COMPTON — The first time Compton Police Chief Hourie Taylor saw the televised videotape of one of his officers beating a teen-ager with a police baton, he was shocked, Taylor said Thursday. "I was surprised, certainly. I was shocked," Taylor said. "I'm not saying his actions were incorrect . . . but I wasn't expecting it."
The tape, showing Officer Michael Jackson hitting 17-year-old Felipe Soltero as he lay on the ground, was especially disconcerting for Taylor, who has spent the last two years trying to instill a new attitude in his 125 officers.
Ever since the videotaped beating of Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers and the riots the next year, Taylor has been putting out the word that brutal force is not acceptable in Compton, he said.
"We're still a quasi-military organization, like all police departments. But we're moving toward community-based policing and trying to sensitize our officers to the community and the ethnic diversity within it," Taylor said.
He became acting police chief just days before the riots began--after about 23 years on the Compton force--and was given the job permanently in January, 1993.
As chief, Taylor said, he has fired three officers: one for using excessive force and two for improper conduct. Two other officers left the department before they could be fired or punished for misconduct, but he would not elaborate.
"On occasion we do have people who violate procedures and we react to that as quickly as possible," Taylor said.
In describing his department's record of discipline and citizen complaints, Taylor is quick to point out that his officers labor under a heavy workload.
In 1993, when 29 citizen complaints were recorded--seven of them alleging excessive force--his officers also handled 160,000 calls for service, Taylor said. In 1992, when seven of 25 citizen complaints involved excessive use of force, the number of calls was similar, he said. This year, 14 complaints have been logged, but Taylor did not know how many of those alleged excessive force.
"I think you'll find that the ratio of complaints to radio calls is something like one-tenth of 1%," Taylor said. "That's a good record."
But some in the community are complaining that Taylor's record isn't good enough and that he should resign.
Compton attorney John Ortega said he filed a complaint of excessive force last November on behalf of two Latino youths and never heard from the department again--even after the complaint was apparently found to be without merit, he said. Compton police have declined to provide specifics about any excessive force complaints.
"I think (Taylor) has done a little bit to change," but the change has not been fast enough and Taylor should resign, Ortega said.
Taylor, however, says that change is already happening. And for an understaffed department with fewer financial resources than a big city, his officers do "a magnificent job," Taylor said.
Those who don't are quickly disciplined, he said.
Discipline is common in an officer's career, even his own, Taylor said.
Just like Jackson, who was punished with a one-day suspension in 1991 for an off-duty incident, Taylor said he was also suspended for a day in the early 1970s when he was a Compton patrolman. Although Taylor refused to elaborate on the incident for which Jackson was suspended, he did reveal the cause of his own suspension: having an on-duty collision in a patrol car.
"It's hard to go through a career without some kind of discipline," Taylor said.
"I have tried to create a mind-set that we are going to be professional in our work, or the officer will face discipline," Taylor said. "I hope that message is out there with all my officers."