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Parks in Charge 

Police chief has convention and council firmly under control

Wednesday, Jul 5 2000
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When Police Chief Bernard Parks told the City Council two weeks ago about how the aftermath of the big Lakers win became a vest-pocket riot, he showed little apparent concern. Parks and most of the council members discussed the disruption as though little more was at stake than the decor of the new police parking structure.

Except for Councilman Mike Feuer, who noted that the Fire Department handled things a lot better than the police did. The firefighters put out some fires. The police initially stood and watched until they went out and arrested 11 people (one less than the number reported arrested at the next day‘s ”peaceful“ victory parade). This passive presence reportedly included Parks himself, fresh from watching Shaq’s big score inside the Staples Center.

The two burning patrol units and more than $500,000 worth of further vandalism and looting damage, Parks seemed to be saying, didn‘t really rate as a riot. Statistics were produced to show that things got much worse after title wins in cities such as Detroit.

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Right after the chief’s post-Lakers briefing came the council‘s acquiescence to a $4 million city surcharge on the costs of the Democratic National Convention, in addition to the $9 million the city’d already committed for law enforcement, traffic control and so on.

The council was an easy touch for this unpredicted yet predictable excise. It was like getting the bad news from your mechanic that, whoops, there‘s an unforeseen $200 charge for a gasket. As he says this, he’s got your Toyota in 600 pieces all over his garage. You bite your lip and hope the surcharge includes labor.

There was a connection (in City Hall jargon, the term is ”nexus“) between last month‘s biggest Staples event and next month’s. Between the poor policing at Staples and the potential poor policing at the DNC. The nexus is that, there being more than 50,000 demonstrators expected at the DNC, things might get 50 times as rambunctious there and then as they did on Lakers Night, when perhaps 1,000 people, out of the few thousand present, acted up.

Parks has always insisted that he‘s ready for the August big one.

But for Parks, the real Big One, the red-letter date on his calendar, was probably July 5. That day -- which you might call the Wednesday Miracle -- just occurred as you read this. This was the day when the city of Los Angeles effectively graduated from the Old City Charter to the New. In that moment, the council lost most of its control, apart from the annual budgetary wrangling, over the city’s police.

The moment wasn‘t opportune. Orphaned by this charter changeover are two serious pending police issues, namely, what to do about Community Police Advisory Boards and senior lead officers, who had both operated as liaisons between neighborhoods and law enforcement. Debating their future is now, probably, moot. At least until Parks is replaced by someone in tune with the policies of modern policing.

Both of these latter-day institutions were much discussed in the council and central to the decade-old official city policy of community-based policing. And their neglect is going to make policing Los Angeles more difficult.

Over the past year, Parks has done his best to undermine these reforms -- both of which were enacted at the direction of the Christopher Commission.

Senior leads are assigned to be on-point for neighborhood concerns. The Community Police Advisory Boards, on the other hand, are local-citizen panels that pass information the other way, to the police. The two serve respectively as the receiver and mouthpiece of community-policing; now Parks has hung the thing up.

Of course, Parks insists this is not the case. Now all cops are community-policing officers, not just 160 or so, he says. But to say that all 9,300 city cops are now responsible for community relations is really to say that none of them is.

And the latest revision of the advisory boards is no better in its end result. Parks would have the department exert greater control over those who serve on these boards. This simply means that civilians who don’t have good things to say about the way the LAPD does things don‘t get to sit on them.

It’s worth noting too that, for years, Parks has done his best to stall the setup of a system that would track the performance of substandard cops.

Does Parks really think he‘s fooling anyone here? I mean, apart from the dim L.A. Times editorial board, which last month favored neutering advisory boards while opposing the lead-officer defenestration?

And from now on, the council can’t interfere. So how many more Christopher Commission reforms will Parks try to undo or undermine before his current term runs out? That‘s the real question, and it’s almost entirely lost in the general anxiety of what might happen when the nation‘s Democrats gather here next month to have good times and choose a veep.

This forthcoming event also brings Parks his next competence test. And there is already skepticism about that competence. Some veteran city officials who dealt with the aftermaths of the ’92 riots and the ‘94 quake sound downright apprehensive. ”I sure hope the mayor gets us a new police chief by August,“ one of them said to me. But he really knows this won’t happen, if only because Mayor Dick Riordan keeps talking as though his main objective in getting elected was to enchief his old pal Bernie.

With the new charter, you wonder whether the chief will still feel called upon to testify before the city‘s 15 lawmakers: What can they do if he doesn’t show? But show he did, perhaps for one last time, Tuesday, last week.

His appearance, however, had nothing to do with opposition to Christopher Commission reforms. Nor did he even address why Shaq O‘Neal and the Lakers management had to pony up for two burned-out police vehicles. Instead, the council was treated to a horror-show presentation of riot clips from the scenes of other recent public disorders -- Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Eugene, Oregon; etc. -- and told that this was what lay in store for this city were the council to follow through on its intention to use Pershing Square as a Demo-demonstration zone. Parks, of course, preferred his own plan, which is to keep rowdies under control by confining them to a parking lot not too near Staples Center.

City Council Member Jackie Goldberg was outraged -- she’d only voted for the $4 million convention sweetener with the understanding that Pershing Square would become an authorized protest site. And her vote was crucial to winning approval for the $4 million extra outlay. ”Bait and switch,“ she cried. But you could see the other members caving. Play the fear card around here these days and, whether it‘s about methane or anarchists, the yellow stain will prevail.

One potential protest leader noted that demonstrations could occur in Pershing Square anyway, since it fronts the Biltmore Hotel, where many convention-related events will take place and where many conventioneers will be staying. But the August event looks less predictable by the day. The only thing so far that suggests that the 2000 DNC might remain benign is that the LAPD’s Police Protective League is planning its own protest march. Will the PPL be allowed in Pershing Square? And who would keep it out?

An Appreciation

is what I did not see Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs General Manager Adolfo V. Nodal get on the recent announcement of his departure plans. He‘s been on the job since 1988 and he’ll be around until December. This makes him perhaps the longest surviving senior-level Tom Bradley appointee under Dick Riordan. Yet he certainly wasn‘t catching any garlands from Riordan, whose widely reported disapproval over the Y2K celebration fizzle seemed to land at Nodal’s door.

But Nodal wasn‘t hired to do celebrations when he took the job at age 38. What he was hired to do he did quite well. He got lots of art out around the city; he got lots of people doing art. In contrast to his predecessor, who virtually shut down the city’s mural program, Nodal had the patience to work with poor communities long forgotten, to draw out local talent, to make things happen: to brighten lives. He was accused of being too PC, too ethnically oriented, but he was just making up for years of the opposite policy.

Sometimes he blundered into controversy, as was the case with two City Hall art exhibitions in the mid-‘90s. One was a sardonic tribute to city employees (it memorialized a large coffee urn); the other a Filipino show with some mind-blowingly explicit paintings: Both events got picketed and even censured. Nodal survived them both.

And made our lives richer.

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