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Missing in Inglewood

The city's police chief must step up and deal with the public's concerns about an officer-involved shooting.

July 24, 2008

Where is Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks? No, we're not asking for the undisclosed location of her current vacation. We're asking about something more important: Where is the authoritative presence and leadership a police chief should demonstrate when an officer-involved shooting has embroiled the department in crisis and the city is calling for answers?

In the last three months, Inglewood officers have shot and killed three people under questionable circumstances, most recently on Monday, with the death of Kevin Wicks. Worse, it turns out that an officer who is under investigation for a shooting in May was involved in the Wicks shooting as well.

It certainly looks bad, and Wicks' family and friends and civil rights leaders are understandably hurt and angry. But the officers deserve a fair shake too; all parties are entitled to a thorough, thoughtful and fair investigation. This is where leadership is crucial.

Seabrooks might take a page from Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton's book. When an LAPD officer shot 13-year-old Devin Brown as the teen backed a car toward him in February 2005, community outrage was immediate, but so was Bratton's response. He became a voice of calm; he listened to a community's anguish, even as he tried to halt the rush to judgment of his officer.

Bratton received word of the shooting shortly before dawn on Super Bowl Sunday. Soon he was canvassing Los Angeles, explaining how the investigation would proceed. In a meeting at the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper, he used his BlackBerry and an eyeglass case to show black leaders how Brown's stolen Camry had backed into the officer's patrol car. Then he participated in several of the 17 community conversations in a citywide Day of Dialogue.

This past May, when 19-year-old Michael Byoune was killed by Inglewood officers who fired on the vehicle he was riding in, Seabrooks' immediate response to a call from a Times reporter was to say she should not be bothered on a Sunday, a nonbusiness day. Maybe this is inexperience -- she's been on the job less than a year, and she has since called the Byoune killing a tragedy. But that's why Bratton serves as a model; he understands that good policing requires good public relations.

Wicks was a 38-year-old father of two, cherished by his family and friends, who are devastated. The outrage over his shooting is not going to just blow over. We would call for Seabrooks to return to town and take charge, but as it turns out, she's been here the whole time. It's time for her to go back to work.

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