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Group of Clergy to Push for Reforms Within L.B. Police

January 29, 1989|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A group of clergy plans to propose reforms in the city's Police Department, such as providing human relations training for officers and setting up a police substation in the inner city.

The group also will join several other groups in proposing the creation of a citizen review board to oversee the Police Department, said its leader, the Rev. Norman D. Copeland, pastor of the Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Copeland, who said he has the support of more than 50 ministers and rabbis, plans to propose the reforms at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The proposed reforms are the latest to surface after the arrest of Hawthorne Police Sgt. Don Jackson, who is black, during a secretly videotaped "sting" arranged by an anti-police brutality group attempting to expose alleged police racism and brutality in Long Beach.

Video Camera Hidden

In the sting operation, a crew from NBC's "Today Show" placed a hidden video camera in an old car in which Jackson was the passenger. The videotape shows Officer Mark Dickey, who is white, using obscenities and appearing to push Jackson's head into a plate glass window and to slam him against a squad car.

The district attorney's office, FBI and police department are investigating.

A spokesman for the Police Misconduct Lawyers Referral Service, the anti-brutality group working with Jackson, said the organization received 50 complaints last year from people alleging mistreatment by Long Beach police officers.

Copeland said his clerical group wants quick action. "The city has taken a position of alleged denial (and is) not responsive," Copeland said. "It can no longer be dealt with as 'business as usual.' "

Another member of the clergy group, the Rev. Bob Tanksley of the United Church of Christ added, "If the City Council is so tied up or inept . . . we're going to have to do it."

Acting Assistant Police Chief Eugene J. Brizzolara said he favors human-relations training and the suggestion to create a substation. He added, however, that the department continues to oppose a citizen review board.

"Our position is that there are adequate (ways) to address police problems and police complaints all the way from going to the City Council to the (advisory commission) to having the complaint investigated by the district attorney or the FBI," he said.

The Jackson arrest spurred the Public Safety Advisory Commission to vote last week to initiate research into how other cities have handled review boards. The commission last year suggested that the City Council set up a citizen review board, but the council took no action.

The commission airs issues related to the police and fire departments and makes recommendations to the City Council, but has no binding power over either agency.

"Now is the time for reasonable oversight in our community," said Commission Chairman Larry Davis, who had opposed a review board prior to the Jackson incident.

The Jackson incident constitutes "a lit rag in the gas can," said Carla Biersdorff, one of the speakers at last week's commission meeting. Biersdorff is vice chairman of the Lambda Democratic Club.

In supporting a citizen review board, Copeland's group will join several organizations that have revived a drive for such a panel. Supporters include the Long Beach Chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, the League of United Latin-American Citizens, Lambda club and the League of Women Voters.

The local Communist Labor Party also has joined in, with representatives passing out leaflets outside the commission meeting that urged, "Let's put the police on the defensive for a change!"

Copeland and Tanksley said they believe the ministers and rabbis in their loose-knit group have the clout it will take to force reforms in the police department.

"It comes to a point where you have to say, individually and collectively, something has to be done," Tanksley said.

He said training in human sensitivity and race relations training are necessary because some police officers apparently do not understand life in the minority community they must serve.

Brizzolara said an advisory group of black ministers made a similar suggestion last week. "I think it's a great idea," he said. Long Beach police receive some training in human relations at the city's police academy, Brizzolara said, but it could be increased.

Tanksley said the substation would help residents of the heavily minority, lower-income central area to become better acquainted with the police. It would also give officers a first-hand chance to get to know residents and their problems on a personal level.

Most Long Beach police operations are based in department headquarters on Broadway, near Magnolia Avenue.

Brizzolara said police officials have been trying to find a place for a community relations substation, but were unsuccessful in securing a vacant space at the Long Beach Plaza mall. Now, the department is considering a post at MacArthur Park or in an old bar that became the property of the city when its owner was convicted of selling cocaine. Both are on Anaheim Street.

"What they're suggesting is not out the realm of possibility," Brizzolara said.

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