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Tale of the Tape

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."

Kroeker responds that his beliefs have evolved, implying that he has become more tolerant: "The principal driving mission that exists with me now in my life, and in the way I operate with people, is peace." But does Kroeker still believe that homosexuality is, to use the biblical term, an abomination? "Let me say this," he said. "Gays are people. Gays have a wide range of places in life. They are our sons and daughters, and they're our fellow police officers. And they are in business and government, and they are also on the street, and some are criminals, and some are not. And gays are inculcated in American life. I have gays as my neighbors. And that's who gays are in my opinion -- American people."

It sounds as though Kroeker is politely dodging the question, reluctant to deny a belief that he holds and reluctant to state a belief that he knows could offend. The more reassuring comments come not from Kroeker, but from a cross section of Portland police officers, including the first two openly gay males in the Portland Police Bureau, the first transgender officer, and a founder of VISION, an officer organization that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender officers in Portland. The officers forwarded their testimonial to the Weekly at Kroeker's request.

"Frankly, if Chief Kroeker is selected as your chief, many citizens of Portland and members of the Portland Police Bureau will miss him greatly," the officers state. "Many in our Bureau and community were hurt when his taped comments were made public. All of us had to decide whether he could be our Chief. He never turned down a request to meet with us as a group or individually, and he sincerely answered the toughest questions. He invited LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] officers into his home and attended community-wide forums . . . He has never shown bias in our workplace towards ä

LGBT officers. He has promoted LGBT members into command positions, actively engaged the Bureau's Sexual Minority Roundtable, recruited officers from the LGBT community, and worked hard to provide LGBT officers a workplace without bias and hate."

Kroeker nearly lost his job in Portland when the tapes became known. "That sparked a lot of outrage, especially among the gay and lesbian community, which was at least for a while only made worse by a series of evasive responses to direct questioning," said Kristian Williams of Portland's Copwatch, a nonprofit police-accountability organization critical of Kroeker's response to the tapes, and his tenure as chief in general. Williams noted that Kroeker refused to retract the statements, saying they were his private religious beliefs and not related to his public conduct as Portland's chief: "He's apologized for his hurt feelings, he hasn't apologized for what he said." Williams added: "Let me put it this way: When Charles Moose left -- he was our chief before Kroeker -- we didn't feel honor-bound to [warn] the city he was applying to . . . and we did with Kroeker."

Kroeker has since marched annually in the city's gay-pride parade, and has regularly attended gay-themed community events in Portland. Within the bureau itself, he's required all sworn officers to attend training about transgender issues and successfully pushed for such training to be adopted statewide in Oregon. He's also authorized recruiting booths at the Portland Pride festival and advertised for recruits in Oregon's leading LGBT magazine. In addition, he established an assistant chief to be liaison to the LGBT police-officers organization, and worked closely with gay-community leaders as part of his citizen advisory committee.

ALMOST TWO YEARS LATER, MANY LOCAL advocates praise Kroeker's overall performance as well, despite budget cuts and the increased demands of 9/11. They single out his community-policing efforts, which include naming senior neighborhood officers to address neighborhood concerns. These officers are similar to the LAPD's popular senior lead officers, which former police Chief Bernard Parks did not favor.

Kroeker's critics at Copwatch charge that he has moved too slowly both to address alleged racial profiling and to refine his department's system for tracking problem cops. One problem with the tracking system is that complaints against officers don't automatically enter this system unless the bureau's Internal Affairs Department investigates the incident. So an officer could generate many complaints and still have an unblemished record. This issue has resonance in L.A., where the police department has, for a decade, failed to install a promised system to track problem officers and misconduct complaints. Critics also fault Kroeker for heavy-handed police conduct at a May Day gathering two years ago that The Oregonian termed "riot control where a riot didn't exist." On the other hand, Kroeker took responsibility for this incident and then developed a generally well-regarded rapid-response team to handle demonstrations.  

Kroeker made national headlines last November, when he refused to conduct 23 interviews of foreign nationals requested by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, arguing that the manner of questioning violated Oregon state law designed to protect the rights of individuals.

Still, does Kroeker's record satisfy the binding terms of the Grobeson settlement? For now, the City Attorney's Office is hedging its bets. "This office supports the spirit of the particular provision that we are talking about, not just because it's in the Grobeson settlement, but because it's the right thing to do," said Cecilia Estolano, special assistant city attorney. "We can't specifically comment on the Kroeker situation, because that's really up to the Police Commission to decide how they are going to apply this." So the ball is now in the commission's court, and it will have to decide how to interpret Grobeson, and how to judge Kroeker on his conduct and record.

Kroeker's progressive supporters find a disturbing irony in the entire discussion. To them, Kroeker's actions after the disclosures have burnished the veteran police commander, made him a better man and a more fit leader for the LAPD.

But not everyone is so sure. "I know that the mayor, in a meeting with a lot of the gay community, made very clear that he's interested in a chief for the whole city," said Rebecca Isaacs, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's interim executive director. "And so the question really is, is this something that any candidate can do, including Mark Kroeker? Can he be the police chief for the whole city?"


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