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Robert M. Saltzman

Robert M. Saltzman is a member of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. He is the former Vice President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, and he is an associate dean at the USC Gould School of Law where he teaches Legal Ethics and is responsible for student services.

Saturday at seven in the morning is not when I normally expect to see teenagers standing quietly at attention in straight lines— ­dressed in dark pants, white shirts and black ties. But early last Saturday morning, several hundred teenagers assembled at the LAPD Ahmanson Recruit Training Center at that early hour. They marched by me in single file, looking straight ahead; some seemed a little scared perhaps, but all appeared proud of themselves.

As a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, I was privileged to attend orientation and the first day of class for over 200 adolescents who have committed to participating every Wednesday evening and all-day every Saturday for the next several months in the LAPD Explorer Academy. The majority are Latino or African-American, just as are many of the LAPD officers who will teach and lead them in the Academy. Some of the new Explorers are looking for healthy camaraderie or alternatives to potential troubles in their neighborhoods. Others are looking for mentors or are fascinated with law enforcement.

During their months in the LAPD Academy, much will be expected of these young men and women. They will learn basic life-skills that will help them perform better in school and at home; they will learn ways to improve as citizens in their communities while developing positive relationships with the police; they will build self-confidence, conquer fears of public speaking, and grapple with ethical issues. Eventually, they will learn first-hand about law enforcement by having opportunities to provide community service in uniform, thereby relieving police officers for other important assignments.

These efforts are a win-win proposition for the LAPD. As LAPD Explorers, these youths are no longer targets for gang membership. Instead, they are LAPD's natural ambassadors back to their families, schools and communities. Later, they mature into a promising source of potential recruits for the LAPD and other law enforcement agencies.

Unfortunately, there is one significant problem with the Explorer Program. In Los Angeles, the Explorer Programs are administered by a city contractor that in turn subcontracts with the Boy Scouts to administer the programs. The problem is that the Boy Scouts openly proclaim their right to discriminate based on sexual orientation and religion. I know first-hand the significant value of the Explorers Programs to the LAPD and for the young men and women who participate. But no matter how valuable the programs, that value is no justification for them to be administered by an agency that does not comply with the city's non-discrimination laws.

Regrettably, when this issue has been considered in the past, the many supporters of the Boy Scouts have successfully used the quality of the Explorer Program to defeat efforts to separate the substance of the program from the Boy Scouts' policy of discrimination. Once again, that effort has begun with a campaign that targets the Police Commission.

I am hopeful that this longstanding problem may finally be near a sensible resolution. Last week, our new City Attorney issued an opinion concluding unequivocally that the arrangements with the LA Scouts do not comply with city law which "makes clear that any entity ... entering into a contract or subcontract with the City must not discriminate in their employment practices against an employee or applicant for employment based on race, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status, domestic partner status, or medical condition."

The City Attorney's advice to the Police Commission and the Fire Commission is clear: "If LAFD or LAPD desire to continue to contract out the administration of their youth development programs and the LA Scouts desire to be a contractor or subcontractor, then the LA Scouts should adopt a non-discrimination policy that adheres to the City's law on non-discrimination." In other words, these valuable youth development programs may continue, but they should be in compliance with city law. The Boy Scouts are entitled to discriminate based on sexual orientation and religion in their own affairs, but they are not entitled to both discriminate and administer an L.A. city youth program. They must choose one or the other.

The Fire Commission acted courageously this week in approving a motion to sever the Fire Department's relationship with the Explorer Program, and to instead develop a similar program to be administered by the Fire Department itself. On October 20th, the Police Commission will consider the LAPD's recommendations regarding these programs. In the past, the Police Department has strongly opposed severing the relationship with the Explorer Program. This year, however, I am encouraged by preliminary indications that the LAPD may finally be ready to propose the creation of its own youth program, independent of the Explorers.

We often hear about the "new LAPD." The LAPD opens its brand new administration building later this month, hammering home the argument that the LAPD has changed. I welcome the LAPD's many significant and substantive changes and improvements in recent years. It is time bring these valuable youth programs into full compliance with the City's non-discrimination laws, so that these youth programs can take their rightful place in the "new LAPD." The LAPD is a national and international leader in innovation in constitutional law enforcement­—from SWAT, to community policing, to modern use-of-force policies, to counter-terrorism. Now is the time for the LAPD to become a leader in youth programs, but to do so in a manner that ensures full compliance with the city's non-discrimination policies. The young men and women who are willing to show up for the Academy­—the youths who are the future of the City and the LAPD­—deserve no less.

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