CAMPAIGN: Chula Vista Police Officers Give Dukakis the 3rd Degree : Chula Vista Police Put Dukakis on Firing Line

Times Staff Writer

Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis pulled into the Chula Vista Civic Center in a big black limousine Friday afternoon, and a few minutes later he was answering questions--from police officers.

“You don’t support capital punishment, do you?” one asked with a quizzical frown.

“No, I don’t,” Dukakis said. “I don’t believe in that.”

The officer wanted to know if Dukakis’ belief would stand in the way of his appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court a justice who favors capital punishment.


Dukakis shook his head. His furry eyebrows, which one officer said were “bushier than a bush,” darted back and forth.

“I don’t have litmus tests for judges,” said the Massachusetts governor, who came to Chula Vista specifically to meet with about 2 dozen of the city’s police officers, who volunteered for the less-than-one-hour session. “I have a reputation for appointing good judges. I look for people with intelligence, not necessarily people whose beliefs conform to mine.”

Mixed Reviews

Later, members of the second-largest police force in San Diego County sounded divided in their impressions of Dukakis. Several were puzzled about the stop in Chula Vista, which preceded a fund-raiser in Coronado.


“It’s in the shadow of the border,” said one officer to another. “ That’s why he stopped here.”

Mark Cox, spokesman for the city of Chula Vista, said the precedent for a president’s stop had been set before. In previous election years, Democratic contenders Jimmy Carter and Geraldine Ferraro met with Chula Vista officials--including police officers--during visits to the Southland.

Dukakis used Friday’s opportunity to comment on the beauty of Southern California--including Chula Vista. He took a hard line on drug offenders, saying he would double the size of the Drug Enforcement Administration, employ the Coast Guard on routine patrols, and back up the police “every step of the way.”

Afterward, some officers were skeptical.


‘Typical Politician’

“Sounded like a typical politician to me,” said Sgt. R. K. Strickland, 43, a 20-year veteran of the Chula Vista police force. “I fear that he’s much too liberal. He’d be as bad as Rose Bird (former chief justice of California). It took a long time to get rid of her and all the damage she did. He’d be nothing less than a return to that. Just look at the man’s record.”

Strickland, who investigates violent crime, said he has “no intention” of voting for Dukakis and that he and most of his colleagues will go the other way--and pull the lever for Vice President George Bush.

“Cops aren’t swayed by Dukakis’ coming here and wooing them in person,” Strickland said. “They just don’t want to embarrass the guy--or the Police Department--by disagreeing with him too openly.”


One who disagreed was Carol Torres, 48, who for 14 years has been a patrol officer.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but I found him very candid,” Torres said. “I liked what he said about capital punishment. Even though he doesn’t favor it, he wouldn’t deny a Supreme Court nominee who did favor it. I thought he was very honest about that. He didn’t waver one bit.”

Clearer Picture

Wayne Wooten, 33, another peace officer in Chula Vista, was noncommittal about how he is going vote but added that he was “very impressed” with the Democrat.


“Before today, I wasn’t too clear on how he stood with police officers,” Wooten said. “But, after his speech, I’d say he’s very supportive of law enforcement on every level--federal, state, local, county. I like his views on zero tolerance. I think he’ll help put a stop to drugs. That’s got to be one of the biggest issues facing the country.”

And that, several officers speculated openly, must have been the main reason Dukakis chose a police department so close to the border. Wooten said he is far more drawn to the man after meeting him in person.

“He’s much more effective this way than he is on TV,” Wooten said, as a minicam brushed by his head, missing him by inches.

The Dukakis’ entourage, which contained more than 125 TV and press reporters, pulled into the Civic Center at 4:22 p.m., greeted by several dozen well wishers and a few hecklers.


Three men wearing Halloween-like striped prison uniforms marched through the crowd, carrying banners with such epithets as, “Let me out, I’ll kill again!” They chanted for George Bush; several others chanted, “Dukakis-Bentsen in ’88!” Police and Secret Service agents narrowly averted several fights.

One woman who had no intention of fighting--she just wanted to meet the candidate, but didn’t--was 76-year-old Elaine Soucy, who grew up in Haverhill, Mass.

“I went to school with Dukakis’ mother,” said Soucy, who waved a Greek flag. “I didn’t know him, but I knew most of his family. I wrote him and told him I knew his mother. He wrote me back the nicest letter. I have it right here. He really is the nicest man, don’t you think?”