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Our Opinion: Work to heal

January 08, 2002

That the El Centro Police Department is plagued by dissension is not new news, but it is bad news.

Just a few years ago the ECPD had a reputation as one of the best law enforcement units in the county. Gangs, which had been a huge problem in the city, basically had been brought under control, as were other crime areas that had been big concerns in El Centro.

Many of these issues were addressed with innovative programs that proved effective. And in an area where some departments had reputations of kicking rear first and taking names later, the ECPD was known for its civility but firmness in dealing with the public.

Much of this good work and fine reputation of the ECPD came during the administration of Police Chief Harold Carter, who retired and later become county sheriff.

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After a lengthy tenure with the interim chief tag, Raymond Loera, a longtime ECPD officer and commander, was appointed chief.

While it was apparent he would need some seasoning to become a first-rate chief, Loera seemed to have the background and personality to reach that level. He had moved up through the ranks while working in a variety of areas of police work.

There was, however, and is a group, albeit relatively small, of officers in the department steadfastly opposed to Loera's ascension. They have said Loera plays favorites and has neither the skills nor the mental makeup to be a good chief. Internal grumbling, complaints to city officials and letters of discontent in the "Voice of the People" section of this newspaper did not slow after Loera got the permanent appointment.

Finally, after years of such dissension, city officials decided to have a state Police Officers Standards and Training team do an independent analysis of the organization.

That was a good decision, and the results of the study are a mixed bag.

The study found most in the department like Loera's leadership, but nine of 29 surveyed said he needed improvement in that area. It is hard to get total support when you are the head of any organization, so Loera is not doing all that badly in that area, it appears.

The study found the department is top-heavy, has too many levels and lacks clear policies and procedures. There are no surprises there, but all of that can be fixed with determination and a bit of time.

Aside from Loera, there is a lot of fingerpointing and a lack of trust in the department, according to POST. Those things will be harder to deal with. Organizational problems are one thing. People problems are another matter altogether.

We agree with the POST recommendations that push for, among other things, "change management," better dissemination of information throughout the department and working toward building trust among the ranks.

These are noble goals indeed, but those involved have to be willing to put aside grudges and be willing to give up territory. These things are never easy, but if the employees want the ECPD to become a great place to work and a top law enforcement department, many people are going to have to forgive, forget and give ground.

Loera said a committee has been set up containing a cross-section of the department that will prioritize the report's recommendations. We hope these recommendations are implemented as soon as possible.

With only open minds, open hearts and a lot of work, the ECPD can re-establish its reputation as a top-flight police department.

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