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Time to learn some lessons

June 06, 2009

The lawsuit filed this week against the Burbank Police Department on behalf of five officers purports to expose racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

But what it certainly has done is spotlight the effects of a closed-ranks, good-ol’-boy ethos that has gone unchecked for too long. We at the Leader have been trying to break through for years, with varying degrees of success. But for so long, the propensity to close down in the face of requests for greater access has won out.

As an example, take the popular police arrest log entries. They appear as a feature in this paper — with different degrees of regularity — depending on how reachable the staff is, and then only if they don’t have something else to get to. Attempts to compile them ourselves, a standing practice in Glendale, has been met with aversion.


Even for a story on the latest FBI crime stats, despite repeated calls to several department personnel — nothing.

Fractures in the hull started to appear mid-May, when an e-mail from then-Police Commission Chairman Joe Gunn surfaced, calling on the Police Commission to refrain from asking the City Council and city manager about an internal investigation. He wrote that “repeated requests for information keeps stirring controversy and gives ammunition to those who wish to do the department harm.” But the department has harmed itself. This suit, whatever its merits, is the end product of years of insulation and a self-preservationist mentality that, in reality, is destructive.

Clearly, the disconnect between our elected representatives, police, public and the Fourth Estate has combined to create the kind of lawsuit that makes city officials nationwide cringe.

It’s in these lawsuits that a city’s dirtiest laundry, in every excruciating detail, is aired for a full public viewing. Whatever the outcome of this lawsuit, we encourage the City Council and city management to re-examine the status quo and lay down a new order — from the Police Commission on down to the desk clerk at the police station — in which consistent transparency assumes a higher priority.

In the long run, greater openness eventually pays off in spades in terms of public trust. Other police agencies have already learned this lesson. Now it’s time for Burbank to learn it — the hard way.

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