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LAUSD's Finest: Los Angeles School Police 

How an oblivious school board lets a tiny, scandal-ridden force endanger L.A. kids

Wednesday, Sep 2 2009
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Page 6 of 8

Manion has submitted three separate plans to fix the police department, most recently in February, but his vision of reform seems to equate with expansion — the very thing both audits have clearly and strongly warned against.

He sought $4.5 million for 100 new police cars and $60 million for a high-end communications system, and district officials refused. And no wonder: The auditors in both of the secret reports pointedly warned that pouring money into building up such a badly run police force would merely magnify its problems.

The school district did change the name “Village Policing” to “Community Policing,” but the August 2007 audit showed that Chief Manion never halted Kerstein’s controversial practice of letting school cops roam L.A. streets far from any school grounds, tramping over LAPD jurisdictions.

click to flip through (10) PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN TEEGARDEN MODELS: SKOTI COLLINS & CHARITO MERTZ
  • Photo illustration by Sean Teegarden models: Skoti Collins & Charito Mertz
 

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That audit urged Manion to “draft explicit guidelines limiting off-campus law-enforcement activities.” Yet today, neither school board President Garcia nor Superintendent Cortines will discuss this significant problem, or any other aspect of the police department.

Another troubling Kerstein legacy maintained under Manion is the Specialist Reserves Program. According to official memos obtained by the Weekly, under Kerstein, some members of the reserves got official badges, uniforms, nameplates, hats, ties, tie clips, pants and belts — yet were not required to receive reserves training or undergo background checks.

Modern police departments are ending such practices because these very real-looking badges are often abused by noncops to intimidate people, or are flashed around in hopes of getting favors. Records show that many Hollywood insiders affiliated with Fox Movie Studios got School Police reserves badges but no background checks. They include former NYPD Blue producer Bill Clark and actors James Chaffee, Gordan Clapp, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Currie Graham, Eduardo Magana, Joe McKenzie, Robert McPhearson, Jacqueline Obradors, Gregory Ochotorena, Leon Reitzenstein, David Seelinger, Henry Simmons and Bonnie Summerfield.

In November 2005, Manion wrote to a Fox Studios security director, saying that LAUSD was going to confiscate the badges and gear — and Manion even put a retired TV cop, actor Kent McCord, in charge of retreiving the badges. It’s unknown whether the former Adam-12 star went knocking on doors at Fox Studios — a fake cop confiscating fake badges, like a scene from Super Troopers. But as of late 2008, internal documents show, the gear and badges were still outstanding. Noted former Deputy D.A. Korn, “How can I say it surprises me?”

The Police Foundation is no less strange. The foundation’s lawyer, Gary James, hired a public relations firm merely to speak with L.A. Weekly. Ream, of the union, claims the foundation is little more than “a bank” for the K-9 unit, motorcycle unit and other special units created by Kerstein and preserved by Manion, which yearn for spiffy police gear not covered by the job. The foundation’s spokeswoman, Cherie Kerr, hired to speak to the Weekly, says the foundation exists to raise money for needed items. “They’ll say, ‘We’ll need jackets for the motorcycle guys or new equipment for the K-9 unit.’ ”

Kerr adds: “They’re just a really neat bunch of guys.”

Weekly: “You know them?”

Kerr: “Well, I know Gary.”

Weekly: “So, you’ve never met the other guys?”

Kerr: “Ummmm ... no.”

Ream is so upset that the foundation’s board does not include any actual cops that he reported it to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo before Delgadillo left office. “I told him personally. [But Rocky’s office] told me they wouldn’t touch it.” Disgusted, Ream says he started his own Friends of Safe Schools last year as an officer-controlled foundation.

There is one area where Kerstein and Manion, amid their many failures, showed stellar results. As of April 2007, 31 of the school district’s 300-plus patrol cars were devoted to traffic and parking enforcement. As the Evergreen audit showed, in the five-year period ending in 2006, traffic tickets increased 333 percent and parking tickets 203 percent. One probable reason for all that discipline and success: The police agency gets to keep the revenues it collects from traffic citations.

An hour after midnight on May 3, 2007, Nicole D., a 21-year-old business student and a singer in a Christian-themed rock band, was heading to her parents’ home in Orange County after a date with her new boyfriend, David Gelb. The couple had been at the Echo Park home of friends, then they’d ended their evening at Gelb’s place.

But the on-ramp onto the 10 freeway at La Brea Avenue was closed, and Nicole, unfamiliar with the area, got lost. According to her testimony at King’s trial, she called her date for directions, and Gelb told her he’d call back after he checked his computer. Nicole saw a car — with lights on top — coming in her direction, and later recounted, “I noticed he was following me after that.”

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