JOHN DURAN | Building A Better City: Policing

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From 2001 – 2020, I served on the West Hollywood City Council. It was a great 20 year run and a period of time when we built the city up from its incorporation into what it is today. Like all people (and sometimes narcissists) who review their own history, I see this period of time as the “golden years” of the City. I was not here in 1984 when the city incorporated. I was living down in Laguna Beach when the City of West Hollywood was created. But I became friends with both councilmembers Steve Schulte and John Heilman back then and kept up with what fantastic things they were doing up in the new Weho. We were at the beginning of the AIDS movement and needed each other from San Francisco to San Diego. And West Hollywood and Laguna Beach had a well-trod path between the 2 cities.

I moved to West Hollywood six years later in the year 1990 after I experienced some unfortunate incidents threatening my home and office down in the OC by the local chapter of the White Aryan Resistance (a story for another time). I moved to Westbourne Street and became friends with Jeffrey Prang and Steve Martin before either of them became Councilmembers. I had sued the Sheriff’s Department twice at that time for denying HIV positive inmates their AZT medication (Kolcum v. LA County Sheriffs) and for unjustly discriminating against Bruce Boland – the station’s first openly gay sheriff deputy (Boland v. LA County Sheriffs). So shortly thereafter in late 1990, I joined the last Chris Fairchild in writing and sponsoring a ballot initiative to create our own police department – the West Hollywood PD – which we placed on the ballot in 1991.

I admit now that I was quite young (31 years old) and naïve about what it would take to create our own police department. But at the time, we were having great difficulties with the Sheriff’s Department under Sheriff Sherman Block. Lewd conduct enforcement entrapping gay men in sex sting operations at the Pacific Design Center. The sheriffs refused to participate in the Christopher Street West Parade. The discrimination against potential (and closeted) gay and lesbian sheriff deputies was rampant. It was a frosty and hostile relationship between Sheriffs and LGBT community across Los Angeles County – including West Hollywood.

We lost that citizen sponsored ballot initiative by a vote of 49% – 51%. It was close. And I found myself on the side of many left leaning idealists who thought we could do police reform – better. The late Chris Fairchild sold his life insurance policy which bankrolled the campaign (we lost Chris soon thereafter when he died from AIDS). And I found myself on the opposing side from all of my new friends who were defending the Sheriff Deputies – John Heilman, Steve Martin, Jeff Prang, the late Ruth Williams, the late Sal Guarriello and Abbe Land. At the time, I thought they were all wrong and believed we were all right. I figured eventually they would come around and see the error in their thinking.

So, cut to the good news – thank God we lost that campaign. Had we won that campaign and created our own West Hollywood Police Department in 1991 – the City of West Hollywood would have been bankrupted in the new millennium by overbearing police pensions. We would not have had the resources to create our own crime labs much less afford new technology to equip our new rookie police

department. So, we were heady and idealistic. But we would have stifled the toddler city from finding firm economic footing and deep roots to become prosperous in the new millennium.

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Ultimately, after that election – the Sheriff’s Department came to the table and we negotiated many of the reforms we were seeking (cessation of lewd conduct sting operations in Weho, the recruitment of LGBT personnel at the Sheriff’s Department and participation with Christopher Street West). We got what we wanted and did not imperil the city coffers. It ended up being a win/win. It later become quite ironic that I would receive the endorsement of the Sheriff Deputies Union in my city council re-elections in 2005, 2009, 2013, 2017 and 2020. The guy who tried to kick them out of town – became their endorsed candidate! It took a lot of work from a lot of people (especially our West Hollywood Sheriff Conference Committee), but change and reform did happen. Piecemeal. Patience. And hard work from so many. But it did happen.

