SAN GABRIEL — Police Chief Don S. Tutich has heatedly defended his administration of the Police Department in the face of charges from rank-and-file police officers, saying that attacks on him last week were unfair and "not an appropriate way of handling a problem."
Tutich, chief of the San Gabriel Police Department for the past 12 years, said the department, far from being the ineffective and antiquated force described by his men, is coming off a peak year of arrests in some categories.
Major felonies in San Gabriel were down 10% last year from 1986, said the chief, who added that he had first learned of police officers' complaints from media reports.
The 30-member San Gabriel Police Officers' Assn. held a press conference last week to announce a unanimous "no-confidence" vote against the chief. They charged, among other things, that Tutich was refusing to cooperate with interagency drug task forces or to apply for federal or state block grants.
In one case, they said, Tutich turned down a possible $600,000 for the department as part of the assets seized by authorities from a money-laundering operation.
"I don't know what they're talking about," said Tutich in an interview. "I can't conceive of my passing up an opportunity to help in an investigation while getting $600,000 for the Police Department or the City of San Gabriel."
He said the department had cooperated in the past with multi-agency task forces, including groups dealing with burglaries, drugs and gang activity. "We've never refused to cooperate," he said. "We're involved with other agencies on a day-to-day basis."
Mayor Janis Cohen, speaking for the City Council last week, expressed "total support" for Tutich, saying his department was widely perceived in the city as being "squeaky clean."
In addition, Tutich has received unanimous support from the department's 14 staff officers, said Capt. David Lawton. "The staff officers . . . are appalled at the action taken by the union," he said.
"Chief Tutich is highly respected by all law-enforcement agencies and enjoys a personal reputation for honesty and integrity and for operating the Police Department under these guidelines."
In answering the charges, Tutich said his department has gone after block grants, including one for a state crime prevention program aimed at schoolchildren. He said the department had applied for other grants but been turned down.
"For a lot of these programs, we just haven't met the criteria," he said. "You have to show a certain level of the problem that the grant money is being applied to. In some cases there are requirements for matching funds that we really don't have."
Tutich also denied charges that emergency 911 telephone calls went unanswered because of staffing patterns that left a single officer in charge of responding to emergencies, supervising prisoners and booking suspects. He said that on rare occasions, when the department's communications center was undermanned, officers were brought in from the field to attend to prisoners and suspects.
"Since the inception of the 911 system four or five years ago, we've never received a complaint from a citizen that a 911 call was not answered," Tutich said. "Those are the kinds of calls where you're more likely to get a complaint than if you don't answer another kind of phone call."
The police officers also charged that major crimes rose significantly last year. For example, they said crimes against children were up 45% and drunk driving offenses up 68%. But Tutich contended that those figures are indications that police programs are working.
"We have a civilian psychologist who trains teachers, nurses and others to spot instances of possible child abuse," he said. "We have children coming forward now. Because of the job we're doing, there has been an increase in the number of reports."
Tutich said the drunk-driving statistic cited by the officers' group actually indicated an increase in the number of apprehended offenders, a credit to the department. He said narcotics arrests also increased last year, by 36%.
"The troops have done an outstanding job," he said. "That's one of the ironies of the situation."
Asked whether he perceived, as some city officials did last week, a political element to the allegations, Tutich said: "Probably the reason they handled it the way they did was because certain individuals were sincerely feeling that this was the way to approach something like this. I don't know."
Three of the five City Council members are up for reelection in April. The council has been engaged in rancorous debate with slow-growth advocates for more than a year. Some city officials suggested that Citizens for Responsible Development, a slow-growth group, had orchestrated the police officers' attack on Tutich to embarrass the city. The group denied that.
Tutich said he does not plan any disciplinary action against the officers for going public with their complaints. He said he would try to open new lines of communication.
"It all depends on what they feel about this," Tutich said. "Is their real intent to deal with problems, or is it just to do the thing for itself? If they want to solve problems, then communications can help."