Rancho Palos Verdes City Council
   

AUGUST 3, 2004 CITY COUNCIL BADGES

TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND COUNCILMEMBERS

FROM: COUNCIL MEMBER DOUGLAS W. STERN

DATE: AUGUST 3, 2004

SUBJECT: CITY COUNCIL BADGES

RECOMMENDATION:

  • The City Council should adopt a policy eliminating the City Council badges.
  • If City Council Members believe that it is desirable to have a medallion of some sort, I suggest that the city have a medallion designed like our city logo.
  • However, it should not be made to look like a law enforcement officer’s badge of any sort. (A Daily Breeze Editorial on May 13, 2004 suggested a similar conclusion, copy attached.)

DISCUSSION:

At the present time the City of Rancho Palos Verdes provides to all City Council Members a badge. (See below.) The badge appears very similar to that carried by a sworn peace officer.

I am aware of no legitimate reason for civilians in the positions held by the City Council Members to have such badges.

Residents who are fortunate enough to gain the confidence of their fellow residents and win election to serve as members of the City Council are honored by that position. Council Members are privileged to serve our community. However, City Council Members are not "the privileged."

Unfortunately, the possession of badges such as this can and does lead to unacceptable behavior that reflects poorly on elected officials. Unfortunately, the temptation to take advantage of the badge may overcome one’s good judgment.

A recent front page article in the April 8, 2004 Daily Breeze (see full article below) highlighted this issue. It related an incident involving a council member from Redondo Beach flashing his badge to a resident when he was angry at the resident. The article also mentioned a similar incident involving another member of that city council.

Although it gave no details, the article noted:

 

Badges that resemble an official police shield have caused South Bay elected officials problems in the past. In 1984, Redondo Beach Councilman Ray Amys was accused of impersonating a police officer after throwing a boy's fishing pole into the ocean. And in 2002 Gardena City Councilman Steve Bradford was accused of flashing his badge to a Hawthorne police officer. The problem has been addressed at least twice before in the past 12 years in Hermosa Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes.

No doubt, there is also a concern that City Council Members will be tempted to use their badges as a means to be treated preferentially. Residents may be suspicious that Council Members use their badges as a means to try to avoid receiving traffic tickets. Whether this behavior exists or not, it is preferable to avoid the possibility that these badges are misused in any of the possible ways.

In response to the Daily Breeze Article, a letter was printed on April 14, 2004. It was written by a retired lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. His comments are undoubtedly shared by many:

Once again a puffed-up, self-important local politician, … has made a fool of himself. ***

[He] whipped out his badge recently during a road-rage incident involving a citizen with an inoperative vehicle. The question is why (other than to intimidate the hapless citizen)?

*** But even he didn’t fess up until it became public, and he seems more irritated by that fact than he seems sorry for his mistake. *** The Redondo city attorney requested that the elected officials who have been issued badges turn them in, a perfectly reasonable request. *** [Not all did so.] I would ask each of [those who did not turn them in] to state just one legitimate, compelling reason for them to have a badge. Just one. The fact is, they can’t do it.

As one who proudly wore and carried a badge for decades during my law enforcement career and understood and respected its symbolism, I deeply resent these tin-horn politicians who think they are above the people they serve, who think they should be granted special entitlements and who use the badge to assume an authority they have not been granted.

There should be a mandatory recall of all their badges -- the time for this archaic practice is long past.

That Redondo Beach City Council Member admitted his error in judgment in his own letter to the editor, published April 18, 2004.

The tensions of the moment resulted in a mutually heated exchange during which I displayed my ceremonial badge.

I admit, I let my temper get the best of me, acted irresponsibly and for that I apologize. I’m human, after all, and sometimes I make mistakes. I have admitted the truth and I accept the consequences of my actions.

As he notes, his temper and his being only human resulted in the exercise of poor judgment. Yet his temper and his human nature would not have gotten him into this embarrassing situation if he simply did not have the badge to abuse in the first place.

