In a dramatic injection of racial issues into the selection process for a new Los Angeles police chief, the vice president of the department's black officers association has asserted in a letter to city leaders that race relations would suffer if LAPD Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker became the next chief.
"Kroeker has learned over the years to become a great deceiver of people. He is one of the biggest hypocrites on the department," Sgt. Ronnie Cato said in the scathing letter, obtained by The Times, to police commissioners, City Council members and the mayor. "I fear that if this man becomes chief of police, minorities will become a permanent underclass, not only within the department, but in our communities as well."
The attack was met with disbelief by several other minority leaders, department officials and Kroeker supporters, and was characterized by Kroeker as the complaints of a "disgruntled employee."
The president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Assn., which has about 700 African American members, said the letter was not endorsed by the organization, but does convey many of the concerns that members have about Kroeker and department.
"We don't necessarily disagree," said Sgt. Leonard Ross, who is president of the group. The association has endorsed LAPD Deputy Chief Bernard Parks--Kroeker's main competitor--for the chief's job.
In his letter, Cato charged that Kroeker "will do whatever he can to please white officers at the expense of minority officers and the black community."
Kroeker, who was in New York studying police tactics in that city, said in a telephone interview that he was "deeply hurt and pained that a fellow police officer would say such ugly insults."
"There is a side of me that says that this person should be prepared for me to defend my reputation. I simply cannot allow an unprovoked attack like this to demean my character. To me, my reputation is more important than any promotion I might receive."
He added that his professional and personal conduct has demonstrated an "absolute and complete rejection of racism in my life."
The July 6 letter is the first overt airing of racial politics in a selection process in which race is bound to be, at the very least, an unspoken factor. The new head of the LAPD will take the place of the city's first black chief, Willie L. Williams, who was not rehired by the Police Commission, which cited his ineffective leadership despite his popularity among the citizenry.
Kroeker, who is white, is one of six semifinalists for the job and is believed to be one of the leading contenders. The apparent favorite, according to department observers, is Parks--who is black. The other four contenders are Latino.
Parks said Friday that he has never known Kroeker to be biased against minorities.
"That is not what I have seen over the last 30 years," Parks said.
He said he was concerned by the timing of the letter, but added that attacks against the candidates for the job are to be expected as the selection of a chief gets closer.
The Police Commission will choose three finalists, whose names will be forwarded to Mayor Richard Riordan at the end of the month. Riordan then will choose a new chief, a selection the City Council must approve.
In the letter and in a subsequent interview, Cato said that his objections to Kroeker stem from two incidents in which black officers were mistreated by white officers under Kroeker's command.
One episode involved the alleged "hazing" of a pair of black officers in a Southeast station. Cato said they were pressured by white officers to do such things as push-ups, run instead of walk to a copy machine, and stay clear of a locker room when certain white officers were using it. The other incident, he said, involved the improper showing of a movie clip containing racial slurs. The segment from "Pulp Fiction" was shown during a roll call at the 77th Division.
Kroeker declined to discuss the incidents, citing personnel restrictions.
Cato contends that Kroeker did not handle the matters properly and handed down the lightest forms of discipline possible. Kroeker said the matters were investigated thoroughly and that the discipline was commensurate with the violations.
Cato said Kroeker is a hypocrite because he talks tough about taking a hard line against officer misconduct, but does not back it up with tough punishments. Kroeker said he metes out punishment as judiciously as possible.
Cato acknowledged that he had once been disciplined by Kroeker while working under his command for disclosing confidential personnel matters to the association's members. "I accept that. I have no complaint with that. I made a mistake," Cato said Thursday.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League denounced Cato's comments, noting that Cato has lodged other inflammatory assaults on several top department officials.