By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Compare New York’s beleaguered City Hall with L.A.’s and be glad you live here. The last time I looked, Mad Rudy Giuliani’s charming Georgian headquarters was sealed off by cops and barricades. Protesters now get arrested and held overnight under the authority of Gotham’s power-maddened burgermeister, who — having begun his mayoral career with dramatic crime reductions — recently tried to slash library funding in the face of a budget surplus.
Cut to 150 N. Los Angeles St. Where people throng our City Hall’s flower-bedecked lobby without even signing in. Outside which slogan-shouting pickets daily march with placards, unhindered. Where Mayor Dick Riordan himself awaits his elevator along with the rest of us. Makes you just love L.A., doesn’t it?
But this pretty picture is darkened by one ugly fact: Riordan has his own Rudy Giuliani, just as inflexible and given to fits of pettiness. His name is Bernard Parks. He’s our chief of police.
Parks’ absolutist bent shone forth last week in two disparate actions. One was his hyperdefensive response to the police killing of a homeless woman. The other was less serious but also telling — Parks’ fizzled bid to make the City Council change the Civil Service Commission’s 20-day suspensions of two unsworn LAPD employees accused of pilfering city property.
It wasn’t that Parks thought this punishment too grave for what were minor offenses. Rather, Parks wanted both employees fired. Since he couldn’t make that happen, he demanded that the council do it on his behalf. By a 7-4 vote, the council refused.
Both these matters exposed Parks’ impulse toward absolutism. In the shooting case, before the investigations were even begun, Parks was loudly telling everyone it wasn’t the police’s fault; instead, he blamed the dead woman’s relatives simply because they failed to persuade her back to sanity. Parks’ apparent inability to make a simple statement defending his department and then zip up his mouth isn’t just unprofessional. It could hurt the LAPD when the matter goes to court and Parks is called to testify.
In the theft case, Parks has already shot himself in the foot. Due to Parks’ own insistence that both first offenders be fired instead of suspended, a civil-service appeal officer revoked the original penalty — leaving the employees with no punishment, apart from the little problem of their pay having been withheld for more than seven months. In its overexcited coverage of the incident, the Daily News was outraged that, instead of due retribution, "the city now owes the men seven months back pay." Harrumph.
Yet here’s what those rascals actually did. One walked off with three dirty jail-mattress covers, which he claimed he was borrowing to use for padding in an impending move. The other pilfered under $70 worth of scrap metal. Now just because the City Attorney’s Office found the offenses too lowly to prosecute doesn’t make these employees guiltless. Nor am I saying neither should have been disciplined.
But let’s talk about how most employers might handle malfeasance of a similarly infinitesimal magnitude.
In the case of the mattress covers, the used linen was probably worth less than the handful of ballpoints the typical clerical type pockets in a week. (Okay, this former city employee hereby confesses.) For such an "offense," a sharp reminder as to just who pays for department supplies might suffice. For the scrap-metal hound, a brief suspension and a nasty note in the personnel file would seem more than adequate. If he was really on their cases, the men’s boss might hand them some crummy assignments. That’s how minor employee infractions are handled in the real world.
Parks, however, is not of that world. In this case, he also seems unaware quite how far he was overreaching by trying to invoke the council’s biggest single legislative power — its so-called "Prop. 5" authority to override city commissions — for so petty a purpose. Generally, Proposition 5 exists to correct costly contracting blunders or legal risks. For a general manager to request its use on a frivolous personnel matter smacks of more than arrogance. It reeks of political incompetence. Even Parks’ little-mourned predecessor, Willie Williams, knew better than to take his own (pardon) dirty linen to the City Council when he was already cognizant — as Parks should have been — that he didn’t have the votes to get his way.
At least Parks has added his own entry to the annals of abuse of authority: Inspector Javert spent his life trying to nail Jean Valjean for stealing bread, Captain Queeg had his strawberry insanity, and now we have Bernie Parks’ mattress-cover madness. Itto laugh.
But there’s nothing amusing about Parks’ defense in the La Brea shooting of 54-year-old Margaret LaVerne Mitchell. We’re told that Mitchell — homeless and presumed to be mentally ill — may have been wielding a screwdriver as LAPD Officer Edward Larrigan shot her fatally. At least Eula Love — killed in 1980 by police in the course of a utility-bill dispute — had a knife. More to the point, since Love’s death, our LAPD officers, we are told, have received an arsenal of nonlethal weapons intended for such incidents, along with considerable training as to how to handle disturbed and mentally ill people without actually killing them.