There may be justification for City Council members to be able to identify themselves as City Council members. However, the badge is not really such identification, as any person holding it can claim to be a City Council member. We know that at least one former council member claims to have lost his/her badge, and hence there are badges out in the public unaccounted for. Any person holding that badge can claim to be a City Council member. The badge itself has no identification value, as no name or identifying information appears on the badge. Also, and importantly, each City Council member is issued a photo identification by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which positively identifies a council member with both a photo and a signature. To the extent identification is in order, this photo identification card is a preferable tool. (See sample below.)

Given what I believe to be the lack of justification for City Council Members to have badges, and the unfortunate temptation that they present for misuse, I believe the best policy is to remove the potential for abuse. That can easily be done.

Therefore I ask that the City Council adopt a policy that Rancho Palos Verdes shall not issue to any person (other than law enforcement officers) any badge that resembles a law enforcement badge. (I do not mean by this that we should eliminate the practice of giving retired mayors a plaque which may have a Mayor’s badge attached to the plaque.)

If the City Council believes that it desires for City Council Members to be issued some medallion of some sort, I believe the appropriate thing to do is to have a medallion designed along the lines of our city logo. Although I initially prepared this Report in April 2004, I would note that on May 13, 2004, the Daily Breeze published an editorial supporting the proposal by the Redondo Beach City Attorney that the City Council be issued badges that are visually distinct from those issued to law enforcement officials. (See copy attached below.)

CONCLUSION

  • The City Council Members (and any non-law enforcement city officials) should not have badges that resemble law enforcement badges.
  • If some ceremonial item is desirable, a medallion resembling our city logo should be issued to City Council Members.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Douglas W. Stern

Douglas W. Stern,

City Council Member

 

Page 1, Lead Article

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Altercation dulls shine on RB council badges

COMPLAINT: Don Szerlip apologizes for flashing his city ID during a dispute with a motorist. Policy will be reviewed.

By Eddie North-Hager Daily Breeze

A profanity-laced confrontation between Redondo Beach City Councilman Don Szerlip and a stalled motorist has led to a public apology and a review of the council's policy on using police-like badges.

Szerlip, during comments at the end of Tuesday's City Council meeting, admitted he had a "heated argument" and flashed his badge to identify himself during the dispute.

"To my great embarrassment, I let my anger get the best of me and used inappropriate language," he said. "I wish to express my sincerest apologies for any embarrassment I have brought to the mayor, the council and any other elected officials in Redondo Beach."

Szerlip said he turned in his badge to City Attorney Jerry Goddard following the December incident, which only recently became public.

Mayor Greg Hill and Councilman Chris Cagle asked Goddard on Tuesday to prepare a policy on how the badges should be used.

On Dec. 3, Szerlip was driving to the grand reopening of Artesia Boulevard. Szerlip's path was blocked by a stalled vehicle on narrow Vanderbilt Lane, which parallels Artesia, in north Redondo Beach.

Jeffrey Scott Adam, 34, was helping a friend push a truck into a parking spot, according to a Redondo Beach police report. He claimed in a police report filed the same day that Szerlip shouted profanities at him and displayed his badge.

Adam found a police officer at the festivities and asked to report a "road rage" incident. Adam then identified Szerlip to officer Henry Johnson.

"I messed up, I flashed my badge," Szerlip told Johnson, according to the police report. Szerlip then apologized to Adam, and the two shook hands, the police report stated.

"Adam said Szerlip was wrong to use his badge to bully him around," the report stated.

Adam still filed a report that was passed on to the District Attorney's Office.

Adam didn't return calls for comment.

"Anytime there is a complaint made with regard to an elected official, it is investigated by the Police Department, reviewed by the city attorney and, in order to avoid any conflict, it is referred to the District Attorney's Office," Goddard said before the council meeting Tuesday.

It was determined there was insufficient evidence to warrant charges against Szerlip for using a badge to impersonate an officer, said Dave Demerjian, head of the office's Public Integrity Division.

The district attorney's report concluded that "there is no doubt that Szerlip" used a badge to make people believe he was a police officer, but there was not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt about his intent to "fraudulently induce the belief," the report stated.

Szerlip said he used the badge only for identification purposes.

Goddard said the city has no formal policy on the badges, which are issued when a person takes office and are often mounted on a plaque when the official retires.

Goddard said he would not confirm nor deny taking badges away from public officials. But City Clerk Sandy Forrest said she was asked to relinquish hers. Cagle still had his at Tuesday's meeting.