Needless to say – I am quite happy to see that the proposal to create a new West Hollywood Police Department (déjà vu?) was killed at the Public Safety Commission recently (thanks to all the Commissioners especially Commissioner Robert Oliver who I recently battled with in the 2022 election). You all did the fiscally prudent decision and prevented the naïve idealists from taking us over a fiscal cliff. We did not try to throw the baby out with the bath water – again! It was the correct decision in 1991 and the correct decision in 2023. While I am still stunned and upset by the current council majority defunding our sheriff’s department and over reliance on security ambassadors – I do believe that the corrections can still be made and adjusted over time. Councilmembers John Heilman and Lauren Meister need a third vote to restore the sheriff funding. I had hoped to be that third vote. But I lost the election by 216 votes. It was not meant to be and I accept that.

But it doesn’t mean that we don’t all keep a close eye on public safety goals in the upcoming 2 years. Especially around homelessness, drug addiction and property crimes. Those should be issues that unify us. Ultimately, I think the current council majority will see their policies are falling short on expressed goals. And they will change their minds – as I did. And if not, my hope is that the voters will make the necessary correction in 2024 (and no – I have not declared myself as a candidate in 2024). Whether I ever return to council or not – like so many who call this place home for decades – I love this city and remember the hard fought battles of the past which brought us to where we are today.

So, I told publisher Larry Block that I would write a series of articles about “building a better city”. This is the first part. Next parts? Seismic retrofitting, recovery corner on Robertson Blvd and community theaters. All ideas that I initiated many years ago that need to return to the talking heads in the town square to make things happen to improve all our lives. Too much council debate around bells and whistles – while forgetting about the infrastructure, skeleton, and muscular fiber of municipal governance. Part of getting older (jeezus – did I just say that out loud?) is realizing that my past errors and mistakes can be as useful as past triumphs and achievements – by sharing my experiences. And part of earning the gray hairs is understanding that I have many supporters and many detractors. So be it. Reflecting on my entire life – I am good with the past and present. It is what it is.

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[…] A BETTER CITY SERIES by John DuranPart 1: PolicingPart 2: Seismic and Retrofitting […]

mark Patrick reese
10 months ago

John, You are a lawyer. Why don’t you see the structural defect with having the sheriff, “civil law enforcement”, contracting with the city to provide “criminal law enforcement”? The people in the West Hollywood precint are NOT trained in criminal justice, police academy, law school or anything that would expose them to the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Civil Rights bills, or any relavent legislation or case law. I have been harassed and tortured by the sheriff’s department for three years. I discovered that the department got into the habit of NOT delivering recorded wills upon receipt of a death… Read more »

Michael G Labarbera
Michael G Labarbera
10 months ago

Duran would certainly be an improvement over several of the dangerous clowns we have on the council now. Remember folks…if we cancel every person who ever did something stupid in their lives the world would be devoid of humans.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
10 months ago

One of the most important upsides of the WHPD effort was that it kept a cohort of new activists involved in Public Safety. About half a dozen of these guys got adopted by Ruth Williams, even though they were on opposite sides of the issue. Ruth kept them focused on Sheriff’s issues and frankly the very close margin of the election forced the Sheriff to take notice and start listening. I can’t say there were overnight changes but in WeHo we saw a new, more flexible approach to law enforcement and a better working relationship with the Sheriff. So the… Read more »

Eastside Straight Girl
Eastside Straight Girl
10 months ago

As a proud supporter as well as voting for Duran this last time around,(yes, I forgave him a long time ago), this article shows my reasoning WHY I would vote for him again & again! Nuts & Bolts with common sense is how he voted while he was in office in those 20 years. It is too bad that he is not in there now as another adult in the room. Excellent article John! I am not, & never will be influenced by the naysayers that obviously have no problem casting the first stone….just duck as I do hope there… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by Eastside Straight Girl
Dump Duran
Dump Duran
10 months ago

Enabling predators such as Duran is a serious blight on our LGBTQ community, and we must make it unequivocally clear that such behavior is completely unacceptable in a civil society.

