have complained about racism.

One of the more recent incidents involved former Santa Monica police officer Glen Whitney, who, according to the leaflet, accused three white officers of kicking and beating a handcuffed black suspect.

Another incident involved Santa Monica officer Henry McCray who last month went on stress leave when white officers allegedly ignored calls for backup after he had formally complained about a white officer who he said referred to blacks as "niggers." (McCray is also vice president of the Santa Monica NAACP.)

Jackson attacked Keane for his public statement that he had only received one formal complaint since becoming chief in 1979.

'Problem at City Hall'

"The question now is, did the chief just forget these facts or is he just lying? In either case there is a very serious problem at City Hall," the statement says.

Jackson also pointed to the absence of blacks and women in the upper ranks. Of 11 blacks on the 150-member police force, the highest ranking is a sergeant.

Keane said the McCray case is being investigated, and the Whitney charge was investigated and could not be substantiated.

He confirmed one other case mentioned in the leaflet. A 1984 racist name-calling incident had occurred, but Keane said he had forgotten about it until now. Other charges were being investigated, he said.

Keane acknowledged that there has been a high attrition rate among minorities and women, but said that the department is rigorous, and that officers who have not been promoted generally have not cut the mustard.

'Color-Blind Process'

Keane said the yearlong training program for probationary officers "seems to be a color-blind process" and said that 32% of the department's personnel consisted of minorities and women.

Jackson's campaign, meanwhile, may run the risk of creating a backlash, some observers suggested.

"Long before (Jackson's) group jumped on the band wagon . . . the city staff was paying attention to and addressing these concerns," Mayor James Conn said. "If they knew the situation better, they would not point to the chief."

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