"I resent the fact I haven't misused mine but I had to turn it in," Forrest said. "I never had a problem with it."

This wasn't the first time a discussion between residents and Szerlip has escalated into a tense exchange. In the fall, a citizen collecting signatures for an initiative called police because of an argument with Szerlip. Szerlip, who is in his first year on the council, said it was merely a heated debate.

"I'm not a violent person. I am passionate," Szerlip said before the council meeting. "I will defend my position. (In the December altercation) I used words I should not have used."

Badges that resemble an official police shield have caused South Bay elected officials problems in the past. In 1984, Redondo Beach Councilman Ray Amys was accused of impersonating a police officer after throwing a boy's fishing pole into the ocean. And in 2002 Gardena City Councilman Steve Bradford was accused of flashing his badge to a Hawthorne police officer. The problem has been addressed at least twice before in the past 12 years in Hermosa Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes.

"It being a personal matter, I had hoped it would remain between us," Szerlip said at Tuesday's meeting. "Unfortunately, that is not the case."

Publish Date: April 8, 2004

Letters to the Editor, Daily Breeze, April 14, 2004

Strip council members of badges

Once again a puffed-up, self-important local politician, a rookie yet, has made a fool of himself.

First-term Redondo Beach Councilman and recognized bully Don Szerlip, by his own admission, whipped out his badge recently during a road-rage incident involving a citizen with an inoperative vehicle. The question is why (other than to intimidate the hapless citizen)?

Sometime back, when Redondo Beach Mayor Greg Hill badged a female security guard at King Harbor and loudly proclaimed, I am the mayor," I asked him why he did so. He told me it was merely to identify himself. Szerlip used the same excuse. Why would either Hill or Szerlip think their victims cared one whit who they were? Just ho gullible do they think we are?

Szerlip, at least, has a sense that he did wrong. But even he didn’t fess up until it became public, and he seems more irritated by that fact than he seems sorry for his mistake. His potty-mouth exclamations to the citizen are another story, another source of pride for Redondo Beach. The Redondo city attorney requested that the elected officials who have been issued badges turn them in, a perfectly reasonable request. Most complied, but Chris Cagle (who I otherwise have great respect for) declined, as did Gerard Bisignano and John Parsons. I would ask each of them to state just one legitimate, compelling reason for them to have a badge. Just one. The fact is, they can’t do it.

As one who proudly wore and carried a badge for decades during my law enforcement career and understood and respected its symbolism, I deeply resent these tin-horn politicians who think they are above the people they serve, who think they should be granted special entitlements and who use the badge to assume an authority they have not been granted.

There should be a mandatory recall of all their badges -- the time for this archaic practice is long past.

STEVE SWITZER

Redondo Beach

• Editor’s note: Steve Switzer is a retired lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

 

 

 

Letters to the Editor, Daily Breeze, April 18, 2004

Councilman vows ‘to do better’

Almost one year ago, the residents of District 3 in Redondo Beach elected me as their representative on the City Council because I promised to work hard on their behalf . Since then, I have worked to remove "used car lots" from our streets, increase access to public transit, preserve individual property rights and improve our sewer system, among many other things. I pride myself on thorough preparation for council meetings.

During last year’s signature drive to overturn a redevelopment district in the Catalina Corridor, I listened as a proponent stated that the establishment of the district would allow the construction of 3,000 homes. That statement was not factual, and I calmly challenged it by clarifying the facts. The person collecting signatures was intolerant of open dialogue and characterized my discussion as harassment. Claiming that a rational defense of the truth is harassment misrepresents the events, and my actions warranted no censure.

A few months back I found myself stuck on a narrow street a couple of cars behind a stalled truck. I approached the vehicle and was informed by those under its hood that they were trying to move it. I returned to my car. Several minutes later, with traffic now backed up to the end of the block, I again approached the truck. The tensions of the moment resulted in a mutually heated exchange during which I displayed my ceremonial badge.

I admit, I let my temper get the best of me, acted irresponsibly and for that I apologize. I’m human, after all, and sometimes I make mistakes. I have admitted the truth and I accept the consequences of my actions.

Today, with your understanding, I will strive to do better.

