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With Fischer re-elected, chief's future uncertain

Police Chief Darrel Stephens is not sure about his future in the city.

Even with the re-election of Mayor David Fischer, the chief said Wednesday that he still cannot say whether he will stay or go.

Fischer plans to review the performance of all his top administrators, but he has said repeatedly that he has no immediate plans to fire Stephens.

"I've said all along he was doing a good job," Fischer said of the chief Wednesday.

Stephens, whose five-year contract expires in December, has faced heavy criticism since the disturbances last fall. Officers have portrayed him as a weak leader who cares more about community groups than his own staff.

The Police Benevolent Association, which represents nearly all of the department's 500 sworn personnel, has filed formal complaints against Stephens, saying officers are inadequately trained and equipped.

The union, which called for the chief's resignation last year, was a vocal supporter of mayoral candidate William Klein, who had hinted he would replace Stephens.

On Wednesday, union president Jack Soule said he would urge Fischer not to renew the chief's contract.

"We would encourage him to really take a close look at what's going on internally at the Police Department," Soule said. "We believe Stephens is ineffective at this juncture and too much damage has been done."

Stephens, who took over the department in 1992, said he did not find any job security in Fischer's re-election Tuesday.

"The possibility of him making some changes is still out there," Stephens said. "We'll just have to sit down and, when it's appropriate in the next few weeks, talk about it."

About the time of the disturbances last year, the chief said, city officials offered to renew his contract, which has a provision that says negotiations can take place up to one year before it expires, Stephens said.

But Stephens said he was hesitant at the time, wanting to delay the process until the mayoral elections. If the city were to fire him, however, the contract guarantees him six months' pay.

Stephens said he has appreciated Fischer's support and "found delight" in his relationship with the mayor.

But Stephens said he realized that Fischer must decide what he wants to accomplish in his next four years in office.

The chief also could decide on his own that he doesn't want the contract renewed.

Stephens, considered an expert in building neighborhood partnerships and community policing within national law enforcement circles, would not say directly whether he has been wooed by other employers.

"Up until last night, we were not sure who was going to be mayor. In that kind of environment, you obviously have to think about what you have to do to pay your bills," Stephens said. "What I do next, I'm not real sure."

_ Times staff writer Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

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