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New Calif. police chief wants to restore 'shine'

By Victoria Kim
The Los Angeles Times

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Few in Inglewood had heard of Jacqueline Seabrooks or knew anything about the new police chief. After the City Council interviewed three finalists and then announced the appointment, Inglewood police officers and residents wondered how the new boss would adjust.

After all, Seabrooks, 45, is a 26-year police veteran of Santa Monica, a city that had two homicides in 2006; Inglewood had 36.

"Everything was a concern, because she was an outsider, she was new to the department and nobody knew anything about her," said Det. Loyd Waters, vice president of the Inglewood Police Assn.

Now, four months into Seabrooks' tenure at the Inglewood Police Department, concerns have been replaced with excitement about the energetic chief.

During her first weeks, Seabrooks responded to a silent alarm and took down information from a robbery report. She popped in to the station on weekends to speak to officers she hadn't met and went along with a SWAT team to hunt for a homicide suspect.

"I tend to be more hands-on and focused on how the person at the end of my decision perceives things," she said.

Seabrooks took over Sept. 28 at a department hoping to put behind it a series of scandals, including a nationally publicized 2002 videotaped beating of a handcuffed teenager and recent allegations of on-duty officers committing rape. Federal investigators have also been scrutinizing the department over evidence that appears to show officers receiving sexual favors at massage parlors.

For a new leader to oversee Inglewood's 200-strong police force, the South Bay city of more than 100,000 chose Seabrooks, the first black woman in California to hold a city police chief's position and only the second female to hold the top office among Los Angeles County's 48 police departments.

"We had a department that needed a dynamic new leadership," Inglewood Councilman Daniel Tabor said. "What we get from Jacqueline is a person on their way up, trying to make their mark as a chief."

Waters agreed: "She seems like a person that can change things ... like a doer and not a talker."

In a way, Seabrooks says she is right at home in Inglewood. She was born and raised in neighboring South Los Angeles, which shares much of the same cultural mix and problems. The makeup of Inglewood's population mirrors Seabrooks' group of friends growing up, a mix of black and Latino. She picked up Spanish from her friends and later studied it in school.

As a girl in South Los Angeles, Seabrooks never imagined she would become a police officer.

Seabrooks remembers that when she was 17, she and her friends were pulled over because police said their car resembled a vehicle used in a robbery. The officers ordered the teenagers out of the car and, saying "vile things," told them to face the ground. Seabrooks could clearly hear a voice through the police radio informing the officers they had pulled over the wrong car.

"They didn't explain to us why they stopped us, they didn't say sorry, nothing. Just, 'Get into your car and get the hell out of here,' " she said.

Then there was the time she was working as an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant when the alarm went off. An officer who responded upon arrival ordered her out of the store, holding a shotgun to her forehead. Almost 30 years later, Seabrooks still remembers the officer's trembling hand, thinking: 'If I sneeze, I'm dead.'

Again, she recalled, there was no apology, no explanation.

"I have no doubt the officers were doing their job," Seabrooks said. "The question is, did they have to do it like that?"

But police presence was a necessity in Seabrooks' neighborhood, where gangs were beginning to take hold in the early 1970s. A number of her friends ended up in jail, fell victim to gang violence or died from drug overdose.

"I saw how things would spiral out of control ... how people got sucked up into something that was bigger than them," she said.

The Inglewood police chief wholeheartedly credits her mother for the path she took, painting the portrait of "a strong black woman that made no bones about what she would and would not tolerate." Seabrooks had to be home by the time the street lights were on, and the fear of her mother's unsparing rod outweighed peer pressure.

"When she said, 'If you get arrested, I will not come get you and I will throw you out,' I believed her," Seabrooks said.

Seabrooks applied for her first job with the California State Police on a dare. During her first semester at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, a college instructor handed her an application. "I bet you can't do this," she recalled him saying -- and he had pushed the right buttons. The next semester, Seabrooks entered the police academy in Rio Hondo and began work with the State Police. She was 18.

A year into her career, Seabrooks was hired by the Santa Monica Police Department, which offered better pay and job opportunities. But shortly thereafter, her commitment to law enforcement was put to the test.

Seabrooks was among the first female officers recruited by the department, and many of the older officers had yet to adjust to the change. Seabrooks said her direct supervisor saw her as a young woman who would go along with his innuendoes and sexual harassment.

"I had never dealt with that before. I didn't even know the phrase 'sexual harassment,' " she said. "There were verbal comments, inference of quid pro quo exchanges, the creating of a hostile environment where you're made to feel that your dignity is at risk."

After about two years in Santa Monica, Seabrooks decided she couldn't endure it any longer and quit.

About a year later, the department called her back. As part of an internal investigation into the alleged harassment, Seabrooks gave her version of the interactions with her supervisor, who held a much higher rank. He was forced into retirement; she remained on the force for 24 years and rose to the rank of captain.

"It was a much more pointed message for me to come back and stand tall," she said.

"It was a watershed moment of her career," said James Butts, a former Santa Monica police chief who worked with her for 15 years and now oversees security forces at Los Angeles International and Ontario International airports. "Coming back and starting over after having separated in that manner was exemplary of her determination to succeed and not be held back."

Phillip Sanchez, deputy chief of the Santa Monica Police Department, worked with Seabrooks for 25 years. "She probably set the benchmark for other women to follow in law enforcement," he said.

Seabrooks says what the Inglewood Police Department needs most is to redefine its goals to recover the organizational confidence lost amid the scandals.

In 2002, Inglewood police arrested and handcuffed 16-year-old Donovan Jackson for failing to comply with orders. After the teenager was handcuffed, one of the officers picked him up and slammed him against a patrol car. The scene was captured on video, and national media compared the incident with the 1991 Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police.

In December 2006, a visiting Florida woman accused two Inglewood officers of following her to her motel room and sexually attacking her. The officers said they stopped the woman because they suspected she was a prostitute. The county district attorney's office has yet to take action.

Last year, The Times reported an ongoing federal probe of at least six current or former Inglewood police officers accused of receiving sexual services at local massage parlors.

Since Seabrooks took office, three officers have been fired as a result of internal investigations. As many as seven others may eventually be disciplined or let go, Seabrooks said.

At a recent neighborhood watch meeting, Seabrooks promised to "put the shine back on what it means to be the Inglewood Police Department." About 20 residents at the meeting listened attentively, nodding in assent. Several gave her a standing ovation.

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

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