DON SZERLIP

District 3 City Councilman, Redondo Beach

 

Editorial

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Cities ought to revamp policies on badges

The Redondo Beach City Council is considering whether to rewrite its current policy on issuing police-style badges to council members. Considering the potential for misunderstandings, Redondo should restrict such badges to peace officers, and other cities should follow suit.

Except for the words on the ribbons, council badges are almost identical to those worn by Redondo police officers.

Redondo officials decided to look into the badge policy after Councilman Don Szerlip flashed his badge to identify himself last December during a roadside argument. Szerlip has since apologized and turned in his council badge.

Council members in other cities have also been criticized for flashing police-style badges. Such badges may give local elected officials a sense of authority, but they cause more problems than they are worth.

The danger is that such badges can be used to intimidate citizens, who may confuse a council member for a police officer. Unlike police officers, most council members are not trained in enforcing laws under different situations and confronting a wide range of behaviors.

It’s conceivable, too, that badges can place a council member in danger. Just last month, a teenager chose to gun down a California Highway Patrol officer simply because he was a member of law enforcement. It’s an unfortunate reality today that people who appear to be law enforcement officers can become targets of gang-related activities.

City Attorney Jerry Goddard has recommended that the City Council pass an ordinance restricting badges shaped like stars or shields to law enforcement. That would help to prevent future misunderstandings. The council could also opt to offer its members identification badges that are shaped differently than the police-style badges.

People need to be able to make clear distinctions between public safety officers and other officials in their communities. Redondo Beach can do just that by approving a more restrictive badge policy.

Front Page

Thursday, May 20, 2004

RB councilmembers vote to keep their badges

RESTRICTIONS: In wake of incident involving stalled motorist, new policy limits use of shields to official business.

By Eddie North-Hager Daily Breeze

Elected officials in Redondo Beach will get to keep their badges, albeit with a few new common sense rules tacked on.

The practice came under scrutiny in April when it was learned that Councilman Don Szerlip flashed his badge during a profanity-laced tirade against a stalled motorist in December. In the aftermath of the incident, Szerlip and other City Council members surrendered their shields to City Attorney Jerry Goddard.

On a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the council decided that officials can use their police-style badges for city business only and must verbally identify themselves and their elected position. And "the badge shall not be used in an unprofessional manner."

The silver shield, administered by the City Council secretary but identical to badges carried by Redondo Beach police officers, will be returned to the city after the official's term expires. The badge will be mounted on a plaque and given to the individual as a memento of their public service.

Only Councilman Kurt Schmalz voted against the rules. Schmalz offered four different cards the city issues that could be used for identification.

"We really don't need a policy because we don't need badges," Schmalz said. "They really serve no useful purpose."

Szerlip didn't participate in Tuesday's discussion and said later he hadn't decided if he would still carry his badge.

The adopted policy, written by Councilman Chris Cagle, didn't include a suggestion that the city attorney investigate complaints and violations would result in $100 fines. Misuse of a badge to impersonate an officer is already a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The District Attorney's Office investigates such claims.

The city had no policy when Szerlip flashed his badge six months ago.

The District Attorney's Office determined there was insufficient evidence to warrant charges against Szerlip for using a badge to impersonate an officer. The district attorney's report concluded that "there is no doubt that Szerlip" used a badge to make people believe he was a police officer, but there was not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt about his intent to "fraudulently induce the belief," the report stated.

Former Hermosa Beach Councilman George Barks, now a Redondo Beach resident, was one of a handful to question the need for council badges. Barks said that during his tenure from 1974 to 1986, the council's badges were taken away because of abuse.

"You don't need the opportunity for misconduct and abuse," Barks said.

Councilman Gerard Bisignano said tradition was one of the reasons the council should have a badge.

"Prior to this, this issue was on nobody's radar screen," Bisignano said. "If you can handle it and use it appropriately, I think you should keep your badge."

Los Angeles and Huntington Beach are two cities Goddard found to have a formal policy for using badges.

Councilman John Parsons, who also serves as chairman of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, took an informal survey and found that nearly every city in the area issues police-style badges.

"This is absolutely amazing how one can turn nothing into some kind of controversy," Parsons said.