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‘They were looking for someone apolitical, and that describes me’ : Monterey Park’s New Chief Promises ‘Reverence for Law’

Times Staff Writer

He once oversaw the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad and jail. He received praise as the department’s liaison with the gay, Latino and black communities in Los Angeles. He was in charge of cleaning up the Hollywood division in the mid-1970s when it was tainted by a scandal of alleged sexual escapades between officers and teen-age girl Explorer Scouts.

And Ken G. Hickman is a cop with a Ph.D.

Hickman, the commander of the Westside bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department, was chosen last week to replace Chief Robert Collins, who has retired.

In choosing the 48-year-old Hickman, City Manager Mark Lewis rejected Monterey Park Capt. Joseph Santoro, one of the top six candidates for the post, which attracted applicants from throughout the state. Santoro, one of the San Gabriel Valley’s most visible law enforcement officers, was the local favorite among a vocal group that presented petitions to the City Council and implored city officials to promote from within.

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“My job was to pick the best police chief, and I really believe Ken Hickman is that person,” Lewis said. “Not to take anything away from Joe (Santoro), but Ken has more experience and is better able to lead the department in the 1990s.”

As one qualification, Lewis cited Hickman’s ability to deal with different ethnic groups. More than one-half of Monterey Park is of Asian ancestry and one-third is Latino.

Despite Hickman’s qualifications, Santoro’s supporters, who come from disparate sectors in the community, say they are angry.

“I’m sure Hickman is very qualified, but Joe is also,” said Marie Purvis, a former Chamber of Commerce president.

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Santoro, considered knowledgeable about how Asian migration to Southern California has influenced crime, has his master’s in public administration from USC. As a key spokesman for the Police Department, he addressed community meetings several years ago during panic over the Night Stalker killings.

Hickman, in a 1984 interview with The Times, said he would like to be chief someday in Los Angeles. But now he will be chief in Monterey Park, which has nearly 20 times fewer residents than the Los Angeles jurisdiction he commanded until Tuesday.

1,200 Employees

“It really doesn’t matter that the city is smaller. It’s a natural step up and a chance to do more of things that I’m good at doing,” Hickman said about Monterey Park, which has an estimated population of 63,500. In his job as a Los Angeles commander, Hickman oversaw 1,200 employees who are responsible for broad sections of Los Angeles, from LAX to Hollywood to Pacific Palisades. But he said recently that as an administrator he felt “too far away from the troops.”

As far as the controversy over Santoro, Hickman said: “I understand how people have their favorites. I don’t see anything sinister about that.”

But he said any questions about who should have been selected police chief “will be resolved very quickly” once he takes over on Monday. “We’re going to be reverent to the law and let the politicians do what the politicians do.” Monterey Park officials he said, told him “they were looking for someone who is apolitical, and that describes me to a T.”

Hickman has spent his entire 26-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department.

He joined the department in 1962, not long after leaving the Army, where he had been named “Soldier of Year” for the 101st Airborne at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

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Troubled Youth

As a child of the streets of L.A., Hickman said he had a troubled youth, including membership in the Temple Street Gang. But he eventually graduated from Belmont High School, where he was class president.

While with the Los Angeles police, he completed his undergraduate degree at Pepperdine University in 1972. Two years later he finished his master’s at USC in public administration, and then, in 1983, he finished his doctorate at Claremont Graduate School. His dissertation was a pioneering study of how female patrol officers compared with males in the Los Angeles department.

Hickman has partly built his reputation on developing expertise in law enforcement research.

Today he teaches criminal justice courses part time at Cal State Long Beach and Cal State L.A.

He came under fire in 1984 while conducting a survey of attitudes among discontented captains and detective lieutenants. Chief Daryl F. Gates, who requested the study, accused Hickman of acting “damn near seditiously.”

Gates charged that Hickman made unfavorable comments about high-ranking officers while conducting the survey.

‘Happy Note’

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“That’s old news and we shook hands, and it’s all over. We agreed to disagree. And I went on to command one of the best bureaus. I like leaving on a happy note, and I feel proud to have been a part of that organization.”

In the Los Angeles department he was considered to be bright and brash. He once was the top aide to then-Chief Ed Davis, and in a 1984 interview Deputy Chief Dan Sullivan said Hickman “is one of the most brilliant and motivated guys I’ve ever met.”

But Lucy Ammeian, the most vociferous Santoro fan and the leader of a petition drive despite Santoro’s objections, said Santoro is a bright, hard-working police officer, too. “This is a slap in the face not only to (Santoro) but to the entire city. I’m sure Mark Lewis didn’t do this on his own. We have a new city manager and he doesn’t know the pulse of the community.”

She blames the City Council for not pushing for Santoro. But, according to Lewis, city policy calls for him to be the sole decision-maker in selecting department heads. Council members, including Mayor Barry L. Hatch, say Lewis made that clear to them. Hatch said the decision “was thoroughly in (Lewis’) hands.”

Petitions Submitted

Ammeian, who is a member of the city’s Personnel Board, which does not play a role in selection of department heads, said: “It’s a disgrace what has been done.”

Last Monday Ammeian presented to the council petitions with about 775 signatures from people who supported Santoro.

Santoro expressed disappointment. “I did the best that I could. But I guess I’m not what they were looking for,” he said. “The candidate they picked is very well-qualified, and I look forward to working with him.”

During the last few months Santoro would make no comments except to say that he had applied for the post. He also kept his distance from those who waged a campaign on his behalf, even requesting that the supporters not be such vocal advocates for him.

But now that the final selection has been made, Santoro said that even though he wasn’t chosen, “it makes me feel good to know that there are that many people out there that respect me.”

MONTEREY PARK’S POLICE CHIEF DESIGNATE Ken G. Hickman

Age: 48

Current post: LAPD commander of Westside bureau

Experience: 26 1/2 years with LAPD

Education: Bachelor’s in public management from Pepperdine University in 1972. Master’s in public administration from USC in 1974. Doctorate in criminal justice from Claremont Graduate School in 1983.

Start date: March 20.

Salary: $74,000.

Goal: “I hope we can pioneer some (criminal justice) research and be an innovator in Monterey Park.”


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