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Police Chief: overhaul in progress

Police Chief: overhaul in progress
Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse goes over ceremony notes with Burbank Mayor Jess Talamantes just before going on stage at the National Night Out event in Burbank on Chandler Blvd on Tuesday, August 2, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

Twenty months into the job as police chief, Burbank's top cop continues working to modernize a department besieged by lawsuits and investigations into misconduct and excessive use of force by the FBI and Los Angeles County sheriff's department.

Now, Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse says the department continues to make strides as it works through an updated plan for internal changes. The City Council is slated to review the final version in the coming weeks as City Hall continues to identify its work priorities for the coming year.

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FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version that gave the incorrect length of time on the job for LaChasse.

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For LaChasse, it's been a constant grind to revamp a department in turmoil, with former and current police officers also filing lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, retaliatory firings and racism.

When he came onboard, the FBI was examining the role of excessive force dating back to 2003 and the department's handling of at least two incidents from 2007, including the robbery of Porto's Bakery. In October 2009, Sgt. Neil Gunn, Sr. committed suicide on a public street. He was among 12 officers who were being investigated by the FBI for possible civil rights violations and excessive use of force.  

Also that year, the previous police chief requested L.A. County sheriff's officials investigate two allegations of police misconduct.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said this week that the agency's investigation remained ongoing, but could not comment on the specifics of the case.

As the city deals with the legal ramifications and the department wades through cultural changes and policy shifts, LaChasse and other top brass are continuing to push the department forward.

The Strategic Plan essentially sets the direction for the department and its many moving parts. It's also in response to the Police Department reform package that updated the use-of-force policy and revised the discipline system, among other changes, LaChasse said.

Technology can aid in tracking complaints against an officer and provide an early warning system that allows supervisors to know when they need to sit down with an officer, LaChasse said.

Another important aspect is training.

"Training, training, training," LaChasse said, citing the need for interpersonal and motor skills training. He stressed the importance of staying ahead of the curve.

"We want our officers to be well educated, to strive for continuous improvement," LaChasse said. "Society is so dynamic, training is very important."

LaChasse said the City Council reviewed the plan in closed session and that the department will make some changes before returning the plan for final consideration. A date had not been finalized this week for when the City Council would discuss the plan in open session.

On the theme of continued improvement, LaChasse said a consultant could be brought in by October to conduct an independent, annual review of department operations.

"Someone comes in, for example, and sees all cases of excessive force, takes a percent of the cases to see if they were dealt with properly, identified correctly, and if the penalty was appropriate for the offense committed," LaChasse said.

A panel with members of the City Council and Police Commission, along with the city manager and city attorney, would analyze the information brought forward by the consultant, LaChasse added.

Another key to moving forward is through national accreditation via the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA.

"That's a big ticket item for us," LaChasse said, noting the three-year certification process.

He acknowledged the department's problems, but pointed to changes in the use of force policy, revised discipline system, psychological assistance provided to employees and other improvements as examples of the department righting the ship.

"While some things may have happened, the necessary systems are in place," LaChasse said.

Having an outside agency come in, review their work and find that the department is operating as it should would add credibility, he added.

"It's a pretty good price tag, but valuable," LaChasse said.

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