Police officers often encounter arguments, name-calling and allegations of lawbreaking while on patrol, but in Hermosa Beach they don't even need to leave the station.
In recent weeks, one officer has sued the department for harassment. In an separate incident, the police union has fired off an angry letter to the chief, Steve Wisniewski, calling him "self-serving" and "tyrannical" in his management of the 39-officer force.
Earlier, Hermosa officers successfully fought off a city-sponsored study that proposed replacing them with sheriff's deputies.
And the Hermosa Beach Police Officers Assn. soon will sit down at the bargaining table to decide terms for a new contract--a process that has lingered for months. It grew so bitter last year that it required a state mediator.
"You can't combine all these incidents and say they're part of some turmoil in the department," said Sgt. Wally Moore, the union president. "They're all separate. It's like Murphy's Law. When it rains, it pours."
The latest controversy in the small department came when Officer Timothy Turek filed a $1-million lawsuit against the department, charging that a fellow officer, detective Bruce Phillips, repeatedly harassed him on the job without any relief from superiors.
Phillips, a former president of the police union, was demoted from sergeant to patrol officer several years ago after he reportedly made a crude remark to Turek, the suit said.
After the demotion, the suit charged, Phillips challenged Turek to fights and ridiculed him in front of colleagues. Complaints to department superiors went unheeded, said Turek, who is on long-term disability. Phillips could not be reached Thursday but has previously denied harassing Turek.
The other recent controversy, unrelated to the lawsuit, involves a critical internal letter sent in late January from the police union to Wisniewski and members of the City Council. It was leaked to the press last week. Written by the union's attorney, Michael Hannon, the 10-page letter raises numerous complaints about the chief's performance, concluding: "Your professional performance as a police administrator and your support of professional law enforcement is poor."
The union said the chief does not keep the department's equipment in proper repair, favors his friends within the department and does not communicate well with the officers.
"He did have 100% support from the department when he arrived" in October, 1986, Moore said. "He lost that support. Can he gain it back? I don't know."
Wisniewski, who disputed the union's contentions, said he is preparing a response to the letter and is confident he can work with the officers to improve relations.
The letter "basically seems like a compiling of every complaint they can think of since I set foot in Hermosa Beach," Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski, the city's public safety director, has been filling in as city manager since the post was left vacant last fall. He will probably return full time to the Police Department this spring, when the council's top choice as city manager, Frederick R. Ferrin, is expected to take over.
Part of the resentment between the union and the chief stems from a report prepared by Wisniewski last year, at the council's request, saying that the Sheriff's Department could patrol Hermosa Beach for close to $2 million less than the current police force.
Wisniewski said he prepared the report because the council requested it. Officers, however, accused him of abandoning his department to advance his own career.
After receiving Wisniewski's report, the council paid $3,500 for a Sheriff's Department study on cost savings from replacing city officers with deputies. Hermosa Beach officers campaigned aggressively against the move and eventually the council backed away.