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
|Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov|
I had forgotten the nature of British daily papers until I was forced to depend on them during my recent vacation. Critics usually distinguish between the sexy, broad-circulation English tabloids and the prestigious, large-format versions. The first present stuff like "Horror! Frenchman’s Ghastly Sex Threat Against Local Nurse! Shock!" (the Frenchman was relieving himself in an alley when the nurse somehow happened by), while the elite broadsheets promise insightful opinion and acute reporting. But the two often meld in the same story, viz., following a long profile of a controversial writer: "In all my previous professional experience, I must say, I have never interviewed so icy-blooded a brute."
As with our own TV magazines, the British press’ slogan seems to be, "That’s Entertainment!" Thus it’s light on news of these U.S. hinterlands. Unless the story is truly global.
So imagine my surprise last month when a Los Angeles public servant showed up atop Page 3 of my morning tabloid. Right there, among the naked bathing beauties, the homegrown giant zucchinis and the misdemeanant, drug-besotted teenage dukes, was the visage of LAPD Chief Bernie Parks. I could not have been more astonished had I met him at my favorite Bristol pub — the Myrtle Tree down on St. George’s Road — downing a pint of bitter among the morning crowd of working bookies raking in the dockworkers’ cash for their daily bets.
But this wasn’t so happy an occasion. The tabloid claimed L.A. was experiencing the worst disclosure of LAPD corruption since Hollywood Division officers decided to moonlight as burglars 20 years ago. What was unusual was that the tabloid was exactly right.
To give due credit, Parks apparently showed himself a virtuoso of media damage control in handling the Rampart scandals: He assured swift, positive resolution and turned aside offers of help from other quarters. By early October (when I got back to town), the story had been off the front pages for nearly a week. It bounced back again, briefly, but for now, the public mood seems to be, "Trust Bernie."
Yet I wonder what the result of Parks’ measures — which included tearing up the entire LAPD command structure to compile that 60-senior-cop investigative board — is likely to be. Go-it-alone arrogance, for good or ill, has increasingly characterized his regime. And unlike the late-1970s Hollywood burglary caper, the Rampart scandal reaches deep into that most sensitive of areas, community trust: There are allegations of intimidation, mayhem and even murder of civilians by sworn officers. Community input could be a good idea in this process of investigation and redress, you might think. But Parks apparently doesn’t.
Parks reportedly claimed he’s been looking into the Rampart mess for some time. Okay, maybe. But one can be skeptical. While he’s good at meting out discipline, Parks doesn’t like to believe his department is capable of doing wrong and tends to make short shrift of those who say otherwise. This attitude predates this case. Which, you will recall, began with a felonious former officer with qualms about facing eight years in prison for stealing a million dollars’ worth of cocaine from Parker Center’s evidence storage room. The then-officer, Rafael Antonio Perez, therefore cut a deal with prosecutors by spilling his guts about what he’d purportedly seen going on at Rampart station. He claimed that Rampart officers had lied in court, framed innocent people and, after shooting at least one man, Javier Francisco Ovando, put a gun in his hand and arrested him for assault. He also asserted that other officers had witnessed the misdoings, but observed the unofficial "code of silence" about them. Perez’s testimony got 11 cops suspended, busted out many pending L.A. prosecutions and made headlines around the world.
So how did all this come about? Just for starters, how did a completely unauthorized rank-and-file cop manage to walk out of police headquarters with a million dollars’ worth of narcotics held in evidence? So much else has happened since then that this question has gotten little play. Especially since Parks would have us think that he’s running the tightest ship since Captain Bligh’s. But, at least back when Perez took the coke, it certainly did not look that way from the vantage point of the LAPD Property Division.
Indeed, Parks had very likely reviewed an extremely detailed warning that the facility was dangerously insecure at roughly the time that Perez ambled out of it with 6 to 8 (accounts vary) pounds of stolen narcotics.
In his 40-page Property Division audit, formally issued May 20, 1998, but apparently in LAPD hands months before, Controller Rick Tuttle observed that the LAPD’s evidence department was definitely porous, and made more than a dozen detailed recommendations for improvement. He observed that:
"Selected high-value drugs were stored in a less-secure area than the majority of high-value drugs." In other words, sometimes cocaine and heroin were kept under tight security, sometimes not. Tuttle further observed that the Property Division staff were habitually keeping the packaged food destined for departmental vending machines "in a safe which contained cash, [and] high value drugs . . . thus unnecessarily causing increased traffic . . ." Seemingly, even ham sandwiches weren’t considered secure if left out in the property room.