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CHIEF: Local Police Brass Warn Against Solicitation : Local Police Warn Against Solicitation By Chiefs Group

Times Staff Writer

‘I think it tends to besmirch the professional standards of law enforcement’

--Charles Ussery

Long Beach police chief

The letter, printed on official stationery from the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, offers what looks like a bargain.

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At no charge, the association will send residents an “Operation Identification” kit that includes a tool for engraving identification numbers on valuables so they can be recovered if stolen. The kit also includes a number for a 24-hour help line, a wallet-size membership card and decals that warn potential thieves and burglars that property has been marked for police identification.

If, after six free months, residents want to continue the service, they can do so for the “low annual fee of $15,” the letter advises.

‘Help Your Local Police’

The letter has been mailed to numerous Downey residents this month as part of a nationwide campaign conducted the past five years to “help your local police prevent burglary of your home,” according to the letter. Nationwide, about 2 million persons have paid $15 each to subscribe, said a spokesman for the association.

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But the price of the offer, said local police chiefs, can be beat by virtually every police department in California.

“It’s a waste of money,” Downey Police Chief Bill Martin said of the association’s offer. “We do everything they do for free, and we’re open 24 hours a day, too.”

Other police chiefs in Long Beach, South Gate and Montebello agreed with Martin, as did county Sheriff Sherman Block.

‘It’s Unnecessary’

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“It’s inappropriate and unnecessary,” Block said.

“If you get one in the mail, throw it in the trash,” advised Montebello Police Chief Les Sourisseau.

As president of the California Police Chiefs Assn. last year, Sourisseau said he led a protest by state police chiefs against Operation Identification, which he called “repugnant,” and unprofessional “crass commercialism.”

“We (state police chiefs) have been complaining and complaining, cussing and discussing this program” since it began in 1982, Sourisseau said, adding that the campaign sold 240,000 subscriptions in California alone last year.

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Sourisseau said state police chiefs voted last year to propose rescinding the program but, at an international association meeting last October in Salt Lake City, the request was rejected by the association’s board of directors.

Program to Continue

In an interview from his Gaithersburg, Md., office, Bob Angrisani, the association’s director of communications, said the nonprofit agency has no plans to drop Operation Identification, which currently has $30 million in annual sales and 2 million subscribers nationwide.

“We feel a commitment to continue to service those customers,” he said, adding that most of the money raised by Operation Identification is spent on the program with 8%, or $2.4 million, returned to the agency.

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Angrisani said the program was designed to augment local police services, not supplant them.

He added that his agency is better equipped than local police to track stolen goods transported between states because the international association shares information with the National Criminal Information Center computer. He said most local agencies do not do this.

Linked to Computer

Local police officials disagreed, however. In interviews, police officials in Downey, Montebello, Los Angeles, South Gate and Long Beach said their departments, and indeed almost all local police agencies in California, are hooked up to the National Criminal Information Center computer.

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“That (the international association’s) argument is without any merit whatsoever because we can put our identification numbers into the same computer service,” Montebello Chief Sourisseau said.

Letter Prompts Numerous Calls

The association’s letter has prompted numerous phone calls to police departments from Los Angeles to Long Beach, police said. Many residents call their local police departments to ask if the international association is a legitimate organization, and whether they should send away

for the kit. In some cities, such as Montebello, Downey and South Gate, police said they advise citizens against the offer.

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Representatives for the county Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department and the Long Beach Police Department said they do not offer an opinion on the association offer, but inform residents that similar services are provided free of charge by local governments.

“It’s unethical and improper,” said South Gate Police Chief Norm Phillips, who added that he tells residents not to waste their money, because a city police officer will visit their homes and perform similar services free of charge.

“We just tell them it’s the same type of program that we have, and that each one of our stations provides those services for free,” said Capt. Bill Hinkle of the sheriff’s information bureau.

Tool Loaned Free

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In Long Beach, the police department offers an engraving tool for identifying valuables at no charge at the city library.

Long Beach Police Chief Charles Ussery said he objected to the association’s campaign, saying, “I think it tends to besmirch the professional standards of law enforcement.” Ussery said residents should not be charged for services they can receive from their own police departments.

The association’s advertising campaign has particularly rankled state police chiefs because it was approved without their knowledge and infringes on their turf, Sheriff Block said in an interview.

“You have to resent a mailing that, by its very presence, infers that something is being done by this organization far removed that is not being done by your local law enforcement agencies,” Block said.

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‘No Strings’ Offer

The association letter said Operation Identification services are offered “with no strings attached,” and that by mailing in an enclosed card, a resident can receive the kit free.

The $15 membership fee also offers residents who lose their homes as a result of fire in a burglary an emergency cash loan of $2,500 that is interest-free for 30 days, the letter said. The service is not provided by local police departments.

The letter includes a postscript that said, “If your community does have an Operation Identification program, we urge you to join it now. In any case, we will provide you with six months free protection when you return the form below.”

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