By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photo by Robert Yager|
IN THE EARLY 1990s, DURING HIS ACCEPTANCE SPEECH AS the newly installed president of the L.A. County Peace Officers' Association, LAPD Assistant Chief Bernard Parks reportedly said that the three most important qualities an individual can bring to the job of chief of police are "Leadership, leadership, leadership."
Early this year, LAPD Chief Parks, his first five-year term winding down, found himself in charge of a department in disarray. Employees — those who had not already made their feelings known by taking valuable training and experience and signing up with other departments — were on the brink of rebellion. The city's political leadership had become fed up with the chief's obstinacy and arrogance. When offered advice or assistance, he essentially responded, "Don't bother me. I'm busy being the chief."
As a result, his bosses — the Police Commission and the mayor — declined to offer Parks a second five-year term.
When appointed chief, Parks appeared to possess all of the qualities traditionally considered to indicate leadership potential. He was bright, energetic, well-spoken, diligent, tenacious, physically imposing, impeccably tailored, and experienced in police administration and municipal politics.
Why didn't Parks' traditionally valued qualities equal success? And what are the qualities that predict success for a chief of police in this 21st century?
Arrest and incarceration traditionally have been considered by societies past and present as the solution to crime problems — the LAPD has been no exception. Little emphasis has been given by police and government to the study of societal conditions that may contribute to, if not cause, crime. The whyof crime was the province of those engaged in social work and became the subject of official comment only when some simplistic explanation was offered in support of a desired piece of legislation or a requested budget allocation. Examples are numerous in the rhetoric surrounding the wars on drugs and gangs.
In Los Angeles, this arrest/incarceration model for crime control appears to have received its greatest impetus in the middle of the 20th century during a movement toward professionalism in the police service. L.A.'s legendary Chief William H. Parker preached a philosophy of a cool, detached, scientifically professional approach to providing police services, making use of modern organizational and management techniques developed by industrial engineers in the private sector. These techniques depended heavily on statistical analyses and productivity measurements, frequently to the exclusion of human factors.
This attempt to apply science to the provision of police services was also motivated by the relatively small number of LAPD officers — fewer than two per 1,000 residents in Chief Parker's day. Other major U.S. cities had twice as many. Because of the small number of officers and because Los Angeles' sprawl covered such a vast territory, motor patrol was adopted as the primary means of deploying officers. This limited the constant, casual, non-confrontational interaction with citizens enjoyed by officers in other, more adequately staffed, vertical cities.
This seemed to work well, keeping business interests and the largely middle-class, white residents reasonably satisfied. Minority residents, as was to be illustrated during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, frequently had a different experience, and a correspondingly different view.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the confluence of at least two major trends threatened this traditional lock-'em-up policing model, trends that have not yet been fully adjusted to by police professionals and politicians.
First, the tools that police relied upon to implement the arrest/incarceration model were systematically reduced by court decisions and legislative action.
Courts interpreted constitutional protections against unwarranted searches, self-incrimination and warrantless arrests in ways much more restrictive of police procedures than in the past. The reaction of police administrators, both nationally and locally, was to decry the rulings and predict catastrophe. Many saw them as a plot to undermine police, part of a greater subversive plan. Los Angeles' chiefs have been particularly vocal in this regard. Few, if any, examined their operations, policies or practices to accommodate the spirit of the new rules.
In terms of legislation, a series of state laws were passed governing public use of alcohol, prostitution, lewd conduct and trespass. From the Great Depression up through the 1960s, many of these local ordinances discouraged indigents from being too comfortable, prostitutes from publicly plying their trade, certain sexual practices in private as well as in public, and a variety of trespasses. They were used by police to harass those deemed undesirable for a host of reasons, be they dust-bowl refugees, left-leaning longshoremen and studio union members, Vietnam War protesters, homosexuals, indigents, or Justice for Janitors marchers. Conflicts between First Amendment guarantees and laws governing the maintenance of public order positioned the police squarely in the middle of controversy. And the LAPD, attempting to solve conflicts with the traditional arrest or threat-of-arrest response, often became the protesters' principal target.
Second, the import of the well-documented shift in the demographic makeup of Los Angeles was not fully realized by the LAPD. No longer the predominantly white, middle-class, 1950s, Middle America-style society that tended to see things clearly in black and white, Los Angeles experienced revolutionary class, race, culture and lifestyle changes.
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