Covina to Mediate Police Dispute

Times Staff Writer

Complaining that Police Chief John Lentz's leadership has led to low morale and other problems, a police employees union has asked the City Council to step in and help find a solution, a union spokesman said.

The Police Assn. of Covina submitted a report outlining its complaints to the city manager last Monday, said the group's attorney, Richard Levine. The union represents 60 police department employees, including officers and non-sworn personnel.

Lentz said he is aware that the report has been submitted but declined to elaborate. "I can't really talk a lot about it," he said. "We are trying to work it out internally."

The report says a February survey of association members found that "83 percent of the (46 employees who responded) perceived that departmental morale is poor," Levine said.

Dissatisfaction Cited

He said the survey showed widespread dissatisfaction with promotion procedures, training opportunities and work assignments.

Lentz said, "I will be responding to all these issues through a report that will be delivered to the council in an executive session in August."

Vic Lupu, president of the police association, said the union decided to ask the council to mediate because "it's getting very difficult for the working officers, the way internal things are being handled." He said he did not want to disclose specific problems because the union and city officials are trying to resolve them.

Mayor Bob Low said council members first learned of the complaints when the union mailed a copy of the report several months ago. At a council meeting last week, union representatives formally asked for help from city administrators and elected officials. The council directed the city staff to study the union's complaints.

Examples Sought

"I don't want to overreact to the issues that have been raised," Low said. He said the anonymous survey referred to only general problems, and the council wants the staff to report on concrete examples of dissatisfaction.

"Just to say morale is low, that doesn't mean a great deal," Low said. "You've got to have specifics."

Low said he and the council will keep an open mind, adding that he has a good working relationship with Lentz.

"He is a good communicator and a personable person," Low said. "But that's not to say that there are not some areas that could stand some improvement."

Low said the council will also consider positive responses in the survey. For example, he said, it showed that police employees are happy with their pay and their equipment.

Lentz chose to concentrate on the positive, saying: "I believe we've got a lot of good guys in the department. They are all hard workers."

Lentz has been police chief since 1984, when he replaced Michael O'Day, who resigned amid controversy over the department's strip-search policies.

Upon becoming chief, Lentz said he was interested in changing the traditional structure of the department through the use of innovative techniques. For example, he proposed a new beat system using teams of officers to work shifts together.

Lentz started his career as a Covina patrol officer in 1965, becoming sergeant in 1972, lieutenant in 1975 and captain in 1979.

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