City Councilman Steve Schulte this week labeled as “totally inadequate” a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department plan to improve its image in West Hollywood’s gay community by allowing the city to help recruit new sheriff’s deputies.
“I think it’s a 3 on a scale of 10, and it’s totally inadequate to address the problem,” Schulte said of the plan, which was made public last week.
“The inference is if you cast the net wide enough in West Hollywood, you’re bound to catch some (gays), but if you do, the department doesn’t want to know about it,” he said. “That’s not gay recruitment, and gay recruitment is what we need.”
The plan, worked out after months of private talks between representatives of the Sheriff’s Department and city officials, calls for the city to help coordinate the recruitment and testing of prospective deputies in West Hollywood.
Although Sheriff’s Department officials deny that the plan is tacitly aimed at increasing the number of gays in its ranks, West Hollywood officials have made no secret that their interest in the arrangement hinges on the recruitment of gays.
The plan represents a compromise after West Hollywood officials first asked that the Sheriff’s Department itself openly recruit gays and lesbians in a way similar to that in which it recruits racial and ethnic minorities.
In addition, Sheriff Sherman Block last week gave city officials private assurances that harassment of any gays already in the department will not be tolerated should they choose to make their sexual orientation known.
Although city officials have praised the Sheriff’s Department for its crime-fighting abilities, gays have frequently complained to the City Council of being harassed by deputies. Gay rights activists have decried the fact that there are no acknowledged gays among the department’s more than 7,000 deputies.
The Sheriff’s Department provides police protection to West Hollywood--where an estimated 35% of the 37,000 residents are gay--under a contract that expires next year. About 120 deputies are assigned there.
In criticizing the plan, Schulte broke ranks with other city officials, including City Manager Paul Brotzman and Councilman John Heilman, who have been more favorable in their appraisal of it.
Brotzman called the arrangement “a real positive step in the right direction,” and Heilman said that “while it obviously is not everything we wanted, it goes a long way toward satisfying our concerns.”
The arrangement marks the first time the Sheriff’s Department has sought help in recruiting from any of the 37 cities that it patrols.
The department has long stated that it does not discriminate against any group in hiring, and a Sheriff’s Department official this week reiterated that the arrangement is not intended to target gays.
No Preferential Treatment
“We are not going to target or in any other way manifest preferential treatment based on sexual orientation,” said Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bill Baker who supervises several sheriff’s stations, including the one in West Hollywood.
But officials in West Hollywood, which pays the Sheriff’s Department $8.5 million a year for police services, have acknowledged that if it was not for complaints from the gay community about the department’s hiring policies, the talks would have never occurred.
As part of the arrangement, the city will place recruitment ads in gay publications, subject to the department’s approval of the ads, and with the understanding that the ads will not be placed in publications that contain sexually explicit material, Brotzman said.
“Our aim is going to be to get the word out throughout West Hollywood, including the gay and lesbian community, that the Sheriff’s Department is looking for applicants and that it welcomes any qualified person to apply,” he said.
“To me, the fact that the department has chosen to recruit here, and has asked us to cooperate with them in doing so, represents a real positive step in the right direction toward addressing the perception in the gay community that they’ve not been welcomed by the Sheriff’s Department in the past.”
Brotzman said he has received several calls from gays who were pleased with the arrangement and who indicated an interest in applying for jobs as sheriff’s deputies.
However, a gay activist who participated in the talks with the Sheriff’s Department joined Schulte in voicing reservations about the plan.
“I feel the city’s efforts, laudable as they are, may be for naught unless there is strong support for the hiring of openly gay people as sheriff’s deputies, and I don’t see that happening as part of this arrangement,” said Jean Conger, co-chairwoman of a city task force that last year recommended changes in Sheriff’s Department hiring policies.
Conger said she was “saddened and disappointed at the semantics of the Sheriff’s Department in not addressing the hiring of gays directly, even while I’m hopeful that the city’s effort for its part will have the effect of targeting the gay community.”
“The real proof of what this all means will be in what happens in the next several months,” she said.
Community activists were upset with the disclosure recently that of 22 formal complaints of ill treatment by sheriff’s deputies filed with West Hollywood last year all but one was ruled by the Sheriff’s Department to be unsubstantiated. City officials said that a substantial number of the complaints involved gays.
The disclosure followed two recent incidents that caused friction between the Sheriff’s Department and city officials.
Schulte complained that the arrest of a stockbroker and another man in a park for lewd conduct violated an “unwritten agreement,” established in 1984, that plainclothes deputies would not be used to make such arrests.
But Capt. Rachel Burgess, who recently was placed in charge of the West Hollywood sheriff’s station, defended the arrests, citing citizen complaints about sex acts in the park.
In the other incident, a West Hollywood hairdresser accused deputies of abandoning him rather than taking him to a hospital after he and a companion were attacked by “gay-bashers” on the street.
Deputies said the men refused help, and Burgess said the deputies “acted appropriately.”