Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse must go.
Permanent Police Chief Scott LaChasse must be hired.
It has now been more than 10 months since former Police Chief Tim Stehr stepped down amid all of the problems and allegations in the Burbank Police Department. While Stehr was probably a victim of circumstances, it was still clear a change had to be made not only at the top, but a philosophical change was needed in the entire department.
City Manager Mike Flad was under pressure from all sides of the aisle to not only take action, but restore public confidence in a department that already was full of good police officers who in many circumstances were taking a bad rap.
His hiring of LaChasse, a former deputy chief for the Los Angeles Police Department, was a homerun. Not only had he commanded bureaus that covered more than 1,500 personnel, he was born in Glendale, and living in that community for 40 years, understood what life in a small community was all about. It gave Burbank someone with that small-town feel, yet big-city experience. It is now time for him to take the next step.
Before I called for his permanent hire, I talked to him to find out about what has happened in the department to not only heal some internal wounds, but what is being done to fix the public trust, as well to make the current officers who have been unfairly criticized, stronger.
To start with, they have purchased complex software called I.A. Pro, which when filled in on a regular basis, will red-flag certain officers for certain situations or something that might be recurring but not noticed. When a red flag occurs, the officer is brought in to talk in a non-threatening environment to work things out. It is not meant to discipline an officer, just help with his professional development.
LaChasse has also brought in a psychologist to talk with officers about their feelings toward the department. He also keeps an open-door policy anytime someone wants to talk. I know that words like "transparency" and "open door" are all politically correct buzz words, but my experience with the chief in the last few months back that policy up. I have now done numerous video interviews that appear on my website, as well as this interview that was not restricted in any way. He is accessible and articulate.
Other areas that are on the chief's agenda include a group of officers who look at all areas of patrol, with recommendations about equipment, uniforms and even the logo that appears on the side of police cars. A brand-new badge that was designed with the help of recently retired Lt. Will Berry has just been delivered this past week.
An advantage of coming from the LAPD is that LaChasse knows about some of the best training seminars in the world, and although there is an expense, is making sure that Burbank officers are attending. A mentoring program has been established, as well as cross training in the many areas of the department itself.
As for the future, LaChasse stresses that, although it will cost money, youth programs and at-risk programs need to be expanded. We also need to continue to work with other cities, such as Glendale, Pasadena and San Fernando, to not only share facilities (like a DNA lab), but to be able to work with one another in times of emergencies. He also stresses that it is important to change with the times.
One thing is for certain: We live in a city that, in addition to having its own major airport, has three-fourths of its border touching Los Angeles. Yes, Burbank has that small-city feel that we all love, but our times demand that we prepare for what the outside world may have in store for us. When that day comes, leadership from the top will prevail.
However, all of this aside, what I also look at is where Burbank is now compared with 10 months ago. If you don't think things are getting better in the Police Department, then watch a City Council meeting. Last week the big uproar was about Verdugo Avenue, not the Burbank Police Department. You think it was that way back in December?
And while there is a sense of healing and restoring pride within the city and the Police Department, I will still not be fully ready to move on until all that has happened in the past has been resolved. I have friends on both sides, and a lot of things have been said to me. There are officers on both sides whom I trust, and I believe that to fully heal, everything must eventually come out.
I have no problem waiting for the courts to make their decisions, and I will fully abide by them. I will also expect the City Council to make final reports available, no matter whom the spotlight is pointed at. Hiding the truth will only make the truth stronger when it is ultimately revealed, and it always is.
You will see LaChasse at every event in the city. Not only is he well informed when asked to speak; he is also very approachable by all citizens.
In the meantime, LaChasse is the man for the job and has done the best he could under some incredible circumstances that he had no control over, to bring the inner strength of the Police Department back. It's also a job that he would like permanently.
Removing the word "interim" is just one more step in the healing process whose time has come.
CRAIG SHERWOOD is the executive editor of BurbankNBeyond.com and a baseball coach at Burbank High School. He can be reached at email@example.com.