Valley's Deputy Chief Applies for Top Post With San Diego Police

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Deputy Los Angeles Police Chief Mark A. Kroeker, the San Fernando Valley's top police official and a key figure in diffusing hostility between police and residents after the Rodney G. King beating, is applying for police chief of San Diego, he said Tuesday.

Kroeker, who in the last year has been passed over for the positions of Los Angeles police chief and assistant chief, said he is not bitter but has begun to wonder whether he has reached a dead end in the department, where he has forged a 28-year career.

"I'm at a point where I believe I should be looking around a little bit," said the 49-year-old Kroeker, who commands the Police Department's Van Nuys-based Valley Bureau. "It looks like the top echelon is in place and I want to move on with my life."

Los Angeles police spokesman John Dunkin said Chief Willie L. Williams was not available for comment.

Should Kroeker leave to replace Chief Bob Burgreen of the San Diego Police Department, he would become the second deputy chief in Los Angeles to resign since the appointment of Williams, the former Philadelphia police commissioner chosen last year to replace Daryl F. Gates. The other deputy chief who resigned, Glen A. Levant of the department's West Bureau, became executive director of DARE America after he, too, was a losing candidate for Gates' job.

Kroeker faces stiff competition in San Diego, sources there said Tuesday.

Norm Stamper, currently Burgreen's chief deputy, is widely considered the leading candidate for the post and he has won the endorsement of his boss. Assistant Chief Jerry Sanders, meanwhile, has been endorsed by Harry Eastus, the president of the police union.

San Diego hopes to pick a new chief by May 1.

Burgreen has been with the department for more than 33 years. He was appointed chief in September, 1988--and immediately announced that he would keep the job only five years before retiring to Arkansas, where he and his wife own property. He officially retired last year and is currently leading the department on a contractual basis.

The deadline for applications is Friday, and first cuts are expected to be made next week, according to Kroeker, who said he was mailing his application Tuesday.

The position is attractive, he said, because San Diego is "a substantial city with city character," in contrast to the suburban communities that he said have approached him as a police chief candidate since Gates' retirement.

The 1,850-officer force in San Diego, though significantly smaller than Los Angeles' 8,000-officer department, faces similar issues, such as patrolling a racially diverse community beset by heavy drug trafficking. And the San Diego Police Department has a well-regarded community-based policing program, an area of particular interest to Kroeker.

Kroeker, a devout fundamentalist Christian and the son of Mennonite missionaries, is credited with starting community-based policing in the Valley even before the Los Angeles City Council adopted a similar plan citywide. Part good public relations and part grass-roots work, the philosophy encourages police to work with residents to prevent crime rather than spending all their time responding to emergency calls.

In the Valley as in San Diego, community-based policing was credited with diffusing tension and preventing serious rioting when Los Angeles erupted in looting and violence last April.

Kroeker's open-door approach to his job and folksy style also helped restore officer morale and credibility in the weeks following the King beating.

But his few detractors have criticized him for being politically naive and, in the wake of the King case, the city's painstaking search for a new chief seemed destined to end with the appointment of a minority candidate. Williams is black.

Police Commissioner Stanley Sheinbaum, who served on the search committee that chose Williams, on Tuesday expressed surprise and dismay that Kroeker was thinking of leaving the department.

"I happen to think he's a particularly good guy and I do think he has a future here, but I can understand why he's thinking that way," Sheinbaum said.

"We had this unusual situation of a very special fellow named Willie Williams, and we had to go for the guy who's better, and that doesn't say anything negative about Mark Kroeker."

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