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Downey Police Union Critical of Chief : Law enforcement: Poll of officers shows morale problems. There is talk of a vote of no confidence in D. Clayton Mayes’ administration.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

These are exciting and trying times for rookie Police Chief D. Clayton Mayes.

The chief is overseeing the largest police buildup in the history of Downey.

But Mayes is also trying to put down a potential mutiny. A recent police union survey indicates officer morale has dropped in the year he has been in charge. And there has been talk of a vote of no confidence.

Mayes shrugs off the criticism as that of a few disgruntled employees who are resisting his mission to enlarge and modernize the Police Department. There is little time for foot-dragging because crime is increasing in this city of 91,000, Mayes said.

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Through last September, aggravated assaults in Downey were up nearly 30% over the same period last year, while car thefts increased 17.5%, according to police statistics. The city has also been the scene of some high-profile crimes of late, including a foiled robbery of a PACE store that left two officers wounded last October.

“I want to provide the most professional and highest level of police service to the citizens of Downey,” said Mayes, who had been a Los Angeles Police Department captain for 10 years when he was hired by the Downey City Council last December.

Proponents describe Mayes as a dedicated disciplinarian who is giving more structure to the department. He is an energetic administrator who is known to work 12-hour days.

“He’s done very well, especially when you consider he’s bringing in a new style of management,” said longtime Councilman Robert G. Cormack.

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But detractors say Mayes is an arrogant administrator who is poisoning the department. He is the type of chief, for example, who is not shy about berating a captain in front of subordinates, according to responses in the union survey. Mayes has also drawn criticism for promoting the friends of a former councilman who voted to appoint him chief.

“The man is a 24-hour politician,” said Sgt. Mike Hadley, president of the Downey Police Officers Assn. “He comes across as being insincere.”

The chief has enjoyed some successes during his brief tenure.

He has expanded the department’s anti-gang unit from two to four field officers to keep Downey’s relatively minor gang problem in check. He has overhauled the department’s communications center at a cost of $360,000. He has tightened security and accountability in the department’s evidence room, where confiscated drugs and other items are kept until trial.

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Mayes has reactivated a police officer “agent program,” in which outstanding officers receive 5.5% bonus pay annually. And he issued an order last week enabling his officers to carry city-issued, 9-millimeter pistols. The pistols are favored by some policemen because the weapons hold about twice as many bullets as the automatics and revolvers that were standard in Downey.

But he also has suffered highly visible setbacks.

Mayes has been reprimanded by City Manager Gerald M. Caton for using police officers and vans last summer to transport local high school students. The students were classmates of Mayes’ son, Brian.

Then last October, Caton and the City Council turned their backs on Mayes’ proposal for a police helicopter. Just two weeks later, Caton came back with a $2.1-million proposal to add 27 officers to the city’s 116-officer force. The City Council unanimously approved the buildup, and 27 officers are being recruited.

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Mayes ended up playing a supporting role in what was the council’s most important law enforcement decision in years.

The chief said he doesn’t take offense at rejection of his helicopter proposal. And he says he always advocated hiring more officers as proposed by Caton. But Mayes said he wanted to employ a helicopter and then use remaining funds for officers.

“I wanted the helicopter and additional officers,” Mayes said. “I still believe in the helicopter.”

Dewey Clayton Mayes, 48, realized a dream when he was appointed police chief last December. He applied for the position in 1987 but was passed over for now-retired Police Chief Pete Stone, who had been with the Downey Police Department for 29 years before becoming chief.

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The Mayes family is well known in Downey, where they have lived for 20 years. Mayes, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from Pepperdine University, was a member of the Board of Education of the Downey Unified School District for 13 years and has been active in other civic affairs. His wife, Carolyn, is a kindergarten teacher at a local school. They have two sons.

The chief is an unimposing, talkative man who enjoys operating in his hometown. A local clothing store owner and his wife stopped by Mayes’ table during a recent lunch at a local restaurant. It was the perfect opportunity for Mayes to offer one of his favorite compliments: “Is this your daughter?” he asked the store owner.

But it is Mayes’ community standing that made his appointment controversial from the start.

Mayes is a friend of former Councilman Randall R. Barb, who was on the council and was one of chief’s biggest boosters at the time of his appointment. Some critics said that friendship gave Mayes an unfair advantage.

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Others thought it was not a good idea for a local politician with political opponents to become police chief. Mayes was a school board member from 1974 until 1987, when he lost a reelection bid.

Some Downey police officers had grumbled privately about Mayes’ appointment from the start, but the honeymoon was definitely over last July.

