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Talk of the Town: Omar Rodriguez settlement and discontent in the BPD

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Photo: FLLewis/Media City G -- Burbank Police and Fire Headquarters at Third Street and Orange Grove Avenue in downtown Burbank

Photo: FLLewis/Media City G — Burbank Police and Fire Headquarters at Third Street and Orange Grove Avenue in downtown Burbank

A lot of folks want to know the details of the settlement handed to former Burbank Police Lieutenant, Omar Rodriguez, by the city of Burbank. And rightly so. Rodriguez was fired in April 2010, after filing a 2009  lawsuit with several minority Burbank police officers, complaining of illegal activity in the department, including discrimination and retaliation. The lawsuit and the fallout from it is part of what has become known as the scandalous Burbank “police mess.”

In a recent Burbank Leader article about the settlement and the decisions to dismiss the federal case, as well as a related complaint in state court, Burbank public information officer, Drew Sugars, explained  it this way: “At this point, it’s a done deal,” Sugars said. “It’s a good day for the city. It allows the city to move forward. There is really no case here. That’s what we always contended. We can put it behind us. We don’t need to spend any more time on this matter, or money.”

Some of the talk in Burbank police ranks is about the big money settlement Rodriguez got to drop his case and give-up the fight to get his job back. And most importantly, keep what he knows and might spill in court quiet. Rodriguez spent more than 20 years on the force, therefore, you gotta believe he had to be offered “something” pretty enticing to walk away from that career. City officials owe it to the citizens of Burbank to put the rumors to rest and go public with the details and the why of the Rodriguez deal. It’s the right thing to do.

Discontent in the BPD rank

The rumblings of discontent in the ranks of the BPD is getting louder. In a department still struggling to recover from the effects of the “police mess,” the decision to seek a permanent police chief has shaken the wobbly foundation. Some are wondering what direction the new chief will take the department and  if there will be any changes in the command staff meticulously put in place by Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse. At a neighborhood party on “National Night Out” in Burbank last week, I asked Captain Mike Albanese about possible changes and he shrugged them off, saying you can’t worry about what you can’t control. His advice to his patrols is to ignore the rumors and stay focused on the job.  Good advice — but you can understand the concerns.

The search for a new police chief has ruffled some feathers and brought the in fighting in the BPD to the surface once again. In a recent Burbank Leader article former police information officer, Sergeant Robert Quesada, praised LaChasse’s leadership and that did not sit well with the leaders of the Burbank Police Officers Association who have supported the city manager’s decision to seek a new chief.

Here’s a letter sent out to the BPOA membership on August 2, 2012:

Dear Fellow Members –

I have been approached by several of you about the recent articles in the newspaper, regarding the City’s announcement to search for a permanent Chief. I think it’s obvious the interim staff, the media and even some of our own are more interested in maintaining a facade of chaos, than in moving forward. For most of us, the continual innuendo, misdirection and sniping are nothing more than painfully obvious attempts to continue personal agendas and sell newspapers. Although many of you have asked me to respond to some of the most ludicrous remarks made recently, as the president of the BPOA, I feel it is important in this time of transition to maintain our position on the “high road” as it relates to the constant rhetoric and posturing surrounding our proud agency. I feel very confident that with every passing day, we are closer to emerging from scandal, so I must weigh the benefit of an official response, with the likelihood that such a reaction would only serve to justify more ridiculous accusations and delay the progress we are making.

With that being said, a specific issue I feel must be addressed directly with the membership is this idea that there is a prevalent attitude amongst our ranks opposed to minority hiring. It’s been reported that the interim Chief recently testified as much, and last week’s Leader article left little doubt as to where he got that information. These accusations of intolerance are an attack on the moral fiber of our membership, and neither the BPOA Board of Directors, nor I, will not stand for it. You should not allow these types of baseless statements and attacks on your character to go unchallenged. In my opinion, the unsubstantiated public statements related to minority hiring by Sergeant Quesada, and Interim Chief LaChasse, were at best, utter hogwash. At worst, they are sorry attempts to paint a picture that our organization is wrought with bias and bigotry, in an effort to promote their own personal agendas.

I am proud to be the President of the BPOA, a labor organization comprised of men and women of multiple races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. I will not just sit by and allow a visitor in the Chief’s office and a disgruntled supervisor, with a questioned ability to tell the truth, to so frivolously malign the reputation of any of our members. It is time for the interim Chief and Sergeant Quesada to “do the right thing” and to earn their paychecks. If they have a case to support their accusations of bias, they have an obligation to bring that information forward, using the official channels available to them, and not to the news media to sensationalize the issue! That is exactly what the good citizens of this community pay them to do.

In the meantime, the rest of us will keep focused on moving forward and re-establishing the culture of service our community expects and deserves.

As always, I invite your comments and concerns.

Mark Armendariz,
President Burbank Police Officers’ Association

More to come.

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