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New Police Chief Viewed as in Touch With Rank and File : Law enforcement: William C. Ellis gets high marks for fairness and hard work. But he inherits a troubled force that still may be replaced by the Sheriff's Department.

March 08, 1992|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — A reputation for fairness, amiability and hard work all helped land William C. Ellis the job of police chief last week.

It helped too that he was a 27-year veteran of the Long Beach Police Department.

"I believe he has won respect within the department," said City Manager James C. Hankla, who appointed Ellis chief of the state's fifth-largest police department on Wednesday.

Ellis is in many respects the opposite of his predecessor.

Where Lawrence L. Binkley was known as a stern, authoritarian manager reviled by many of his officers, Ellis is considered a thoughtful supervisor who is popular with the troops.

"With Ellis, you know you'll be treated fairly and evenly," said patrol Sgt. Edward Cavanaugh, a 19-year veteran with the department. "(Ellis has) given us dignity and respect. We're all here to do a good job."

The choice especially pleased those who complained five years ago when officials went outside the department to hire Binkley from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Binkley remained an outsider, and his authoritative management style alienated employees from patrol officers to the command staff, who accused him of being vindictive and unfair.

Hankla appointed Ellis interim chief in December while investigating Binkley. Less than a month later, Hankla fired Binkley, saying he had lost confidence in the chief's leadership and judgment.

The city manager said he considered conducting a nationwide search for a new chief but opted to stick to Long Beach and to Ellis, who will make $100,000 a year.

"I concluded that I could find no better person for the job than Bill Ellis," Hankla said.

But even a popular, respected chief faces a difficult job.

Ellis has become the head of a strife-torn department that is in danger of being abolished and replaced by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. He assumed command at a time when crime is increasing in the city. And he's been asked to keep his budget at $91 million, the same level as last year.

Yet, his biggest challenge may be healing the wounds that festered during the Binkley years. And some police officers and city officials say that healing has already begun.

"He's already healed the department just in the time he's been the acting chief," said homicide Detective William B. Collette.

Ellis allows those below him to make decisions and to take responsibility for them, employees say.

"When you take a case to Bill Ellis and say you need to go out of state, he will say, 'You haven't left yet?' " Collette said. "He leaves the decision up to us. He trusts us."

And Ellis does not hesitate to help officers get their jobs done, Collette said.

"I can recall a case when we had to look for a small child at the Puente (Hills) Landfill. Chief Ellis was there right next to us with a shovel, helping us dig for that child for three days. That's the kind of guy he is."

Because he has worked in the department for so long, Ellis is familiar with many divisions. He worked in the detective, support services, budget management and other units, allowing him to "know most of the people fairly well," Ellis said.

Some officers believe that Ellis' appointment will bring more stability to the Police Department, helping improve its battered image in the community and boosting its chances for survival.

The Long Beach police union is fighting a proposal to abolish the 84-year-old Police Department in favor of contracting with the Sheriff's Department, which already patrols about one-fifth of the city.

Although the Police Officers Assn. has kicked off a public relations campaign to save the department, Ellis said he is staying out of the controversy. "It's not our role to become embroiled in the sheriff's issue," Ellis said.

Since Ellis became acting chief, he "has made important operational changes," Hankla said. One change is a new discipline policy.

Binkley billed himself as a strict disciplinarian who conducted his own in-house stings and sharply increased the number of internal affairs investigations against officers.

After becoming acting chief, Ellis told his commanders to consider whether an officer received proper training before deciding on discipline. An officer who made "an honest mistake" because of a lack of training may receive the training rather than a reprimand, Cmdr. Jerry Lance said.

But Ellis disciplines officers when it is necessary, officers said. For example, Ellis recently suspended a veteran officer for two days for failing to take down a crime report, said Paul Chastain, president of the Police Officers Assn.

"The officer should have known better," Chastain said.

Ellis has promised to work with the police union, which represents more than 600 of the 685-member department.

And the new chief said he will increase the number of officers on patrol and streamline his department by reducing the number of bureaus and commanders.

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