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Twisting Slowly 

The final days of Chief Parks

Wednesday, Feb 13 2002
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The debate is over on Bernie Parks. It‘s a foregone conclusion that the Los Angeles Police Commission will support the mayor’s wish that the police chief not be re-appointed for another term, and informal polling suggests the City Council will not override that decision.

All of the talk about ”process“ and the independence of the mayor-appointed commission is empty and should not give Parks much hope, city hall insiders agree. The panel has until May 15 to make its decision.

Former Police Commission President Gerald Chaleff noted that his own boss, Mayor Dick Riordan, ”sometimes didn‘t know which way we would vote . . . so give ’em a chance.“ Chaleff, in fact, led a three-member commission-majority vote against the wishes of Riordan and Parks and ruled that the shooting of the homeless Margaret Mitchell was not ”within policy.“

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But, asked if he could remember a Police Commission ever voting against a mayor‘s preferences regarding the choice of a chief, Chief Legislative Analyst Ron Deaton -- the city’s top political eminence -- said, ”I don‘t ever recall that happening.“ City historian Gayle Johnson said her records indicated that this probably hadn’t happened since the city opted for the commission system 75 years ago. Ruth Galanter, the council‘s second-seniormost member, said, ”The chances [for the commission] to go against the mayor are zero.“

There’s a backroom city-government a22 consensus that Hahn, having gone public with his disapproval of Parks on February 5, after telling this to the chief privately, would likely have a bad working relationship with the chief for the rest of his tenure -- however long it might be. Such a relationship, some said, could be seriously damaging to the city. One lawyer close to City Hall remarked, ”The situation would be like that between Tom Bradley and Daryl Gates, where neither was speaking to one another for a decade -- and that resulted in the 1992 riots.“

Another observer, LAPD historian Joe Domanick, commented, ”I don‘t think that Parks has a constituency.“

But there was no sign of waning support for Parks in the African-American community. Najee Ali, the young Islamic community activist who initiated a recall campaign against Hahn the morning of his announcement, e-mailed Parks’ supporters word that he was inviting his ”friend and mentor Al Sharpton,“ the outspoken New York black activist, to come to Los Angeles to support the chief. All three African-American council members -- Nate Holden, Jan Perry and Mark Ridley-Thomas -- have strongly supported Parks. (Although interestingly, their recent and vociferous pro-Parks statements have not been posted on their official council Web sites.)

Most other council members, however, either kept talking about ”process“ or were outwardly opposed to Parks‘ getting another term. It would take 10 votes for the council to override the commission’s decision. ”Right now,“ said Galanter, ”the council is so [disorganized] that I don‘t think you could get 10 votes for anything.“

Parks’ major opponent on the council is 3rd District Councilman Dennis Zine, a longtime LAPD officer and onetime Police Protective League vice president. Zine said, ”It‘s about accountability and responsibility. This is why the voters passed [Charter] Proposition F. So a police chief can be evaluated,“ and not automatically re-appointed, as in the case of Daryl Gates and his predecessors.

Zine noted that, even in his relatively affluent district, there has been a shortage of police available to investigate and control crime. ”They say it’s a 1,000-officer shortage, but . . . it actually amounts to more like 2,000 missing.‘’

Neither Councilman Nick Pacheco nor Councilman Ed Reyes sounded enthusiastic about keeping Parks. The officer shortage has had tragic effects in their inner-city 14th and 1st districts, they said. “Parks took out detectives and other officers. Now we‘ve had 14 homicides in Hollenbeck [Division] since the first of the year,” Pacheco observed. Reyes also cited “a really high spike” of killings -- another 14 in his district during the same period. “I simply hope that the Police Commission will listen to our community and understand the pain that we feel,” Reyes said.

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