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A New Police Chief With a Smile : Torrance: Joseph De Ladurantey arrives from LAPD’s Harbor Division with progressive ideas on policing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Soon after Capt. Joseph C. De Ladurantey took command of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Harbor Division, photographs of grim-faced senior officers came down from the foyer walls.

In their place, new pictures went up--and this time, the officers were relaxed and smiling.

It was a small thing, but it was noticed by Wilmington activist Eleanor R. Montano, who associates it with more fundamental changes she has witnessed in the division under the man nicknamed “Capt. Joe D,” or simply “Joe D.”

“He said he always liked to do housekeeping from within first, so that when the officers hit the streets, they felt good about themselves,” said Montano, a member of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

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As the new chief of the Torrance Police Department, De Ladurantey, 48, has plenty of housekeeping ahead of him.

Three recent police-related lawsuits have cost the city $8.5 million--or two-thirds the price of the city’s brand-new Cultural Arts Center that premiered last weekend. Officer morale has deteriorated in the wake of the lawsuits and a controversy surrounding the June retirement of 21-year Chief Donald E. Nash, who remains under investigation for allegedly underpaying sales taxes on two personal cars.

And although Torrance is more suburban than the Harbor area, it is experiencing an increase in crime and gang-related problems.

De Ladurantey is cautious about discussing his plans for Torrance, saying only that he plans to be very visible in the community and in the department.

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But in the past, his trademark has been a concept called “community-based policing” that calls for reshaping police attitudes toward the community while changing how residents view the police.

“One of my themes that I keep hitting on,” he said, “is to address (a) problem as if your mother lives in the neighborhood--instead of this quick, wham-bam, go-on-to-the-next-thing (approach).”

De Ladurantey, who starts work in Torrance on Dec. 1, is a 26-year veteran of the LAPD. He is only the second Torrance police chief since the 1920s to come from outside the ranks, which may generate some tension.

Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert said the city wanted a chief with strong managerial skills who would be sensitive to community relations and the increasingly diverse ethnic makeup of the city.

“I hope he’ll be able to go in with the full cooperation of the department,” she said. “It has to be a team effort.”

Already, De Ladurantey is quick to praise the Torrance police, downplaying past problems and saying the department has “the cream of the crop of officers.”

He says he relishes “not having to go downtown to have a decision made.” Sometimes his management style is to go ahead and do things and ask for forgiveness later, he said, and the Torrance chief’s job may suit that style.

Although the Torrance Police Officers Assn. lobbied for promoting a chief from inside, its president, Detective David Nemeth, said he has heard that De Ladurantey is well-liked at the LAPD.

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“We just have to see what this guy’s about,” Nemeth said. “We don’t want to be a little LAPD. . . . We do some things a lot better than they do, and we don’t need to become their clone.”

But some changes may be called for, Nemeth added.

“We’re in a rut. We need to get back in the mainstream and just move ahead,” he said. “We were a progressive department, and we sort of stagnated.”

Besides, Torrance officers want a chief who will stand behind them, Nemeth said. Some say De Ladurantey will do exactly that.

“He’s very supportive of his people. . . . He has a unique way of getting the most out of people,” said Detective Chuck Hart, supervisor of the Harbor Division robbery detail.

Before De Ladurantey arrived at the Harbor Division, said Philip Gasca, a senior lead officer at the division, “you were constantly dealing with blank faces . . . handling call after call.”

Gasca praised the concept of community-based policing and De Ladurantey’s application of it. “He gave us time to listen to the problems and learn what these people are all about,” he said. “People who were anti-police have become pro-police. This was all done because of him.”

When the Torrance appointment was announced early this week, telephone calls from well-wishers began pouring into De Ladurantey’s Harbor Division office, which overlooks the Los Angeles docks, the smokestacks of ships and the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

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The office is not decorated in traditional police style--no police command plaques or pictures of the troops. Instead, three muted color photographs of a small boat hang on the wall across from his desk.

A guide to selling free-lance articles sits on the bookshelf. De Ladurantey has written two books on police investigation standards and is working on third that studies athletics from a management perspective.

