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By JASON GEWIRTZ Long Beach Press-Telegram LONG BEACH A city regulation that prevents department heads from hiring family members may force Police Chief Jerome Lance to make a dramatic decision by September: retire or seek a change in the regulation. The rule could also force the chief's son, Darren, to make an unappealing decision of his own. Darren Lance, who has passed the initial steps to become a Long Beach police officer, could have to drop out of the lengthy process if his father decides to stay chief. In a written statement, the chief has confirmed that his son passed a civil service exam to become an officer in January. He declined further comment. "The final selection process for the next class will not occur until the fall,'' Lance said. "Prior to that selection process, I intend to review my status with the city manager and the city attorney.'' Darren Lance is one of about 300 candidates remaining out of nearly 2,000 who applied for the upcoming police academy class. That class is expected to begin in late September or early October. The younger Lance is undergoing medical, psychological and background checks as part of the application process. If he passes the checks, as he did a few years ago, he would be among a pool of people considered for hire by a selection panel that traditionally includes the police chief. The panel, which does not see the candidates' names, is supposed to make a "blind'' selection. But if Lance serves on the panel with his son a potential candidate, there could be legal questions over whether the process violates city nepotism regulations, City Attorney Bob Shannon said. The City Charter prohibits department heads and other officials from playing any role in hiring their spouses, children, in-laws, or other immediate relatives. A city administrative regulation goes further. That rule prohibits family members of department heads from being hired, or recommended for hire, at any point while their relative is department head. The 59-year-old Lance, chief since November 1999, has been employed by the Police Department for nearly 40 years. Darren Lance, 31, worked for the department as a civilian police services assistant from 1994 to 1997, leaving for a career in finance. In the late 1990s, Darren Lance applied to become a police officer in Long Beach before his father became chief. He passed the background tests and received an invitation to the academy, but later declined the invitation. Officer David Marander, a police spokesman, said the chief supports his son's current application. Through a police spokeswoman, Darren Lance declined comment. Choices ahead To reach this point in the recruiting process, Darren Lance passed the civil service test in January and an initial fitness test at an orientation by the police academy several weeks later. He is among a group of roughly 300 people still undergoing background checks before a pool of finalists is presented to the selection panel. If Lance is eliminated from the field over the next several weeks, the chief's potential dilemma will resolve itself. In addition, the chief could be spared a decision if Darren Lance removes his name from consideration. But if his son stays in the process, the chief's only options would be to retire or seek a change in the administrative regulation that prevents his son's hire, City Manager Henry Taboada said. As for retirement, Lance has reached his maximum benefit level. He will be employed 38 years with the Police Department next month and is entitled to 90 percent of his$154,000 salary as a pension. When he was hired, Lance agreed to serve at least three years as chief, although the agreement was not in writing, Taboada said. That anniversary comes in November. As for the rule change, Lance could lobby Taboada to reconsider the administrative regulation that prevents children of department heads from being hired in that department. That rule an interpretation of the broader charter provision was signed into effect by then City Manager James Hankla in 1996. As city manager, Taboada has the power to change the rule. Taboada said he has never been approached to change or waive the regulation since he became city manager in 1999. If the police chief approaches him, he would consider the request, Taboada said. "This police force and police forces across the nation celebrate the fact they are a family organization,'' Taboada said. "They take pride in that.'' Family history in the Long Beach police department is nothing new. While chiefs can't hire their children, they are permitted to become chiefs if their children already work for the department. When Robert Luman, Lance's predecessor, took office in 1996, his son and daughter were already Long Beach police officers. His daughter no longer works for the department. Before Luman, Chief William Ellis stepped down shortly before his son, Chad, was hired by the department as an officer. Ellis retired in March 1996. His son was hired as a police officer in June of that year. Ellis said he retired after reaching his maximum retirement benefit level, not because his son was applying with the department. The possibility of a rule change to allow both Lances to continue disturbs Steve James, president of the Police Officers Association. James said he doesn't necessarily agree with the rule that relatives can't be hired. The best candidates, he said, should be hired as officers. But James takes issue with the notion of changing the rule to fit the chief's potential dilemma. He's a chief of police who one of his key phrases is `character counts''' James said. "If (the rule) is saying you can't hire your child, it's there for a reason.'' 'Blind' selection It is not clear whether Lance will sit on the selection panel for the upcoming academy. Taboada said he has no problem with the chief serving on the panel; Shannon isn't sosure. Police recruits are considered employees when they start the police academy. The upcoming academy is expected to begin between Sept. 23 and Oct. 7. The selection panel meets two to three weeks before the academy's start date, said Lt. Greg Allison, the academy's director. The panel consists of the chief, three deputy chiefs, the department's civilian manager and the department psychologist. Over several days, the panel will select about 60 of the 100 to 200 finalists to invite to the academy. Prior to the selection panel convening, the chief has no day-to-day involvement in the civil service or background process. But with city rules preventing department heads from even recommending relatives for hire, Lance could be forced to make a decision on his future before the panel begins. Department officials call the selection a "blind'' process because panel members do not know the names, gender, or ethnicity of the applicants they are considering. But the panel receives other information, including ages and, in some cases, details of a candidate's past employment, education or military background, Allison said. The more relevant the previous employment is to police work, such as prior public safety employment, the more specific the information is likely to be when it is presented to the panel, he said. Taboada said he sees no conflict with Lance serving on the panel because the candidates' identities are secret. "The mere fact that you have a blind selection process is to make sure no one is favored or disfavored in the process,'' Taboada said. But Shannon said the issue could be gray depending on the details provided of the applicants. "How blind is 'blind' is the first question,'' he said. James said whatever decisions Chief Lance or his son make, they should be made before the selection process begins. "If you think the chief, when he hears his son's bio, isn't going to know it's his son,'' James said, "it's ludicrous.'' ..... This story was originally published July 16, 2002.
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"Son's ambition may prove dilemma for Lance" "Police: City rule against hiring relatives could force chief to step down" Headline by David Weiner, Long Beach Press-Telegram news editor. Here's what he said about editing the story and writing the head: We talked about the tone of the headline in the news meeting. Reading the story, I realized the chief had done nothing wrong. It was just a tough situation for him. I came up with the "dilemma for Lance" part first and the subject after that. John Futch, Weiner's supervisor, had this to say: This headline might, at first blush, look pretty benign. But I found it well-crafted, and most important, fair. The story required a headline with a delicate balance. The story wasn't an expose. Rather it dealt with the Long Beach police chief finding himself in an awkward position. The headline need to be precise without being sensational and I think David did an excellent job of encapsulating the issue without going over the edge, which would have been easy to do.
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