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
It was very simple, as Chief Bernard Parks explained it last week. The Los Angeles Police Department is undermined by mediocrity, slipshod performance, bad management, and insidious and inappropriate cultures. These problems led to the Rampart scandal.
Accordingly, this mediocrity-riddled LAPD should be left to clean itself up. This, essentially, was what the long-awaited 362-page LAPD Board of Inquiry report said. We were all expected to believe this. Almost no reporters did, and I wouldn‘t vouch for the listeners in uniform, either.
The ”mediocrity“ tag was secondhand from a 1996 national police conference, in which someone blamed ”the lack of integrity in American police forces on mediocrity.“ Funny: Lots of other people might say the cause is lousy leadership. But leadership quality -- at least top-level leadership quality -- is scarcely addressed in the report, whose every stipulation was approved by the department’s leader.
Parks delayed the report‘s media presentation -- without explanation -- by 45 minutes. The presentation itself dragged out nearly another hour before questions were allowed. The result was the most hostile crowd of media I’ve seen. The hostility was reciprocated by Parks, who appeared not to care whether we believed him. His favorite answer: ”No! Next question.“
It was easy for Parks to hide behind the complexity of the issues and the almost undue involution of his probe. Police officers, Parks kept saying -- despite the fact that the original Christopher Commission report itself was largely a civilian affair -- were the only ones competent to investigate police. The rest of us could believe his investigators‘ report.
Or be damned. Logically enough, this came from the man whose biggest recent falsehood was his declaration that there was no such thing as a culture of silence in the LAPD.
Probably Parks would have suffered more in the ensuing press coverage had his boss not been so diverting in his own follow-up media event. Mayor Dick Riordan’s news conference was noteworthy for both the mayor‘s habitual totem-pole warmth and his declaration that the Rampart product was the greatest report ever written -- the flushing sound you just heard having been the Book of Genesis going down the toity.
Oh yes, and for the mayor’s leaving cleat marks on the foreheads of five council members who tried to join the media in the mayor‘s conference room. Riordan’s staff literally locked the doors on the elected quintet and sicced the Department of General Services security police on them when they tried to enter. I would assume these ill-advised peace officers might get another pay raise in my lifetime, but wouldn‘t bet on it. (Actually, there’s an open question as to who does get to order City Hall guards around. I heard the claim of one General Services official that they obey the mayor when they are in the Mayor‘s Office. Well, I don’t know, but if I were put in the position of being ordered by some mayoral flunky to bust council members, I‘d sure as hell pull enlisted man’s privilege and demand to get the order direct from the mayor, in writing. And does the official interpretation imply that the council can eject the mayor from the council chamber if a majority feels like it? Just asking.)
If the mayor‘s contemptuous treatment of Laura Chick, Ruth Galanter, Jackie Goldberg, Rita Walters and Mark Ridley-Thomas won’t instill backbone in our City Council, what will? But any signs of resolve in the Rampart matter last week were not, as the Horse Whisperer likes to say, written down. Partly, I think, this was because the corrective issues are divided. There is a consensus that the administrative, as opposed to the criminal, part of the vast case ought to be put before the Police Commission, just as it says in the City Charter. Anyone -- Councilman Joel Wachs, for instance, or the Police Protective League, or the ACLU -- who suggests further review from an outside agency gets told that the commission is God‘s Own civilian review board.
But every member of the Police Commission has a resignation letter on file in the Mayor’s Office. And thus its ”independence“ is at the pleasure of the mayor, who has condoned the laming of the Christopher Commission reforms and otherwise sided with Parks all the way. As the Margaret Mitchell shooting case showed last month, there are now -- at most -- three votes on the five-member board who might buck the mayor. Dick Riordan can change this ratio whenever he feels like it. This would put that commission‘s vaunted civilian independence into the hands of just one elected official.
Of course, Riordan may do the right thing: stay out of this one, and let the Police Commission hire a big staff (which the council’s voted to pay for) in order to play Christopher Commission. He may let his commission evaluate the 108 suggestions Parks‘ own hand-picked board of inquiry’s report made, to vanquish that vaunted ”mediocrity.“ Almost everyone seems to believe this a likely outcome. Maybe they know something I don‘t.