In his spare time, he serves as a Los Angeles Raiders spotter, feeding information to the Coliseum announcer. And for eight years, he was general manager of the LAPD Centurions football team.

LAPD Officer Shirley McCollum remembers that De Ladurantey infused the team with “his presence, and his enthusiasm, and his willingness to go out of his way for people. . . . It went from a few guys playing in tennis shoes to a full-blown football team.”

In his spare time, De Ladurantey runs, swims and sails. A Newport Beach resident of French-Canadian ancestry, he is married to an LAPD sergeant and has four daughters, ages 6 to 24.

De Ladurantey came to California at age 11 from the snow-swept Upstate New York city of Watertown. He was 21 when he joined the LAPD just four months before the 1965 Watts riot. He remembers “being scared to death . . . not understanding it at all.”

His resume is dominated by two major themes: crime and management.

Early on, he became fascinated with a new approach known as community-based policing. Years ago, he showed Tom LaBonge a copy of a 1982 article in The Atlantic magazine that looks at the “broken-window” theory of policing.

“He said, ‘Tom, read this. This is what we ought to be doing,’ ” recalled LaBonge, field deputy to Los Angeles Councilman John Ferraro and a friend of De Ladurantey.

The article explores how “fixing broken windows"--or examining and dealing with a neighborhood’s social problems--can fight crime more effectively than simply responding to incidents such as car thefts and break-ins.

That theory is integral to community-based policing, and De Ladurantey quickly became an advocate of that approach while at the LAPD’s Wilshire and Hollenbeck divisions. And when he moved to the Harbor Division, he began a much-lauded orientation program to teach officers about the community’s history, schools and trouble spots.

By this summer, when the Christopher Commission endorsed community-based policing for LAPD, De Ladurantey was seen as one its staunchest proponents within the department.

He is leaving the LAPD at a time when support for that approach has grown. One reason, he said, is that the next step for him would be commander, locked in administration in what he calls “a lousy job.”

“I need officers,” De Ladurantey said, “and I need a community.”

Torrance’s New Police Chief

Buffeted by scandal and lawsuits, the Torrance Police Department now has new leadership in Joseph C. De Ladurantey, who was named police chief this week.

THE DEPARTMENT

Size: 238 sworn officers

Budget: $29.1 million

City population: 133,107

TROUBLE IN TORRANCE

The city has paid $8.5 million to settle police misconduct cases since 1988.

* The Rastello family sued the city after Kelly Rastello, 19, was killed in a 1984 collision with off-duty Sgt. Rollo Green. A jury concluded that Torrance police had a “custom and practice” of condoning officers’ misbehavior. In May, the city paid the family $6.5 million, the largest settlement in city history.

* Construction worker Patrick J. Coyle sued after being shot in the neck by a Torrance officer in a 1988 traffic stop. The city settled in 1990 for $1.9 million.

* Six men claimed that Torrance police beat them while breaking up a 1988 party. A videotape of one man being hit with a nightstick received national attention. The city settled in 1989 for $105,000.

TORRANCE CRIME LOG

Murder Rape Robbery Aggravated Vehicle Assault Theft 1990 2 31 393 437 1,433 1989 7 34 370 424 1,321 1988 3 30 362 380 1,263 1987 3 27 304 278 1,260 1986 6 37 356 299 1,275

A LOOK AT DE LADURANTEY

Age: 48

Education: Master of public administration, USC; bachelor of science in criminology, Cal State Long Beach.

Current job: Heads Harbor Division of Los Angeles Police Department.

Past jobs: Head of LAPD Scientific Investigation Division; commanding officer of LAPD Hollenbeck Patrol Division in Los Angeles; commanding officer of LAPD Wilshire Patrol Division in Los Angeles.

Career highlights: Proponent of several community-based policing programs in LAPD; twice awarded LAPD’s Personnel Management Achievement Award.

Quote: “You look at fixing things that are wrong with a community rather than just handling incidents.”

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times and FBI Uniform Crime Reports


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