Police Serve the Public, Not Group

In today's society, police chiefs, as a symbol of authority, are being attacked by special interests in many cities. I regret that the leadership of the Downey Police Officers Assn. has decided to lead the membership in the direction of a confidence vote. The association's leadership has worked diligently for nearly a year to bring around this vote. A vote of this type does not work to the benefit of the association's membership or the public we serve. It is not a productive way to enter into labor-contract negotiations.

The 1990s demand accountability in every police department. Some members of this department have resisted the implementation of solid supervisory practices. These management practices are based on principles--not expediency. As a responsible chief of police, I have no choice but to implement sound management practices. Our property room audit and our narcotic unit audit have clearly identified deficiencies that must be corrected in the best interest of the people we serve. The police department does not exist to serve the association. We exist to provide the highest level of professional police service possible to the public we serve, with the resources we have available.

The police association has said time and again that they "don't like" my leadership style. I want accountability to be crystal clear; some do not want that accountability!

Seventeen of the 24 sergeants and above were promoted during a short 12-month period. Some who have not been promoted are not happy. Some are disappointed enough to attack the chief of police, even if it tarnishes the reputation of the Downey Police Department and its individual members. In the long run, this will not serve the best interests of the association's members or the public.

Currently, we are examining five critical policy areas. The areas include use of force policy, shooting policy, vehicle pursuit policy, vehicle ramming policy and citizen complaint procedures. Our legal advisers have indicated that these and other critical areas must be updated to keep the Downey Police Department current with statutes and case law, and the need to protect the taxpayers against civil litigation. Since 1980, the Downey Police Department has had in excess of $225 million in civil liability claims filed in police-related matters. Less than half a million dollars has actually been paid out; however, the taxpayers' civil liability exposure is extremely great. To make changes in these critical areas and to establish strong policies of what must be done and what must not be done, is a very unpopular thing to do in a police department. The police association has stated that (it does) not want change. There is no question about it, changes have to be made or the taxpayers can be held civilly liable.

Peer pressure among police officers is always a very sensitive issue. The entire Rodney King incident, which was televised around the world for weeks, revolves around the peer pressure of 15 officers watching and/or participating in violations of the law and police misconduct. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude for an officer to step forward and say, "Stop, that's enough." It is hard to deal with peer pressure among police officers in any police department. In the Rodney King case, you had a sergeant standing there watching, participating, and neglecting his duty by failing to prevent violations of the law and police misconduct. The civil liability to the taxpayers will probably be in the millions. The supervisor at the scene could have prevented all of the problems and bad publicity, if he had simply done his job.

The whole system of accountability and training that I have directed the management team to implement will ensure that our officers use the best techniques and tactics for their safety and the safety of the public. It will restrict them from becoming involved in misconduct or violations of the law and protect taxpayers against civil litigation. Also, it is important that we retain the confidence of the people by having proper controls. Police officers are empowered with a tremendous amount of discretion in their day-to-day duties. Police management must assume the responsibility of supervising, and simply stated, some don't want to be supervised.

The Downey Police Department is an outstanding department. It is made up of many fine men and women, sworn and non-sworn personnel, that are dedicated to doing a good job. Regardless of the vote, I believe that these dedicated men and women will continue to rise to the occasion and do their job in a professional manner. Service to the public is the only reason we exist.


Chief of police, Downey Police Department

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