Pasadena Police Pose a Problem for New Manager

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When new City Manager Philip Hawkey takes over June 18, the first thing he will probably have to confront is a Police Department with a vacancy at the top and dissension at the bottom.

Police Chief James Robenson, who has been on medical leave since October, announced his long-expected retirement this week. At the same time, the Pasadena Police Officers Assn., whose members have been working without a contract for a month, broke off negotiations with the city, charging there had been no "significant movement" from city negotiators.

Robenson, 48, a 26-year veteran of the Pasadena police force and its chief since 1985, has a life-threatening heart condition.

"It's not the sort of condition that gets better," Robenson said Tuesday. "You try to do things so that it doesn't get worse."

Doctors have recommended that he eliminate as much stress from his life as possible, he added.

Members of the Pasadena Board of Directors praised the chief, under whose leadership the city experienced at least one dramatic drop in violent crime reports.

"He's a fine chief who emphasized public prevention instead of just apprehension," said Mayor Jess Hughston.

According to the FBI, Pasadena crime statistics in 1987 showed a 15% drop in the seven violent felonies that the FBI combines in its annual crime index. In 1988, the reported felonies rose from 8,437 to 9,243, still significantly below the 1986 total of 10,086. Last year the figure reached 10,641.

"Crime can fluctuate for a variety of reasons," said acting Chief Bruce Philpott. "We've identified some major players out there coming out of incarceration. When you have people hellbent on criminal activities, you see violent crime going up."

Philpott said crime statistics are down 9% so far this year.

Hughston, a teacher, said that Robenson had impressed him for 20 years. "I've known him since he was a patrolman, when he used to come to my classroom at Blair High School to talk to my government classes," said Hughston. "I got to know him then, and I greatly admired him. That was 20 years ago."

Hawkey, who will hire Robenson's replacement, must decide whether to open the search to candidates from all over the nation or to hire from within the department.

"I favor a recruitment process that goes outside the staff," said Director William Thomson. "It's one of the most important personnel decisions facing the new city manager."

Robenson favors hiring someone in the department. "I feel very strongly about that," Robenson said. "We're a department that's really close to its community. That's a big deal. It would be difficult to bring in an administrator from the outside to fit into our system."

But Robenson would not speculate about possible candidates for the job. Philpott, who has been the acting chief since October, plans to retire after a replacement for Robenson is hired. A 27-year veteran of the department, Philpott said he will pursue private business interests.

Robenson will formally retire in June, after the scheduled dedication of the city's new police headquarters and jail. The chief is widely credited with winning popular support for the $17-million structure.

As Robenson was announcing his retirement Monday, representatives of the Pasadena Police Officers Assn. were meeting fruitlessly with a state mediator, said association President Dennis Diaz.

Bargaining broke off after the mediator, who had been conveying proposals and counterproposals between the association and City Manager Donald McIntyre, found that neither side was budging, Diaz said.

"He said that obviously we weren't going to agree, so there was no point in his being there," Diaz said.

Association representatives were particularly incensed by McIntyre's unwillingness to bend, Diaz said. "His attitude seems to be not to resolve anything."

McIntyre denied that he is blocking a settlement. "We seem to do quite well with other unions," he said. "We don't seem to have these kinds of holdups. . . . Maybe I'm a convenient scapegoat, since I'm about to retire."

He said the city traditionally has been more favorably inclined toward upgrading public safety employees than other employees.

The association contends that its 170 members are among the lowest-paid police officers in Southern California. A survey of 14 comparable cities showed that Pasadena ranked 13th in terms of pay and benefits for its police officers.

A police officer at the top of the pay scale in Torrance, the highest-paying city among the 14, gets a monthly pay and benefits package of $4,672, Diaz said. The comparable amount for a Pasadena police officer is $3,960, he said.

Diaz said that the police officers were considering taking their case to the Board of Directors. "At this point, we'll take a few days and sort of let things settle down," he said.

He added that the police officers were not contemplating any job action now. "Obviously, it would be illegal for us to strike," he said.

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