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Replacement of Police Psychologist Sought

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nationally recognized police psychologist Michael R. Mantell should be replaced as the provider of counseling and testing for the San Diego Police Department, a position Mantell has held 10 years, the city manager has recommended.

A one-page memorandum from the city manager’s office to the mayor and City Council recommends that they award the police contract to four other psychological groups to provide counseling and training for police officers, as well as pre-screening examinations of police recruits.

Mantell, who was one of 20 individuals and firms bidding on the contract, was among the top finalists for the new contract this summer, but was dropped from the official recommendation when the city manager and Police Department concluded that a change was needed after Mantell had held the position throughout the 1980s.

The memo, dated Friday and obtained by The Times on Monday, states that a joint proposal from the firms of Focus Psychological Services and Vista Hill Community Treatment Systems has been selected to perform the counseling and training portion of the police psychological program.

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For the screening of police recruits, the manager is recommending Russell Gold and Ira Grossman, whom the memo described as “local psychologists experienced in this function with other governmental entities in the San Diego area.”

Jack McGrory, assistant city manager who oversees the Police Department, said Monday that he expects the recommendations to appear on the City Council docket within three or four weeks, adding that “we would hope” the council will approve the selections.

He said that, although contract specifics are not finished, the work is estimated to cost the city about $250,000 a year, and that the contract probably will cover three years.

He said that, even though Mantell was not included in the recommendation, neither his office or the Police Department was dissatisfied with his performance over the last decade.

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He said that Mantell had enjoyed a no-bid contract while a number of other police psychologists have emerged in the community and the city felt it was important to review their services as well.

“There were very few, when Mantell first bid, who were qualified to do this kind of work,” McGrory said. “But a lot has happened since then. And the competition we saw in our review is indicative of the fact that there are more people out there doing this kind of work. We had a very competitive process and some very qualified candidates.”

Earlier this year, Mantell’s work came under public scrutiny as the Police Department and city manager began reviewing whether he performed the high number of hours for which he was billing the city. But a review of his work resulted in a statement from police supervisors, including police Chief Bob Burgreen, that they were “completely satisfied” with his work.

The San Diego County Civil Service Commission is scheduled to release a report Wednesday in an unrelated investigation. The commission has been reviewing whether Mantell adequately tested candidates who applied to become sheriff’s deputies.

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Mantell was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment.

As a pioneer and leader in police psychological circles, Mantell gained national attention after establishing the San Diego Police Department program and later helping officers traumatized in the 1984 McDonald’s massacre in San Ysidro. He also won extensive contracts with the county and the smaller law enforcement agencies in the region.

The city manager’s memo gave this short description of his work for the city, and the process that led to the recommendation that he be replaced:

“The Police Department’s psychological services contract has been held for the past 10 years by Dr. Michael Mantell & Associates. A number of firms offering services of this type have emerged in recent years.

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“Although the Police Deparment was generally pleased with the level of service provided by Dr. Mantell, it was felt appropriate to subject the contract to the competitive award process for the contract period beginning in Fiscal Year 1991.”

Cmdr. Larry Gore, a police spokesman, said Burgreen and other high police supervisors would not comment on Mantell being passed over for the psychological work until today. He said Burgreen first wants to advise the rank-and-file officers that a sudden switch in psychological services is imminent.

“The chief has prepared a video for the troops, and he wants to discuss this matter internally before we’re prepared to discuss anything publicly,” Gore said. “Once that is done, then we’ll be in a position to talk about this.”

Jolee Brunton, who city officials said put together the joint bid proposal between Focus Psychological Services and Vista Hill, also was out of town and could not be reached.

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Grossman, contacted Monday, said he and Gold “bid as a team” for the pre-screening work. But he declined to discuss the situation further until the City Council has formally approved a new contract.


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