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
Early last week, top leaders in the local African-American clergy held a private breakfast meeting. I don’t know what it was about. But whatever decision was made, it doesn‘t seem to have been to amp up the protest against Mayor Jim Hahn’s decision not to rehire his police chief. New York mouth-at-large Al Sharpton was supposed to arrive in town to boost Bernie around then, but if he did, it must have been a stealth visit.
Let‘s face it. At this point, it looks like no force in existence can save the job of Police Chief Bernard Parks. This is because all his career Parks has been such an LAPD-style thinker that he just can’t adapt to certain new realities. In the LAPD culture‘s tradition, elected-civilian oversight was plain ”political interference“ -- something against which the entire force had to close its ranks. Thus Parks rose to chiefdom believing that, once he held that job, no mortal on Earth could tell him what to do.
Let alone a mere mayor. But that isn’t true anymore, and Parks‘ inability to deal with the change is his fatal problem. Parks is the first chief from that LAPD culture to have his job tenure, if not his department, under civilian control. And the top civilian is the mayor. This is the real meaning of the conflict between Parks and the rest of City Hall -- a conflict Parks is destined to lose.
Parks, of course, even bucked Dick Riordan -- the mayor who adored and appointed him -- when Riordan tried to persuade him to re-install the community-policing measures Parks had halted. He bucked the City Council when he told them two years ago, in the heat of the Rampart debate, that there was no LAPD culture of silence -- equivalent to saying the force doesn’t wear dark-blue uniforms. Parks acts like this because he has little but contempt for elected officials and, one guesses, for the rest of us besides -- including his rank-and-file employees.
Now this contempt has chewed up his career. Historically speaking, you can‘t blame Bernie for the way he is. For at least half of his 37-year career, Parks probably experienced old-time LAPD racism at its most viscid. The best evocation I know of what it must have been like to be a black LAPD officer years ago is in John Gregory Dunne’s novel True Confessions, which portrays a segregated cop who is really a fictionalized Tom Bradley, biting his tongue, eating his rage, citing regulations and doing perfect work in a by-the-book response to the racist taunts that accompany his every working hour. But Dunne‘s fictional cop -- like Bradley -- bails out of his a police career and succeeds in politics.
Bernie hung in there, loving the job and trusting that emerging civil justice would provide an avenue to the chief’s office -- if he embraced the culture that had forced out Bradley. And he finally got there. But Parks brought with him a consequent and contemptuous anger that smacks you in the face every time he walks into a room. He focused this contempt on Jim Hahn back when Hahn was city attorney. He retained it when Hahn became mayor -- even though, if he‘d read even a single Hahn campaign speech or debate transcript, he’d have known that Hahn had him in his gun sights. Hahn stated repeatedly that he‘d evaluate Parks’ performance during his first months as mayor. But during that time, Parks continued to drag his feet on issues like senior lead officers and racial profiling. Parks was, in effect, daring Hahn to pull the trigger.
The other way Parks‘ contempt hurt him was in his disdain for his troops. I don’t suppose the sardonic ‘80s corporate slogan ”The beatings will continue until morale improves“ really hangs on Parks’ office wall. But it might as well. One assumes that Dick Riordan liked Parks because he saw in him the same attitude toward employees that Riordan held in his earlier career as a low-rent corporate raider: ”They‘re expendable, treat them harshly; better the troops fear you than love you.’‘
But policing is a hard enough profession without such attitude. And good cops are now in high demand in cities where the command posture and the pay are better. It’s one thing playing the martinet in a closed military system in which you can have your slackers shot. It‘s quite another behaving that way in a civilian organization in which your employees can walk into better jobs. Such an attitude also becomes a recruit repellent.
So LAPD numbers and productivity go down. Crime goes up. More people are killed. And Parks hangs on, but not, I am guessing, for long. Even if divine intervention struck and the Police Commission voted to rehire Parks, it’s possible to imagine the City Council finding eight or even 10 votes to overrule the panel. Interesting, when you consider that there are probably only three council members who‘d oppose Parks’ layoff.