For months now, we’ve watched the Burbank Police Department continue to unravel. Each week, it seems, brings yet another soap-opera twist.
The Police Commission and Civil Service Board are exerting greater pressure at City Hall, and one City Council member has called for the police chief to be placed on leave. There are three independent investigations — two called in by the city itself — into myriad internal complaints and allegations of misconduct, and an officer has killed himself in public.
Additionally, at least 25 members of the Burbank Police Officers Assn. have called for a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Chief Tim Stehr.
We understand why. Things are not improving.
In fact, in recent weeks, they appear to be getting worse. And stuck in the middle is a frustrated citizenry wondering just what’s going on with the department charged with imposing public order. The Glendale Police Department has even had to be brought in to lend a helping hand with distraught Burbank officers and the investigation into Sgt. Neil Thomas Gunn’s public suicide.
Given all of this, it has become clear that Stehr should resign.
At this point, there is no evidence that Stehr is personally culpable — or turned a blind eye to — the rot and dysfunction within his department. But on a very real level, it does not matter. Whatever the outcome of the investigations by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, FBI or city-hired investigator, Stehr can no longer effectively lead.
In many other cities, Stehr would have been placed on administrative leave long ago, but we’re way beyond that now. Even if the Police Department manages to emerge from the investigations legally unscathed, we’d be left with a serious void of trust and assurance that the sort of structural changes that need to occur would indeed take place.
When dozens of rank-and-file police officers show up at a City Council meeting to publicly applaud a suggestion to put their chief on immediate leave — and heckle those who oppose the idea — it does not bode well for his ability to effect change.
The confluence of issues facing this city’s Police Department is too great now for measured tones and political half-steps at City Hall. The public has every right to know that our city executives and council are coming down with full force to rectify what has surely been a long-simmering problem.
It’s time for the voters of this city to start taking note of the top-down leadership, or lack thereof, that continues to allow this pot to boil.