Chief of Police — It’s Never Been My Total Identity 

Web exclusive: the L.A. Weekly’s interview with Bernard Parks, candidate for the 8th Los Angeles City Council District


L.A. WEEKLY: What kind of job is your successor, Police Chief William Bratton, doing?

BERNARD PARKS: I don’t think he’s been there long enough, nor would it be fair to judge him. You have to give time. In the final analysis, the community doesn’t really care whether you organize it in this fashion or that fashion, and contrary to popular belief, most community people don’t have a clue what community-based policing is and all the terms that are thrown around. They either know they’re safe or they’re not safe.

The community, they want to know, "Am I going to be safe in my residence? Are my kids safe going to school? Are my kids safe going from home to the park?"

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Do we measure that with number of arrests, what is exactly the accountability?

The accountability for addressing crime in the city of L.A. is not only numbers, but people’s perceptions, and the most ridiculous way to assess the Police Department is counting arrests. Because at some point, as people found in the last four and a half years, if you cut crime in half, there’s an expectation that arrests are going to drop. So you can’t just use numbers. You have to look at the issues of what are you doing on the prevention side. How are you dealing with using preventatives for children coming into the crime-prone age? What are you doing on the education side to help the community educate themselves so that they can better police themselves? You have to get into intervention.

Is the prevention side the job of the Police Department or is it more the job of the City Council?

The Police Department is the largest preventative agency of crime in the history of L.A. How it supports programs that are either in their budget or that are in other people’s budget: after-school programs, supporting-youth programs, having police Explorers be a part of the L.A. Unified School District magnet program for law enforcement. As we look at the city of L.A. we’re going to have a growing number of school-age children in the next decade. They will quickly go into the crime-prone age. If you don’t do something in education, prevention and intervention while they’re school-age, you can expect a significant crime increase when they get into the crime-prone age.

How does this understanding of crime and policing relate to your views about community-based policing and your decision to discontinue having senior lead officers acting as contact points for neighborhoods?

Well, first of all, it’s my belief — and I’m not going to change my belief — that better policing in any community is when every police officer is involved. We have seen, as we talk with the community, they’re not interested in specialist policing. They are not complaining about seeing the police come out and have breakfast with them and talk to them nicely. They want to have a relationship with the person that’s in the police car, that person who randomly gets their call and comes to their house.

You cannot have community-based policing and exclude that. So we can play with terms, we can play with definitions, and we can say senior leads are the answer to community-based policing, but, if anybody can do the math, then 168 senior leads are going to respond to 4 million people’s needs? It’s not going to work. The issue is the patrol car: how they treat people, that relationship courtesy, the respect that a responding police officer has in the community.

Maybe the community likes having an officer that they can eat breakfast with?

A very small percentage. You can’t find one in 10 people who can tell you what a senior lead officer is. You want the Police Department to be able to deal with the community — people who work every day and don’t have time to hang out at the police station and want to be respected when police officers show up at their house.

Are those mutually exclusive possibilities — having an effective senior lead officer and also having a respectful street officer?

You know, you may have more experience than me. I only was there 38 years. But the issue is, if you make people specialists, what do all the other people do? They say, "It’s not my job."

How well did Mayor Hahn handle the campaign against secession?

I don’t want to comment on Mayor Hahn, but I’ll tell you what I did. I felt it was not good for the city. It was not good for city employees. But what I also thought is, it was absolutely essential to give the just due to people that acknowledge and have the wherewithal to make the democratic process work. Because that took a great deal of effort and time to get something on the ballot. There was a message there that’s clear and is still resonating.

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