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Residents Protest LAPD's Transfer of 15 Harbor Division Officers

October 06, 1994|SUSAN WOODWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The transfer of up to 15 officers from the Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor Division will be a blow to safety and rapport in the Wilmington community, residents say.

Five officers who have worked in the harbor area for several years began work in new districts Sunday.

Two others were transferred from the division in August. Capt. Betty Kelepecz, the division's patrol commanding officer, said a third group will be transferred this month.

Kelepecz said all the officers are being replaced with police from other divisions of the LAPD.

But Raymond E. Carlson, a Wilmington resident for 36 years, is one of many residents who worry that the new officers will not have the same experience and community understanding as the ones that the Harbor Division is losing.

"The (officers) live here, work here and do their business here," the group of residents protested in a letter to Police Chief Willie L. Williams. "They know the people and the problems of the community on a personal level. This is what community-based policing should be all about."

In another letter sent to Williams, Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents the harbor area, said the transfers are causing a severe drop in morale at the division. The issue also "is beginning to have a destabilizing effect on the communities the division serves," Svorinich wrote.

Both letters ask that the transfers be reconsidered.

The transfers are administrative orders based on interviews and evaluations of officers who have been at the division for five years or more. It is the first major administrative transfer at the division in about seven years, Cmdr. David J. Gascon said.

Officer Bob Smith, 53, was transferred Sunday to the Southeast Division in Watts after working in the harbor district for 13 years. He said none of the harbor officers facing transfers want to go.

"People (in the community) see them and they know them," Smith said. "There's a trust there. When you start bringing new people in, the trust has to be developed all over again."

Smith said he will appeal the reason for his transfer--that his productivity has declined and that he and his work will improve at a new division.

"If that is the case, I should have been transferred years ago," he said. "Why transfer me now when I'm old?"

However, Kelepecz, who recommended the transfers after being at the Harbor Division for nearly a year, said the movement of officers throughout the LAPD is healthy and necessary.

Out of the division's 165 officers, she has interviewed 26 in the last four months who are eligible for transfers.

Kelepecz said the need to move officers throughout the department to new divisions has been emphasized throughout the LAPD Administration.

Some officers at the Harbor Division should have been transferred years ago, she said.

And not all the officers are being replaced with rookies.

The LAPD would not release details about the replacement officers, but Kelepecz said one is a sergeant who lives in San Pedro and has more than 20 years of experience in the LAPD.

"I think that their (community) has become very attached, and that is good. . . . It means they care about their officers," she said.

"But the new officers will be effective, if not more effective. They move here with new ideas and new eyes."

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