Burbank Police Chief Tim Stehr Photo: FLLewis/A Writer’s Groove
A cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the city of Burbank, the “Media Capital of the World.” The uncertainty is not linked to the prominent entertainment industry in town nor is it fallout from the sluggish economy. No, it’s the city’s police department, which is the focus of this negative energy.
For weeks now the rumors and suspicions about allegations of police misconduct, lawsuits, indictments, and other police issues have been swirling around this San Fernando Valley city of 100,000 residents. Earlier this month, the Burbank Leader published an article about a private meeting on May 4 attended by rank-and-file union police officers to discuss their concerns.
Also, the Leader printed an internal police union memo about an April session between Chief Stehr and two officials of the Burbank Police Officers’ Association to discuss a number of pressing topics including: “morale, division among the members, lack of confidence in the Chief and administration, racial discrimination, rumors, perceptions, anonymous letters, lawsuits, inequities, current criminal cases, and negative events believed to be coming.”
At the May meeting, police union members reportedly decided to try to work through these issues with the chief rather than take a no-confidence vote. Last night, during a break in the proceeding at the city council meeting I talked briefly with Chief Stehr who said he was confident he could lead the Burbank police department through this difficult period. Still, Stehr admitted, “… there are some issues…” but insisted “… (we will ) work together to fix them.”
Last week, I got an e-mail response from the Chairman of the Burbank Police Commission, Joe Gunn, about the situation: “The Chief had informed me of the issues before I left on a three week vacation and I am confident that he is taking all of the necessary steps to alleviate the problem. He maintains our trust and respect relative to his professional duties.”
Meanwhile, listed on last night’s printed city council agenda, a closed session item involving litigation and a case of “alleged violation of civil rights arising out of claimed wrongful and prolonged detention.” Is this one of the cases that has the Burbank police department in turmoil?
Clearly, there are some behind the scenes activities and negotiations going on in Burbank. Nevertheless, residents deserve to know what is happening; and how the police problems will be solved as well as how all of this will affect city services. At his first council meeting as an elected official, new Councilman Jess Talamantes explained he would rather be “proactive than reactive.” I think this is the position city officials should take with the police department problems. Don’t wait until it all explodes into a full blown controversy, but step forward now and explain the situation to residents.