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That culture‘s embodiment in Parks could not have been more apparent on Tuesday, as the chief, coolly rational and immaculately dressed, spoke formally of his disappointment, directly in front of his command staff. He was flanked by three lines of uniformed officers, a visual rebuke to those who cited his failure to lead and inspire.
”I am proud of my record of service, and I’m disappointed the Board of Police Commissioners has decided not to support my application to continue to serve,“ said Parks, who complained that he never got to put forward his plans for a second term in a public forum, a clear and legitimate swipe at the commission‘s decision to refuse his request for a public evaluation.
To the extent that commissioners couched their decision in the rhetoric of law and order, or even officer ”morale,“ they absolved Parks, his department and themselves of meeting the standard to which they all should rightfully be held to answer, the standard of reform.
That Parks became chief at all was a legacy of the Christopher Commission, which was impaneled after the Rodney King riots broke out almost exactly 10 years ago. Warren Christopher’s commission recognized the crucial need to change the entrenched, paramilitary culture of the LAPD. One of the ideas adopted from its reform roster was that chiefs be limited to two five-year terms, and that an incumbent chief receive a second term only after careful review. In the wake of the riots, Willie Williams was named to replace the ousted Daryl Gates; when Williams failed to impress then-Mayor Richard Riordan, it was Parks‘ turn.
Once in office, Parks should have understood it was mandatory that he build on the reform movement that brought him the top job. Instead, he used reform as a foil to advance his own narrower, more traditional agenda. Like so many police chiefs before him, Parks was obsessed with control; he set out to achieve it via a revamped discipline system through which the slightest infraction of department rules and procedures could result in a full-scale investigation and, too often, in discipline out of proportion to the offense.
He achieved the worst of both worlds: internal resentment from rank-and-file officers without real reform to the militaristic culture that could have made it worth offending them. Officers felt demeaned and then angry, their reaction coalescing in a virtual rebellion by way of the always-contentious Police Protective League. Still, to the outside world -- and to a habitually malleable Police Commission -- Parks was able, until recently, to tout discipline as reform, while allowing the us-versus-them mentality of the heavy-handed cop to go unchallenged.
Take the internal-discipline figures for the past year, reported to the Police Commission last week. Parks was able to show that an unprecedented 5,489 complaints were investigated, and that 36 percent were ”sustained.“ But a quick breakdown of the numbers shows that some complaints resulted in much surer retribution than others. Officers were found culpable on charges of neglect of duty and domestic violence, for example, at relatively high rates. But on key categories that might reflect police abuse and misconduct in the field, the rates were much lower. The department logged 1,963 complaints of excessive force, for example, but found against the officers in only 42; of 379 complaints for unlawful search, only nine were upheld.
When it came to Rampart, the scandal that defined his administration, Parks again prized his own personal control over true reform. Thus he commissioned an extensive and largely opaque Board of Inquiry into misconduct by the CRASH anti-gang unit and the rest of the inner-city division, but he vigorously opposed efforts by ”outsiders“ -- including the district attorney and the Public Defender’s Office -- to learn details of specific cases or to obtain the records of individual officers.
On the Rampart score, Parks‘ legacy remains incomplete. Notably, he headed the department’s Internal Affairs division during years when some of the most serious misconduct at Rampart was reported; Parks will still have to answer questions in a raft of civil suits about what he knew and when he knew it.
As for the Police Commission, it‘s made one tough decision. Now its members have the opportunity to move beyond their own tough-on-crime rhetoric. They -- along with Mayor Hahn -- have the chance to seek a chief who could, at long last, take the reform agenda laid out by the Christopher Commission -- with its emphasis on community policing and individual accountability -- and set about instilling it at the LAPD.
Additional reporting by Erin Aubry Kaplan.