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
Cato brought these sharp divisions within OJB to the surface back in 1997, the last time the city was preparing to hire a new police chief. Then, as vice president of OJB, he wrote an open letter to the Police Commission criticizing thenDeputy Chief Mark Kroeker, who was then -- as now -- a leading candidate for chief, and a popular commander of the South Bureau who supported community policing and other programs considered key to black constituents. Cato accused Kroeker, who is white, of not properly disciplining white officers who mistreat black officers, and of limiting the number of minority officers on his staff (Cato once worked under Kroeker, and was disciplined for mishandling confidential information). Then-Mayor Richard Riordan promptly called Cato racist, Kroeker denied the allegations and threatened a defamation lawsuit, and thenOJB President Sergeant Leonard Ross and six other members, including police-chief hopeful Bernard Parks, formally distanced themselves and the organization from Cato's comments, which they declared "divisive and counterproductive."
This time out the foundation is not supporting Kroeker, currently Portland's police chief, but rather LAPD Commander George Gascon, which is a sign of Cato's distaste for Kroeker but also of changing demographic times: Latinos (Gascon is of Cuban descent) make up a full third of LAPD rank and file, and with race still an issue, the OJB has had to broaden its outlook. Despite the Kroeker fallout five years ago, Cato and the OJB supported Parks right up through the bitter, unsuccessful campaign to save his job earlier this year. Not that the foundation felt Parks was perfect, not by a long shot.
"A lot of black officers didn't support him," Cato says bluntly. "Black officers were already getting unfairly disciplined, and actually Parks made it worse. He signed off on increased disciplinary measures. He allowed officers to be fired, and let go. Members were very upset." But, Cato adds by way of explanation, "There were more minorities promoted under Parks than had ever been promoted in the history of the LAPD. It all depended on where you were, whether you were rank and file, or whether you were on the verge of being promoted higher." In the end, Cato says, it was better to have had Parks than not; after all, the former chief was practically a founding member of OJB. "I don't agree with everything he did or said," Cato says. "But then, I don't agree all the time with my wife. It's like family."
What we have, then, is one fractured family operating within a bigger one of the LAPD itself, though the onus of racial reform still lies with both, for different reasons. Former OJB president Joseph Rouzan III says it was just 13 years ago that he was one of only two black detectives at the West L.A. station, and not much longer ago than that he was forced to hear racial slurs his first days on patrol with a partner who failed to realize he was black. "The internal process had to be cleaned up," Rouzan says of the Parks legacy. "But just because you have a black chief doesn't mean that all the rednecks left."