Wacky Weho
Wacky Weho
10 months ago
Reply to  Dump Duran

Regarding Duran I find his prior conduct unprofessional and distasteful. His contributions here suggest introspection and recognition of how that aspect of his past undermined more positive work. ‘Predators’ of any spot or stripe should be policed and indeed ruthlessly dealt with by all sane communities intent on survival. That includes the predatory entities on the current council and advisory boards who wish to strip the citizens of WeHo of their armed Sherrifs deputies and who support the fadish movement towards criminalizing constitutional behavior and relentlessly cheerleading decriminalization of destructive and anti social activities. We must purge these hostile alien… Read more »

Dana
Dana
10 months ago

How is this clown get back on city council. He was finally voted out only to get back in again. Great job weho, voting against your own interests again. Maybe Mr Duran will find another new boyfriend this time around. Seems to be the only thing he uses his seat on the council for.

Woke Gotham
Woke Gotham
10 months ago
Reply to  Dana

Don’t discount a crooked politician from rising up again, no matter how much they have disgraced themselves! With no real regard for the recall of Shyne apart from his own self-serving opportunism, Duran understands it’s all a stage, and the pawns are replaceable.

Outraged
Outraged
10 months ago

EASY! RECALL SEPTIC SHYNE and replace her with actually competent candidates like Duran! Email RecallShyne90069@gmail.com to become a petition distributor or signee.

Duran’s conscience
Duran’s conscience
10 months ago

So, here I stand once again. On the precipice of elections. The people hate me, and I hate them. But I continue. For I know they are stupid. Replaceable. Foolish even. I can craft an image of what they want. I can give them what they expect. I take secret joy in this. For I alone deserve this position. My experience has taught me a valuable lesson. Money talks. What the public sees matters. More than anything… the voters don’t.

hifi5000
hifi5000
10 months ago

I think John Duran could become a sage for the city of West Hollywood.He should set aside any ambitions for city council and concentrate on providing advice and his considerable experience for his past service.I look forward to his ideas in Wehoville.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
10 months ago

Thinking adults in West Hollywood are well-served by Mr. Duran’s sound mind and critical thinking skills. He knows what constitutes the nuts and bolts of sound municipal governance and the current council are the heirs to the solid municipal infrastructure that Duran and others stewarded for many years. Some of us will not sit idly by as a crop of performance artists and buffoons squander decades of good work, It’s time that we, the residents who live here and call West Hollywood home 24/7/365, demand that our needs come first.

Lack of Scope & Ability
Lack of Scope & Ability
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

One might think it is criminal to have allowed and encouraged West Hollywood to sink the the level we now are expected to be accustomed to. The performance artists you refer to have little or no appreciation for what went into building the city. Rather than reinforce its stability, particularly following the disastrous pandemic, they have appropriated it for their own near criminal machinations, as a trajectory for some future post up stream. Not one of the three novices have ever participated in building anything nor do they individually or collectively possess any vision for a stable harmonious city. At… Read more »

Dana
Dana
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

Mr Duran is the same clown who cost the city millions of dollars from his sex scandals. “Sound mind”? Seriously??

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
10 months ago
Reply to  Dana

Millions? Not even close!

Manny
Manny
10 months ago

Thank you John. When reflecting on the past, you should feel proud of all the good things you’ve made happen during your council years and before. Most on the current council have/had no idea of what it took to become a city and the consistent efforts made by past councils and community advocates. These current council members literally came out of nowhere with no community accomplishments or engagement before having the cojones to run for office. Somehow (due to many clueless Weho voters) they won. They are desperate to be relevant and to make their own a mark on West… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
10 months ago
Reply to  Manny

One can also find apt descriptors in musical theatre, as in this from Camelot which has just found new life in the Aaron Sorkin rewriting of the book.

“Do not let it be forgot,
That once there was a spot,
For one brief shining moment,
That was known as Camelot.”

That which two generations built into a once-fair hamlet is being splintered, divided, and smashed.

Sadly, the often vindictive vengeful nature of some in the bureaucracy also brings to mind the Shakespearean tragedy of Hamlet.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

Alan, when Bob Craig, the publisher of Frontiers Magazine, took over as leader of the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee in the summer of 1984, he was famously quoted as saying: “if you are a gay person, Camelot is at hand”. It really captured the sense of the moment in the community.

Eric
Eric
10 months ago

Pity the Moronic SEB don’t see that working with, rather than against, is the pathway to the best outcome.

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