In December 1996, the chief requested that promotional exams for the positions of captain, lieutenant and sergeant be changed to exclude grading an applicant's prepared oral presentation and rely solely on an oral interview with Cooke and the department's supervisors.
The policy passed 4-1; Corlin cast the dissenting vote. Ever since, sources say, Corlin has received harassing phone calls, patrol cars have been cruising in front of his home – at times on a nightly basis – and passing patrol vehicles have beamed their searchlights into his residence.
Asked to comment on the alleged campaign against him, Corlin did not respond directly, but voiced fear that his story might be published. “If anything happens to me or my family because of what you write, I will come after you,” said Corlin. “That is not a threat, but a promise.”
A source inside the department, however, confirms that Corlin put his complaints about the campaign against him in writing in a letter to the chief listing specific incidents of harassment. The letter spurred an internal investigation, and according to the source's reading of the report, Corlin said that he and his wife were constantly followed by patrol cars while driving, at times right into their driveway. Documents show that Corlin was scared for his safety and that of his family.
Culver City Police Captain Don Ruetz confirmed receipt of a letter from Corlin, but said he was unaware of its contents. The source who saw the report says nothing came of the internal inquiry, terming it a “whitewash.” However, Ruetz, at the request of the chief, met with Corlin and resolved what he called misunderstandings caused by a drug-surveillance operation conducted in the area by two other neighboring police departments.
How much influence such intimidation may have had on Corlin's voting record is questionable. But on a few key votes this year, Corlin has decided in favor of the department. In a January vote, Corlin supported the chief in a unanimous commission decision, which allowed the department to recruit existing officers, without the need to send new hires through academy training. In an April decision, Corlin voted in the majority to deny a grievance against the department by a lieutenant and in July voted to uphold the department's discipline of another officer.
Over the years, Cooke's clout has translated into substantial funding for his department. Of the city's annual general-fund budget – about $47 million for 1997-98 – the police will receive about a third. By comparison, the police departments of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica each receive less than a quarter of their city's general-fund budgets.
Cooke's success is a source of frustration to his critics. “We have an Arts Committee, a Human Services Commission, a Planning Commission but no Police Oversight Committee – we have a City Council that's completely uninterested,” says Gary Silbiger, a member of the Culver City Community Network. “The City Council feels Cooke is just too powerful, and they don't want to risk their political careers. The police get a huge amount of the budget, and our schools and libraries need money.”
Indeed, construction workers are midway through a $3.2 million project to add 10,000 square feet of office space to the department and to renovate one-third of the station's facilities.
Ex-Police Department employees say much of the chief's political power flows from his mastery at controlling and publicly releasing crime statistics. They are propagated relentlessly, at Chamber of Commerce luncheons, in newsletters and at City Council meetings.
But sources who have worked in the department say the numbers are suspect. One former detective says there has always been an intense emphasis on underreporting and reclassifying crimes: changing armed robbery to grand theft, grand theft to petty theft, rape to battery, auto burglaries to auto tampering.
“One year I went out on three to four rape calls, and at the end of the year there was no sign of them in the statistics,” says the detective. “It all becomes very technical – we screw with it because we want it to look better. As the chief often used to say, 'It's perception vs. reality – if people think they're safe, then they're safe.'”
A typical technique, according to several sources inside the department, is to reclassify crime reports – whose totals must be reported to the Department of Justice – to “officer reports,” which are buried in files at headquarters. One source supplied a copy of a crime report to the Weekly outlining an attempted robbery in Culver City on August 12, in which a woman was held up with an automatic handgun in her carport. The woman screamed. The suspect ran away. On the left-hand corner of the crime report, a detective has written, “Reclassify to ofc rpt.” A source says the report has been filed away and will not be part of any statistics sent to the DOJ, or any investigation.
But a longtime officer at the department says he has never witnessed any tampering.
“The supervisors keep a close eye on the statistics. They really delve into it – they want it properly classified,” says Lieutenant Ellis Smith, a 25-year CCPD veteran. “I've never seen the chief or any supervisor attempt to coach the statistics one way or the other.”
Several residents cite those figures in attributing Cooke's good fortune in Culver City less to the fear he inspires than to simple self-interest. “It's a symbiotic relationship with the City Council – 'Hey, congratulations, crime is down for another year,'” says one observer who has followed the chief closely for years. “Property values stay up, the schools keep their reputation, and the City Council keeps getting re-elected. It's 'Cooke World' – he's built his little kingdom, and everyone goes along with it.”
Research assistance by Lou Rutigliano.