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Police Not So Quick to Accept LAPD Report : Christopher Commission: Some say their small size and structure help them avoid many of the abuses linked to their big-city counterparts.

July 21, 1991|Kenneth J. Garcia | This article was reported by Times staff writers Kenneth J. Garcia, Bernice Hirabayashi, John L. Mitchell and Julio Moran. It was written by Garcia

Less than a week after the Christopher Commission issued its stinging critique of the Los Angeles Police Department, a fresh copy of the thick document sat on Capt. Clarence Chapman's desk in the West Hollywood Sheriff's station.

Chapman received the report from his boss, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, with a note urging him to "carefully scrutinize" the station's operation.

The report, sent to high ranking officers throughout the sheriff's office, has particular significance for West Hollywood, where department officials have struggled for years to overcome the perception that its deputies routinely harass gays in a city where nearly a third of the 38,000 residents are gay.

Indeed, many of the panel's recommendations--especially those calling for police sensitivity training and an independent panel to review complaints of deputy misconduct--have been applied in recent years to the Sheriff's Department in West Hollywood.

"We are at the cutting edge of community policing," Chapman said. "A lot of things in what the Christopher Commission report recommends we are already doing."

In other Westside communities, police were not so quick to embrace the report. Some refused to even discuss the subject. And those who agreed to speak said there are few similarities between their small municipal departments and the huge metropolitan police force. They said their size and structure help them avoid many of the abuses linked to their big-city counterparts.

Beverly Hills Police Chief Marvin Iannone, after agreeing to discuss the commission's findings this week, canceled an interview Wednesday after he became ill. The leaders of the department's influential police union all declined to comment on the report.

Detective Shane Talbot, chairman of the Santa Monica Police Officers Assn., the union for the 171-officer department, said many of the findings in the report could be applied to the overall profession of law enforcement. But Talbot said putting them in place in small departments, such as Santa Monica, may not be practical.

Culver City Police Chief Ted Cooke declined to respond to numerous requests for comment on the Christopher Commission report.

But municipal officials who monitor the activities of the police departments in Santa Monica, Culver City and Beverly Hills, say many of the Christopher Commission's suggestions are already in place in the smaller cities.

For example, the report concluded that officers should be doing more "community policing," through such things as added foot patrols. They have long been a staple of police work in those cities.

"You can hardly go down a street in Beverly Hills without seeing some police presence," said Beverly Hills Mayor Vicki Reynolds. "This community feels protected. And the department has done a very good job with public relations."

Still, the city's recent struggles over the budget have raised questions about the department's size and the deployment of its 133 officers, triggering City Council members to call for a management audit of the force. Reynolds said the city wants to see "an independent evaluation" before making any changes in the department. The mayor added that she would expect the audit team to consider the relevancy of some of the Christopher panel's recommendations.

In Santa Monica, foot patrols can be seen in the Pico Neighborhood and along the Third Street Promenade.

"It's the new way of law enforcement, getting them out of their cars," said Chief James Keane. "It's working for us."

Lt. Bill Burck, spokesman for the Culver City department, said that police already have in place some of the reforms suggested by the panel. For example, he said that 70% of the department's 117-person force is deployed in the field. Nearly a dozen officers patrol city parks and neighborhoods by bicycle, and the department has numerous outreach programs through which police visit schools to counsel youths on truancy and drug problems.

Some of the recommendations in the Christopher Commission report on reforms in the 8,300-officer Los Angeles police force are not applicable to the smaller cities. One recommendation that has been given a lot of notice is limiting the tenure of chief to two five-year terms. In the three smaller Westside cities, the chief serves at the discretion of a city administrator and council and can be fired for a number of reasons.

Santa Monica had its own Christopher Commission-type study into allegations of racism within the department. The December, 1987, report concluded that, although racially motivated problems exist, racism does not permeate the system. The study was prepared by Nat Trives, a former mayor and police sergeant in Santa Monica.

It recommended changes in the formula used to promote officers, and in 1989, the department removed a so-called "promotability" rating by supervisors that was considered too subjective.

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