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Police Union Prepares to Take Its Case to the People

June 25, 1989|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The beleaguered police union, which is involved in a bitter battle with Police Chief Lawrence Binkley, plans to take its case directly to the people in a door-to-door campaign beginning this week.

Off-duty officers will hang messages on doorknobs proclaiming: "We do more than negotiate employee benefits, we also negotiate service levels for the community," Police Officers Assn. President Mike Tracy said.

The campaign is part of the union's new emphasis on public relations, which is geared to gain support for police. The union is also attempting to recover from a series of events that occurred after the Don Jackson case focused national attention on the Long Beach police in January.

Since Jackson's arrest, which was secretly taped by a television crew and showed an officer apparently shoving the black activist's head through a window, officers have come under greater scrutiny by the public and the police administration.

Among other things, Binkley ordered an in-depth review of use of force in the department and a phone sting that caught officers refusing to take complaints about police from the public.

Both Have Complaints

Union leaders complain about Binkley's style of management and policies, while Binkley complains that the union is meddling in his decisions because it does not like his discipline.

Now, with both sides locked in heated contract negotiations, the chief and union leaders increasingly have been taking their complaints about each other to the public, much to the dismay of elected officials who would prefer that the feud remain in-house.

Recently, Binkley and Tracy made separate appearances on a local cable talk show. And both have stepped up their appearances before community groups.

"We need help," union spokesman Dan Mallonee told the Junior Chamber of Commerce Wednesday night. "Because we don't get help from the press, we're coming to you to tell you our side of the story.

"We've been told that we're big, and we're bad and we're ugly. We're not ugly. We're not bad for the community. Our guys want to do our jobs," Mallonee said. "We are worried about our schools and growth . . . just as you folks are."

In launching its new program of "public awareness and crime prevention," the union will ask residents to sign a list of supporters, Tracy said. The goal is 9,000 signatures, or 1,000 signatures from each of the city's nine districts, in a campaign called "Network 9,000," he continued.

"The more powerful the Police Officers Assn. is, the more secure people will be in their homes," Tracy said. He said the association represents all but about 20 of the department's 650 police officers.

'Not Optimistic'

Binkley, who has called the local police union the strongest in the country and has repeatedly complained that union leaders would like to get rid of him, said he is "not optimistic" about the motives behind the program.

The chief defended his own appearances before various groups by noting that he has "been doing this" for more than two years. He became police chief in 1987. "Public relations is part of my job," he said.

But Binkley questioned the union's campaign to take its case to people's doorsteps. "I think their intention is to gain a political base," Binkley said.

The messages hung on doorknobs by police will include a questionnaire asking residents what they think should be police priorities. Because the questionnaires were not completed by late last week, Tracy said he did not know their exact wording. He also could not say how many would be distributed or how much they would cost.

The questionnaires, he said, would ask people what they consider more important: writing tickets, arresting burglars, arresting gang members or other police activities. Once union leaders identify residents' priorities, they can set up programs to deal with those concerns, Tracy said.

And that could result in further deterioration in the relations between the union and the chief, who has consistently complained that the union meddles in management decisions.

Tracy predicts, for example, that a likely priority with the public will be police response time. In setting up a program for quicker police response, "we could be talking about deployment and dispatching priorities," Tracy said. Union leaders have been critical of Binkley's creation of several task forces and what they say is his emphasis on traffic enforcement. "We don't feel that enough attention is directed to calls for services," Tracy said.

'I'll Go Golfing'

Binkley responded: "If the citizens of Long Beach want the union to decide deployment . . . (and other management issues,) I'll go golfing. I've got stuff to do."

During an interview on Simmons Cable "We the People" show on May 15, Binkley alluded to the door-to-door campaign, saying at the time: "I'm not very optimistic about the union coming around to be supportive. As a matter of fact, it's my understanding that they're developing precincts now to rally support in the city to get a new chief."

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