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Panel Sides With Chief on Alarm Disclosure

February 12, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Commission refused Tuesday to grant a Times request for information about the number of false alarms at the homes and offices of Mayor James K. Hahn and the 15 City Council members.

Citing security concerns, the five-member civilian panel said it would not overrule Police Chief William J. Bratton's decision to withhold the information.

"There's a higher obligation and responsibility for the protection of public officials today," said commission President Rick Caruso. He also said he fears that releasing the data would create "a slippery slope" allowing the media access to other information that could jeopardize the safety of public officials.

The Times made the request Jan. 21 under the California Public Records Act after the commission approved a policy ending police responses to unverified burglar alarms.

The homes and offices of the city's elected officials are exempt from the policy, however, and will continue to receive priority responses from the LAPD.

The commission took up The Times' request after Bratton blocked release of the data.

The chief told the commission that he has a standing policy not to divulge details about security arrangements for public officials.

"If I had my way, you wouldn't know that they have alarms in their homes," said Bratton, adding that he would not release the information unless ordered to do so.

"Sorry," he said. "So go ahead and sue us."

Assistant City Atty. Mark Burton told the panel that the data about the false alarms are public information, but added that the police chief could withhold them for security reasons.

Jean-Paul Jassy, an attorney representing The Times, argued that the information the newspaper is seeking would not threaten city officials.

"Chief Bratton's position is counterintuitive," Jassy said. "Releasing this information would inform the public that the LAPD responds promptly to all alarms -- including false alarms -- at city officials' homes and offices. This would deter crime and would not pose a safety risk as the chief suggests."

But a majority of commissioners said their desire for openness was outweighed by the concerns raised by Bratton.

Police Commissioner David S. Cunningham III said that in a post-9/11 climate, with the looming threat of war with Iraq, "This is something that we need to slow down and be cautious about."

Added Caruso: "This is not the issue that I chose to break ranks with the chief of police on. His position is pretty adamant. I think we should defer to his wisdom."

Commissioners Silvia Saucedo and Herbert F. Boeckmann II, however, said they disagreed with Bratton's position.

"I really don't see how any public official could be prejudiced by releasing the numbers," Saucedo said.

But neither she nor Boeckmann made a motion to release the data.

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