Burbank Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse this week announced that the deputy chief and two captains he recruited nearly three years ago to serve on a temporary basis are now permanent employees of the police force — angering the police union president who said the move passed over qualified internal candidates.
Deputy Chief Thomas Angel and captains Denis Cremins and Michael Albanese were brought on to assist LaChasse in his efforts to reform a police department beset with allegations of excessive use of force, cronyism, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
LaChasse’s decision to hire the three permanently — a power he said he didn’t know he had until recently — came days after the Civil Service Board declined to renew the appointments of Angel and Albanese, despite having done so numerous times before.
“We had a choice — either make them permanent, or let them go,” said City Manager Mike Flad. “It was kind of a no-brainer.”
With two members absent, the Civil Service Board voted 2-1 to let the appointments expire later this month.
Voting with the slim majority, Civil Service Board member Jacqueline Waltman said she was concerned the top cops were “just passing through” with a mind set that could hamper morale and stability in the department.
“My experience with temporary staff is that they make decisions knowing full well they don’t have to live with the consequences of those decisions,” she said.
But LaChasse said his team’s work at the department is not finished.
“We came here to deal with, really, a crisis situation,” LaChasse said. “We’re still in the midst of addressing the needs of the department.”
He cited a 2010 report by Dr. Larry Blum on the organizational culture of the department that revealed “mutual disrespect and distrust” among police personnel.
“This stuff doesn’t go away quickly,” LaChasse said.
Burbank Police Officers’ Assn. President Mark Armendariz was disappointed with the decision and felt LaChasse bypassed the civil service system in appointing his command staff.
“They never went through testing or a vetting process, other than the chief said these people should be there,” Armendariz said.
His colleagues, he argued, have spent their entire careers in Burbank working toward these promotions.
“The rules don’t seem to apply to processes when he wants what he wants,” Armendariz said. “That’s why rules are supposed to be there — to make sure the chief can’t just wave his wand.”
The association is looking into ways to challenge the decision, Armendariz said.
City officials had pushed the Civil Service Board last week to approve another temporary extension for the captains, given the imminent changes in leadership at City Hall. Flad is slated to leave Burbank in the coming weeks for the top post in South Gate.
LaChasse defended his command staff, saying they have been lauded by others in the community for rebuilding a department plagued by allegations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Among them was the Civil Service Board’s chairman, Matt Doyle, who said it was “a boon to have brought in these individuals.”
“I believe, personally, as a resident of this city, they’ve done an outstanding job,” Doyle said.
Reached on Thursday after the announcement, Waltman said she was pleased with the status change.
“You need stability at that level,” she said.
Still left up in the air, though, is the status of LaChasse himself, who remains interim chief. A search for a permanent chief was put on hold in the wake of Flad’s announcement to leave.
Angel, a 33-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said he isn’t concerned about the implications for the command team.
“All three of us have worked for various bosses in the past,” he said, adding, “Our expectation is [LaChasse] will be here for the foreseeable future.”
One of his goals, he added, is to continue to work on recruitment and promotion within the organization.
“We’re very focused on mentoring personnel,” Angel said. “We see a lot of talent within the organization.”