Santa Monica Panel Revises Police Policy : Bias Charges Prompt Change in Procedures on Officer Promotions

Times Staff Writer

In response to allegations of racism and sexism in the Santa Monica Police Department, city officials and rank-and-file officers have established several new promotion procedures virtually eliminating the judgment of the department’s top officers.

Karen Bancroft, the city’s personnel director, said the new measures are the result of a series of meetings of a 10-member committee, made up of police officers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The committee was formed in December, a year after an independent study found that there are “existing and potential problems on the Santa Monica police force related to racism and prejudice, the use of ethnic slurs, a lack of trust in women officers by their male colleagues and a sometimes-subjective formula for promoting officers.”

Bancroft, who appointed the members, said the committee will continue to oversee the development and implementation of the department’s personnel programs, including training, promotion examinations, affirmative action and recruitment.


Eliminates Rating

Under the old system, candidates for promotion were judged on written and oral examination scores, seniority and a “promotability” rating, a composite rating that was given at the discretion of supervisors. The promotability rating constituted 20% of the applicant’s total score.

The new policies eliminate promotability ratings, beginning with the next set of examinations at the end of the year.

“The rating was open to subjectivity and manipulation by the supervising officers,” Bancroft said. “If someone did not like a particular candidate, they could give him or her a low promotability score.”


The other key change in promotion policy is establishment of assessment examinations for the top 12 applicants. The day-long assessment examinations, which will be given in addition to the oral and written exams, will place officers in mock crisis situations to measure how they would perform on the job. Officers from other police departments throughout the county will judge the candidates, and the names of the three finalists with the highest scores will be turned over to Police Chief James Keane. The names will be listed in order of their Social Security number, Bancroft said.

“That is the first and only time that he will get involved in the process, and no one will know which was the highest-scoring candidate,” she said. “After the chief gets the three names, he can offer the job to any one of those officers. How he chooses the officer is up to him. He can do interviews or he can toss a coin.”

However, Henry McCray, one of six black officers who have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city, said the final selection is the most critical phase of the process, and should not be left solely to the discretion of the chief. “At that point, one of those officers may get selected just because he has had more personal contact with the chief,” said McCray, who has been on stress leave for more than a year. “I think the new policies are good, but they are like putting a Band-Aid over a deep wound.”

The study by an independent consulting firm said “racial insensitivity” is not found throughout the department, but that it is “the behavior of a small, but vocal, group of officers.” Many seem to be unwilling to correct the problem and those who complain are often considered “sniveling malcontents,” the report found.

‘Step in Right Direction’

Officer Duke Torrez, a member of the steering committee, said the new measures may not satisfy the concerns of all officers, but “they are a step in the right direction.

“When I was first asked to be on this committee, I thought it would just be a token group to make it seem like the department was actively addressing issues of discrimination,” he said. “But now I know that we really do have a say in personnel policies. You can never please everyone, but we are going to try.”

Keane said he is pleased with the new city policies, but he does not believe they were necessary.


“I do not believe we ever had a problem with discrimination,” said Keane, who has led the department for 12 years. “But the officers perceived there was some unfairness, so as long as they think the new policies are fair, then I have no problem with them”