It was a Sunday morning, and a group of students from Downey High were about to set off for a leadership conference in Santa Barbara when a billing dispute arose with the limousine company they hired.

Brian Mayes called his dad to work out a solution. Mayes placed two officers on overtime and had them drive the students in two police vans to the conference. Mayes said he loaned his son his personal car to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

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Caton later reprimanded Mayes for exposing the city to unnecessary liability and cost. The school district later reimbursed the Police Department $429 to cover the overtime pay for the two officers and gasoline costs.

“I was extremely unhappy with that incident,” Caton said in a recent interview. “We, in fact, helped out the school district when the school district should have helped themselves out.”

But Mayes said he saw it as a way to improve relations between the Police Department and the city’s youth. He saw it as an extension of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, in which Downey officers lecture in local classrooms to prevent future drug use. As a former board member, Mayes said he feels committed to the district’s goals.

But would Mayes have provided the service if his son were not involved?

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“I’m not sure,” Mayes said. “The relationship between the Downey Police Department and the Downey school district is very unique. The school district is a very integral part of our operation.”

That incident and the changing conditions in the Police Department set the stage for the poll of the Downey Police Officers Assn. The decision to conduct the survey was made after a member brought up the possibility of a vote of no confidence against the chief at an association meeting, said Hadley, the police association president.

“We felt a vote of no confidence was too severe at the time,” Hadley said last week.

Sixty-four of the association’s 103 members responded to the survey.

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Overall, the officers rated department morale below average--2.7 on a scale of 10. Fifty-one respondents blamed the chief. Seven supported him, and some blamed the union for the morale problems.

They rated management credibility below average--3.4 on a scale of 10.

A handful of officers agreed to be interviewed about the school transportation incident and other matters on the condition that they not be identified.

They said patrol officers have been working too much overtime, and they resented the fact that the chief had kept two officers on duty for the school-related activity.

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They also said the new chief has created an atmosphere of distrust among the rank and file as he builds his administration.

The officers faulted the chief for quickly promoting two friends of former Councilman Barb. William J. McCulloch had been a sergeant for less than two years when Mayes appointed him lieutenant last April. Charles S. Baptista had been a sergeant for a little more than two years when he made lieutenant.

Mayes said his appointments had nothing to do with Barb. He said McCulloch and Baptista were both rated “well qualified” in written and oral exams and deserved to hold the positions.

The disgruntled officers also railed against what Mayes describes as his hands-on style.

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Mayes is the only Downey police chief to wear a uniform in recent years. He wears a beeper and listens to a police scanner. He often responds to the scene of a crime, even on weekends and sometimes with a council member or his wife or son along for the ride.

The officers said he interferes with their work, which could be dangerous.

“The guys in the department don’t like to have a chief who’s been sitting behind a desk backing them up on a pursuit,” said one officer.

But the chief, who became a policeman in 1964, bristles at the suggestion that he would get in the way. Mayes said he maintains his shooting and other police skills and could lend a helping hand in a bind. And he said he can manage the department better if he sees how his officers work.

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“I’d put my field tactics up against any sergeant in this department,” Mayes said.

Mayes said the officers are just griping because he is running a tighter operation than his predecessors.

Some officers resented the implication behind the chief’s decision to spend about $6,000 to install an alarm system and take other measures to improve security of the department’s evidence room. Mayes cut back the number of people with access to keys from 18 to four and performed an audit of the money, drugs, guns and other property stored there. Mayes said he is not one of the four.

The review turned up some missing property: About two grams of cocaine, slightly over $100, a small amount of marijuana and one gun, Mayes said.

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The chief attributes the missing property to poor accounting. He said it is his job to tighten security in the shadow of recent skimming allegations that have rocked the Sheriff’s Department and other police agencies.

“I don’t think anybody stole anything,” Mayes said. “I think the integrity of this department is outstanding.” A routine audit of the department’s narcotics unit is under way.

In addition to increasing security of the evidence room, sergeants are now required to wear gun belts in the station. Mayes said another change, while minor, also has rankled officers: his administrators are now enforcing a long-dormant rule that prohibited more than two officers at a doughnut shop at the same time.

“Our resources are more stretched today than they were two years ago,” Mayes said. “We need to be more mature. There’s not as much available time.”

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Mayes and Caton plan to meet with police association officials about the concerns identified in the survey.

But Mayes appears to have the solid support of the City Council.

Even Councilwoman Diane P. Boggs, the only council member to vote against Mayes’ appointment, is standing behind the chief. “I don’t see anything that can’t be resolved,” Boggs said. “I think there is evidence of some morale problems that need to be addressed. I expect they’ll get with it and take care of it in-house.”


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