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Ron Kaye: Burbank police deal with change

February 25, 2011|By Ron Kaye

Unless you have gone through the grueling training and taken the oath to uphold the law, you can never know what it's like to carry a gun and be licensed to shoot to kill.

That's why cops are different from the rest us — men and women who are part of a cult of law enforcement where there are unspoken rules of conduct that sometimes become a code of silence.

It is a very thin blue line that separates civilized people from the barbarians among us. Inevitably, a few cops cross that line; sometimes whole departments become infected in a way that makes officers blind to the abuses going on around them — patterns of conduct that are supported, even honored, by the community as a whole.

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That's what happened to the Burbank Police Department, just as it did to the Los Angeles Police Department, which took three decades of revelations of police spying on prominent people, the videotaped Rodney King beating and the pattern of tolerance of excessive use of force it exposed, the Rampart scandal and finally a federal court consent to decree to reshape its culture.

Burbank is only at the start of dealing with a police culture gone awry. It is costing the city millions of dollars, led to a long string of lawsuits and could still lead to federal civil rights violation charges.

“We’re as far forward as we could be at this time … all in all, we’ve come a long way,” says Scott LaChasse, the retired LAPD commander who took over as interim Burbank chief of police 14 months ago and faces the daunting challenge of reshaping the culture of the department, a task that requires a delicate touch of pushing for dramatic changes without breaking the morale of the force.

“This is a good department, a good city. It’s going to be better.”

LaChasse and the top cops he brought in with him from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and LAPD — Tom Angel, Mike Albanese and others — are outsiders brought in to reform a department that hit bottom after the suicide of Burbank Police Sgt. Neil Gunn Sr.

They are seen by the rank-and-file as the “Big City Boys” — know-it-alls who know nothing about policing in a small suburban community where there's an all-in-the-family culture at City Hall, and where little kids grow up dreaming to be a hometown cop speeding to respond to a citizen's complaint and doing what it takes to fix it.

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