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Former Chief Turns Focus to New Force

Police: Bayan Lewis, onetime acting head of LAPD, is helping to combine county agencies. But standards vary, and time is short.

January 04, 1998|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Bayan Lewis is ringing in the new year with a new job but the same familiar career.

Lewis has been picked to head a new Los Angeles County government police force that will automatically become one of the largest in Southern California.

County officials have selected Lewis to head their Office of County Security, which will be responsible for patrolling a vast network of hospitals and health clinics, parks, welfare offices and other public facilities.

Lewis, 55, admits that he has his work cut out for him. Those facilities are now patrolled by about 700 officers who work for three independent public safety agencies with widely varying standards for training, discipline and deployment.

Lewis, who will make $95,650 a year, must turn that hodgepodge of public safety officers into one cohesive and well-trained unit. And the job must be done quickly so that the county can turn the agency over to the Sheriff's Department by 2000 in accordance with the Board of Supervisors' wishes.

"I think the supervisors wanted to put everyone under one umbrella, so they're all singing from the same sheet of music," Lewis said.

To achieve that, he plans to use the Sheriff's Department's standards as a bible of sorts during the consolidation process.

He wants to avoid "the same huge problems that happened with the conversion of the MTA police into the LAPD and Sheriff's Department," he said.

In that conversion last fall, the LAPD and Sheriff Sherman Block sought to absorb the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's police and assume responsibility for patrolling the MTA's trains and stations.

The move was fraught with problems. Most serious was that many MTA officers had problems that arose during background checks, leaving them unqualified for the LAPD or Sheriff's Department.

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Eventually, the consolidation problems were resolved, but it took more than two years.

County officials have wanted the Sheriff's Department to assume control of their three public safety departments for years, but Block balked, saying privately that it would be too hard to bring the officers up to the standards of his own deputies.

But he dropped his resistance after the county allocated more funds for training and consolidating the separate agencies.

The various county police agencies have been plagued by problems in recent years, and their officers are woefully underpaid and, in some cases, not well trained, county officials said. The county safety officers work for the departments of Health Services, Internal Services and Parks and Recreation.

In recent years, there have been assaults, attacks and even fatal shootings in parks, welfare offices and county hospitals.

County officials have said they worry that such conditions will get worse as funds for health and welfare are cut even more.

The consolidation will cost the county about $3.6 million extra a year, but the supervisors said it will be worth the money to have one unified police force that can be deployed anywhere within county facilities.

The annual budget for the Office of County Security will be about $43 million next year, Lewis said.

Although county officials posted the job in November, they had already asked Lewis to consider accepting the post because they thought they needed a strong and highly visible leader.

Lewis said county Personnel Director Michael J. Henry told him that two other candidates were interviewed, both from the existing three county public safety agencies.

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Neither Henry nor the personnel officer working on the selection process, Jeffrey Samsom, were available for comment.

Lewis's credentials include serving three decades with the Los Angeles Police Department, the last three months as chief.

He accepted the top LAPD job last May, bridging the gap between deposed Chief Willie L. Williams and a new chief while the selection process was underway. Chief Bernard C. Parks was selected later in the summer.

Although his tenure was one of the briefest in LAPD history, Lewis was credited for leaving a noticeable mark, moving quickly to address a range of thorny issues and injecting life and leadership into a department that had been adrift and demoralized for at least a year.

Lewis said he hopes to do the same with county police officers, whom he described as mostly good and qualified personnel who had suffered under years of low pay, poor equipment and a "stepchild" mentality generated by laboring in the shadow of the Sheriff's Department.

He has set up various committees in an effort to consolidate the operations and improve officer training as soon as possible.

Each of the three existing agencies has its own 24-hour communications center. Lewis plans to consolidate them into one network so all officers can operate on the same communications frequency.

One task force will look at that issue and how to best upgrade all communications and dispatch equipment, which Lewis said was outmoded.

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