By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
AFTER YEARS OF LITIGATION, THE GAY AND lesbian community of Los Angeles achieved a watershed settlement when, in 1993, the LAPD agreed to recruit and promote more gay and lesbian officers, while also adopting a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of gays and lesbians on and off the force.
It followed that any recruit who exhibited "discriminatory attitudes" regarding sexual preferences would be essentially barred from employment -- as unsuitable for duty as someone who was blatantly racist or sexist. And, for the most part, that's exactly what's happened; to its credit, the LAPD won't hire you if you trash-talk gays. Suddenly, however, this policy has raised a thorny and unanticipated issue when it comes to Mark Kroeker, a leading candidate to become the next police chief of Los Angeles and a favorite of many progressives.
Kroeker, 58, who is currently the police chief of Portland, Oregon, has a lot going for him, including experience both inside and outside the LAPD and good relations with the officers union. He is widely viewed as tough enough to do the job, while also respecting community concerns and welcoming fresh and innovative thinking. But Kroeker also is the man who was recorded on tape saying that alternative lifestyles are a "perversion," akin, in his words, to an "alternative death style."
These statements were made about a decade ago, and Kroeker's record of dealing with the gay community and gay cops in Portland is respectable, if not exemplary. But his bid for the chief's job raises uncomfortable questions about his fitness. It also raises concerns over whether the city would be violating its own policies in hiring Kroeker and whether choosing Kroeker could thus be challenged in court.
KROEKER'S COMMENTS FIRST PUBLICLY surfaced in November 2000, nearly a year after he took the helm of Portland's police department. An alternative newspaper, the Portland Alliance, ran stories about speeches he gave from 1989 through the mid-1990s to the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers. The FCPO, a Tennessee-based nonprofit ministry, was founded in 1971 by a group of devout LAPD officers, including Kroeker's mentor, former LAPD Deputy Chief "Bible Bob" Vernon. The group defines its mission as to "unite Christian men and women in the criminal justice system using time-proven ministry methods; and to strengthen members' faith and help them be more effective witnesses to those around them."
Until the Alliance broke the story, tapes of Kroeker's speeches were available through the FCPO Web site for a fee. Kroeker, a frequent motivational speaker at group conferences and meetings, said he was surprised to learn that FCPO was selling them as inspirational messages for Christian police officers. "I don't know what's being sold on the Web," Kroeker said in an interview, "but I certainly received no remuneration, didn't authorize them to be on the Web, and didn't know that they were."
In one speech, titled "The New Social Disorder," Kroeker discusses homosexuality. "We are increasingly becoming a valueless, a lawless society," he says. "And we become so more when we move to that day 'alternative lifestyle' is being used for certain forms of perversion. And I have to tell you there is an alternative 'death style' which is breeding through our major cities," says Kroeker, apparently referring to the spread of AIDS, which hit the gay community especially hard.
In the same speech he goes on to say, "Now here's a clever myth. Victimless crime. There are certain crimes or events which go on which are essentially private relationships, and government has no business there because these are consensual crimes . . . And even if you withdraw the biblical principles, you know, which are quite clear, for example, on this terrible issue of homosexuality, the other clear evidence in our society shows that, as we have moved away from control of certain criminal activities, the result has become a disaster, a disaster."
KROEKER HAS NEVER RENOUNCED HIS ANTI-gay comments, and an anti-gay attitude has been an automatic disqualifier for some would-be L.A. cops. The 1993 settlement, however, does provide the alternative recourse of sensitivity training, said Jon Davidson, an attorney who helped draft the anti-discrimination policy. This policy arises out of a 1988 lawsuit filed by former LAPD Officer Mitch Grobeson. He accused the LAPD of systematic harassment and of discouraging the hire of officers who are openly gay. The city settled five years later, agreeing in court to screen LAPD applicants for a history of "discriminatory attitudes towards lesbians, gay men, and persons with AIDS and HIV infection, in the same way and to the same extent that such applicants are examined respecting racist and sexist attitudes." Recruits "shall be excluded to the same extent that such applicants would be excluded for racial or sexist attitudes."
Questions surrounding Kroeker's underlying religious conservatism, and whether it would interfere with promoting diversity within the LAPD, continue to dog him. At recent public forums held by the Police Commission, gay cops lined up to voice concerns. "I've seen a lot of really good changes," said Lisa Phillips, a 13-year veteran of the force, at an April public forum in Hollywood. "We cannot have a chief that feels that deeply about a community."
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