An Open Letter to Mayor Hahn: Be Bold
Dear Mr. Mayor,
As a reporter who's been covering the LAPD for 17 years, I want to congratulate you for opposing the rehiring of LAPD Chief Bernard Parks.
I believe that you acted for the good of Los Angeles, and have sent a powerful signal of your intention to thoroughly reform the LAPD.
Legendary USC journalism professor and author A.J. Langguth once told me, "In the end hiring and firing all comes down to who you want to have lunch with every week." Who, after all, wants to work with a department head who openly displays contempt for you, and who would try to undermine you, your commissioners and the very reforms you seek to implement?
Now, as you take your next crucial step and select a new chief later this month, I'd like to offer some advice.
As a start, I'd suggest you hire a seasoned chief smart and strong enough to lead a demoralized department notoriously resistant to changing what has been the infamous machista, New Centurion culture. No cultural overhaul will occur unless recruiting and training of new, high-quality officers becomes the number-one priority. Start by casting a wide recruiting net, and rejecting forever the notion that only newly minted military veterans with a mindset straight out of Camp Pendleton are ideal candidates. Good soldiers are trained to blindly follow orders and to kill. Good cops must be trained "To Protect and To Serve" civil society.
Your recruits must be willing to see themselves not just as community protectors fighting crime day to day, but as part of a larger group of professionals in the courts, the probation and mental-health departments, in drug-treatment facilities and community organizations who are all working together to prevent crime and who reject the notion that locking up as many people as they can is the only way to deal with crime.
Second, any new chief must open up the LAPD to the scrutiny of the media and elected officials. Bunkerlike isolation, arrogance, defensiveness and cover-ups have never gotten the department anything but hostility and bad press. Better to bank on the fact that most people want to respect and support the cops who respect and serve them.
Your new chief must tackle head-on a chaotic disciplinary system. The public sees it as indifferent, unresponsive and corrupt; the rank and file as arbitrary and unfair.
The LAPD, moreover, must no longer be permitted to investigate itself. Officer-involved shooting investigations, for example, have been criticized by outside experts for more than 20 years. Nearly every one of the myriad woundings or killings of civilians since the early '70s has been declared "in policy." Some other agency must do authentic, outside civilian review.
For all these compelling reasons you must hire only an outsider, one unencumbered by decades of exposure to the ossified ethos of the LAPD.
You need a veteran cop who's avid about different ways of doing business.
I suggest William Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner. He'd come to Los Angeles with a reputation as a reform leader with huge successes in turning around both the Boston and New York police departments. His selection would be an affirmation that you could identify, capture and attract that caliber of talent to the city of Los Angeles.
Bratton, moreover, would also be ideal in carrying out a major step toward reform that you, in fact, helped negotiate: the consent decree between the city and the U.S. Justice Department mandating major LAPD reforms. Bratton not only supports such reform, but he's already a member of the monitoring team overseeing the LAPD's compliance with the decree.
But I'm not writing to you to lobby for Bratton. He's just one possibility among many other promising outsiders. Hiring an outsider would signal an unequivocal break with the past and a commitment to a progressive, newly imagined department.
Ensure that the kind of embarrassing civic soap opera that surrounded the rehiring of Chief Parks doesn't happen again. That requires amending the City Charter. The Police Commission's role should be reduced to that of an advisory board with the power to oversee the department and set policy, but only with your input and final approval. Likewise, the power to hire and fire the chief of police at will should fall solely on your shoulders as mayor. That way the voters will know precisely who to blame and who to reward.
In short, your task is not only to name a new chief, but to re-invent the LAPD.
You've already taken the courageous first step. But when I look at your record at your 16-year tenure as the city attorney of Los Angeles I enter a world of doubt.
In that position, you were a central player in a criminal-justice system that has long been ridiculed in serious prosecutorial circles for its subservience to the LAPD. Too often you ignored, excused or covered up the arrogance, abuse and pain caused by a police department that the city establishment permitted to be a law unto itself. I've heard you make protestations to the contrary, Mr. Mayor, but the facts speak otherwise.
As city attorney you failed to challenge what was often the brazen "testilying" of LAPD officers, the tainted or planted evidence they produced, or the frame-ups they perpetrated.
As a result, the city was forced to pay out an astounding $100 million during the 1990s to settle cases of police abuse, and $44 million more to settle all other suits against the department.
I understand the conflict you would have faced in speaking out against an LAPD you had to defend in court. But by doing little or nothing to pressure the department to limit the abusive behavior that was costing the city so much, you in effect condoned that behavior.
Nevertheless, Mr. Mayor, I believe that people change. Warren Christopher served as vice chairman of the McCone Commission, which investigated the 1965 Watts rebellion, and produced a classic establishment whitewash. Twenty-six years later, as chair of the commission that investigated the root causes of the Rodney King beating, his Christopher Commission produced an extraordinarily detailed, right-on-the-money indictment of Daryl Gates' LAPD and all it had stood for. The fact that many of the commission's recommendations were never fully enacted and we got the Rampart scandal as our just deserts should be a lesson to you.
Be bold, Mr. Mayor. Follow Christopher's about-face and see the job through. If you do, you'll have a shot at greatness and the city a shot at justice and peace.
Sincerely yours, Joe Domanick
Joe Domanick is the author of To Protect and To Serve: The LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams, and is the senior fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the University of Southern California.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.