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Public forum set to talk about police department

Department still recovering from several incidents and allegations of misconduct, discrimination.

August 14, 2010|By Gretchen Meier, gretchen.meier@latimes.com

With the city still recovering from an officer-involved shooting, several police civil rights lawsuits and probes into allegations of misconduct, officials are gearing up for a public forum on Wednesday in which residents will be able to voice their concerns.

While the forum was approved by the City Council, Mayor Anja Reinke said it was more about the chance for the public to interact with police officials.

"I hope the community comes out and is able to get their questions answered by the Police Department," said Reinke, who acts as the council's liaison to the Police Commission. "This is an opportunity for them to voice their concerns in an open forum."

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The agenda for the forum includes a state of the department address by Police Chief Scott LaChasse, presentations on crime mapping and identity theft, and commissioner responses to public comments.

Each speaker will be required to fill out a yellow card in order to speak for five minutes, similar to a regular City Council meeting.

"We want to be a conduit to the community," Police Commissioner Ray Adams said. "If we don't address all the public concerns, we will be able to set the next agenda and make the forums a periodic occurrence."

The forum will also allow the public to address concerns about the practical applications of the Police Commission's power, in addition to any concerns about the actions within the Police Department.

Several current and former officers have sued the department, claiming they faced years of discrimination and retaliation among command staff after voicing their concerns. Probes have also been launched into alleged officer misconduct, prompting the city to bring in outside counsel to oversee and monitor reforms.

Two officers were also shot last month while apprehending a petty theft suspect outside of a Kmart. The man allegedly was able to grab one of the officers' guns. Both officers sustained injuries, but are expected to fully recover.

Despite the department turmoil, crime rates have generally been on the decline. Motor vehicle theft incidents have decreased 12% compared with the previous two years. Violent crimes are down in Burbank, with rape and aggravated assault incidents down 40% and 38%, respectively, according to the most recent statistics.

Property-related crimes, though, have been on the rise.

Some police commissioners have in the past argued that their relative lack of power has hampered their ability to provide any real oversight. Reinke, a former commissioner who previously pushed to expand the commission's powers, has contended that if the commission had a more prominent role, the city may not have some of the issues that have embroiled the Police Department.

"I like the idea of fixing a broken window," Police Commission Chairman Robert Frutos said. "If we don't fix the broken window first, we can't fix any of the bigger problems. This forum is important in the healing process [for the city]."

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