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Long Beach Puts Chief of Police on Other Duties : Law enforcement: He is reassigned while the city manager conducts an internal inquiry. Management style and treatment of officers are believed to be under review.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long Beach Police Chief Lawrence Binkley, the target of a city investigation, was temporarily reassigned Monday to handle special assignments under the city manager’s direction.

City Manager James Hankla said his investigation of Binkley and Assistant Police Chief Eugene Brizzolara so far has “found no concrete proof of wrongdoing.”

Calling the investigation “a review,” Hankla declined to elaborate on the allegations, other than to say that they do not involve criminal wrongdoing and that Binkley will handle special assignments until the probe has been completed.

According to police and city sources who asked not to be identified, the probe includes allegations by police commanders that Binkley and Brizzolara had a totalitarian style of management, treating employees unfairly and harshly.

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Sources said Binkley regularly ostracized employees who questioned his authority, sometimes transferring them to less desirable positions, sometimes loading them with extra assignments. The chief also ordered his command staff to join or resign from certain civic organizations, according to police sources.

“He would tell you what community groups to join,” said one police source. “But when he didn’t think you were supporting him, he’d want you to quit because he wanted his own person in there.”

The chief’s detractors say he also has attempted to control what his officers and command staff said publicly about him and the department. In the past two years, at least five officers filed free-speech related lawsuits against Binkley.

“The retaliation isn’t a myth. It’s a fact around here. It’s a reign of terror. If he wants to get you, he comes after you,” said one police source.

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Binkley did not return phone calls seeking comment. Brizzolara, who filed a request Friday for a stress-related disability leave, is on vacation and also could not be reached for comment.

Deputy Chief Bill Ellis, a 26-year veteran of the department, was named acting chief. Ellis said he was informed of his new duties Monday morning. Shortly thereafter, he met with his command staff and instructed them to put out the word of the change in the department.

“Any time there is uncertainty in an organization, there’s a little bit of concern,” Ellis said. “I think morale is all right at this point. I think all members of the department will pull together to serve the community.”

Reaction to Binkley’s reassignment varied.

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“We feel that Mr. Hankla’s investigation and actions are in the best interest of the community,” Police Officers Assn. President Paul Chastain said in a press release. Although the police union’s relations with police administrators have improved this year, both sides clashed frequently after Binkley became chief in 1987.

Councilman Warren Harwood said Binkley’s reassignment has created “a whole lot of uncertainty regarding the public safety program and it’s unfortunate.”

But Harwood said he could neither support nor oppose the city manager’s decision because “I don’t have enough information to know. I’ve had little or no opportunity to learn of the allegations or have any input.”

Councilman Wallace Edgerton praised the chief’s accomplishments in the department and said, “Binkley has done nothing wrong--nothing. But the city manager has the right to establish what style of leadership he wants from his department heads.”

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The probe was triggered when attorneys for Cmdrs. John Bretza and Alvin Van Otterloo complained earlier this month to the city manager about the department’s top two administrators.

The complaints followed a civil trial in which Officer Jack Ponce was awarded $30,000 damages against Bretza, Van Otterloo and Brizzolara. Ponce had claimed he was falsely arrested last year for assault with a deadly weapon after a brawl at a local bar.

During the civil trial, Brizzolara allegedly advised the two commanders how to testify. According to sources, Brizzolara did not tell the commanders to perjure themselves but improperly coached them on their testimony.

Brizzolara and Binkley later attempted to force the two commanders to take a stress-related leave of absence, according to sources. Van Otterloo, who is on vacation this week, reportedly has filed for such a leave. Bretza has not.

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After Bretza and Van Otterloo went to the city manager, other commanders and lieutenants also complained about the administrators’ management style and treatment of officers who disagree with them.

“If you did not agree with the chief of police, you were relegated to (the worst) jobs,” said Tom McIntosh, an attorney representing Bretza and Van Otterloo. "(Binkley) had little personal vendettas. It was a whole slew of things that if looked at individually wouldn’t mean much, but together, they showed a pattern.”

For example, when three officers complained that police officials were discriminating against whites in hiring new officers, they were threatened with transfers, McIntosh said. Of this year’s 87 new recruits, 58 were women or minorities, according to department statistics.

Meanwhile, Hankla ordered Binkley to release any information he may have about alleged criminal misconduct of the city’s public officials. In an interview published Saturday by the Long Beach-based Press-Telegram newspaper, Binkley was quoted as saying that he “will request a grand jury review of any and all elected and appointed officials and complete public exposure of everything found.” The chief, in a rare interview, also told the paper: “I’m not guilty of any wrongdoing.”

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Elected officials said Binkley’s comments falsely imply that some of them may be guilty of criminal acts. “It’s a threat and everyone is furious,” one councilman said.

In a press release Monday, Hankla said that he “ordered Chief Binkley to immediately turn over to the appropriate prosecuting agency all evidence or information in his possession relating to alleged criminal misconduct by any public official.”

The Binkley probe--being conducted by Hankla, Deputy City Manager Joseph Rouzan and special city investigator Pete Norrgard --comes as city officials are considering abolishing the Police Department in favor of contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.


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