Besides granting permits to celebrities and city officials, sources say, Cooke has also used the issuance of permits as a fund-raising tool. One incident that raised the eyebrows of even Police Department employees occurred in 1986, when Cooke recruited a group of about 15 middle-aged and older men to donate money and equipment to a group called SAFE - Support Alliance for Enforcement. The group then used the money to purchase a van and various tools, and utilized the equipment to assist Culver City's elderly residents with their home-security needs. In return, the men were made honorary reserve officers and all given concealed-weapons permits.
"They gave this big party, with all these older men - each one had donated," says an ex-employee. "After the party, dozens of permits were typed up. Everyone knew what was going on, but you couldn't do anything about it."
But it's hard to discern any particular method, or ascribe any governing motive, to Cooke's wide distribution of gun permits. A review of more than 250 of the current permits issued by Cooke shows haphazard dispersal to a wide range of professionals, all deemed to be in imminent peril. A pool man, a plumber, an electrician, a psychotherapist, an antique dealer, a radio technician, a locksmith and even a dentist have been granted permits.
About four years ago, Lee Warren Smith, a film producer's assistant, wrote to the Police Department requesting a permit. Though he thought "the odds were tall," he easily received a permit and has subsequently received annual renewals. "I work late and drive through many parts of the city stopping at lights where I don't feel safe," says Smith. "As a last resort, I wanted an option if I was attacked. It doesn't make sense for the criminals to carry guns whenever they want and honest citizens shouldn't have guns."
Despite his liberal policy on issuing concealed-weapons permits, Cooke has fanatically guarded the release of any documents, which are public records, relating to the permits.
According to an account in the Daily Breeze, after the Los Angeles Times asked for copies of the department's concealed-weapons permits in 1989, Cooke persuaded a group of reserve officers to fight disclosure in court. The group won a temporary restraining order, but the permits were eventually made public.
In a separate case in 1993, Copley Los Angeles Newspapers, publisher of the Breeze, had to sue to obtain the department's complete permit records and to get a judge to overrule Cooke's request for $3,000 in copying costs.
In 1998, it's deja vu all over again. After months of repeated public-records requests, Cooke supplied copies of permits to the Weekly, but going back only two years. All had their addresses blacked out. The Weekly filed suit in July against the Culver City Police Department to compel Cooke to release more than 80 outstanding current permits and hundreds of additional permits from previous years, and to reveal addresses on all permits. That suit is pending.