With coffee, cookies and a sorrow appropriate to the removal of a brain-dead relatives life support, the city attorney, five City Council members, Police Commission president, chief deputy mayor, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Bill Lann Lee and two unnamed others celebrated the signoff of the federal LAPD consent decree.
This is not a celebration, stressed Councilwoman Laura Chick as the 11 faced the media on City Halls top floor last week. Well, no. Not quite.
Despite the usual city-attorney press-conference goodies, the public faces present seemed fatigued. But in their expressions, you could tell that something was finally over. And the gathered were glad that it was.
It didnt even matter that three of those present were running for higher local office: James Hahn for mayor, Chick for controller and Councilman Mike Feuer for city attorney. No one was earning political capital from this event. It also didnt matter -- though reporters kept hammering the point -- that the decree was signed just five days before a national election might put another party in power. After all, it took the Reagan administration to reform Los Angeles rigged council-election districts: A Democratic city cant count on Washington Republicans to ignore its inequities.
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What did matter was that this top-floor, citywide consensus rose to the occasion and forced real police reforms down the throat of Chief Bernard Parks, and that the consensus included Parks arch-supporter, Mayor Dick Riordan.
Only rogue council members Hal Bernson and Nate Holden urged last-ditch resistance to this affront to local sovereignty. Too bad Louisiana Governor Earl Long wasnt around to remind them, as he once did Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, to remember that the Feds got the bomb now.
Rising to the occasion was a phrase much heard around City Hall in recent weeks. Or was it months? Actually, its just over a year now since sleazoid ex-cop Rafael Perez slogged onto the medias radar screen with his dumpster of dirty linen. And, as will always happen whenever one bad cop accuses a raft of others, Perez was officially designated an evil exception to the rule of departmental excellence. Tum ta tum.
Chief Parks then cranked up his damage-control system, calling in all his political chits. The result was the departments own March Rampart report.
This was wrapped up in what journalists call inverted-pyramid style, except what was inverted was not the style but the subject. Parks report transposed the usual managerial triangle of responsibility: Instead of the blame residing at the top, the fault was at the bottom. That the excellent LAPDs own slack rank-and-filers were behind the Rampart Division corruption.
It was really as simple as that.
And Parks voluminous report proposed an easy remedy to this widespread problem that was, of course, none of his fault. The Answer? Bear down harder, punish and fire more police, and the LAPD was bound to get better. Remember the 80s mock slogan about how The beatings will continue until morale improves?
Morale got worse. More cops left the force (easy enough, with LAPD training, to find work where officers werent blamed for managements shortcomings); recruitment fell; the crime rate ascended. By this autumn, as Parks continued to spread the blame, it silently seeped back toward him. By authorizing federal intervention, the mayor and 11 council members agreed de facto that Parks could not be trusted to transform the department which had virtually created him.
How could he, when he embodied its very culture? A culture the existence of whose key element, the officers code of silence, Parks had denied before the entire City Council?
Ancient Athens had to hire warriors from distant Scythia to keep order. With the signing of the consent decree, Los Angeles has recruited federal forces to help sort out its own order keepers. But the feds course of action has long been clear. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lee stressed how central the computer tracking of officers was to the decree -- without reminding us how this provision was resisted by Parks. He did note that this TEAMS II system had been ordered by the Christopher Commission reforms of 1991. So, he added, was virtually everything else in the decree. He didnt exactly say: You couldnt make this happen. Thats why you need us.
But he didnt need to. The LAPD leadership just cant expect the U.S. Attorneys Office to forget this deal the way the City Council and the mayor turned their backs on their own -- and the voting publics -- police reforms over the past decade.
Los Angeles used to be famous for so many things: its beaches, its climate, its movies and its defense industries. Its style and its attitudes, its cuisine, literature and the diversity of its peoples. Now its known for its police the way Bangladesh is known for its poverty. Ive begun to get e-mail LAPD jokes from as far away as England. The jokes are all on us Angelenos, whove endured this erratic, fatal police behavior for so long, from Eulia Love to Rodney King to Margaret Mitchell and beyond. And on our elected representatives, whove endured the same policies, and shared with the LAPD leadership the weird presumption about the suitability of Wild West policing in this proud, world-class city -- as we used to call it, not so long ago.
But it just kept going on. Until last week, when official Los Angeles finally gave up and let the outsiders in to accomplish the long-sought mandates. It was an interesting consensus, way up there on the 18th Floor last Wednesday, when they finally took that patient off life support. The patients name was Denial.
Now that the big national-local election is over and we all know the results, this column can return to more pressing issues. Particularly among us cat owners. As for instance, whats coming up in terms of Los Angeles feline-management policies?
We last tuned in on this procedural debate a couple of budget years ago. At that point, you may recall, the citys tax mavens, burrowing deep for some hitherto untapped post--Proposition 13 revenue, tried to slip through a mandatory cat-license fee. (It turns out, you can license your kitty on a voluntary basis.) And did the fur ever fly. So intense was this discourse that it divided the very Riordan household itself, with the mayors daughter Kathleen (who now serves on the citys Board of Animal Services) going on the record -- against her own father -- as an anti-registration, pro-pussycat partisan.
The budgeteers seem to have learned their lesson: Dont fool with felines. So mandatory cat licensing may never occur in nine Southland lifetimes. But in the meantime, cats -- or their advocates -- seem to have made an even bigger win within the city bureaucracy. What they seemed to have gained this time was a Get Out of Jail Free pass.
This reversal was disclosed in a recent controllers audit of the department. The auditors complained that in its new shelters, the department plans to spend tens of thousands of dollars on cat cages. But, the auditors noted, Animal Services officials six years ago made a policy decision to cease trapping stray -- mostly feral -- cats, resulting in a more than 50 percent drop in the annual shelter cat population, from around 40,000 to about 19,000.
So why those new cages? Apparently, one Animal Services hand knows not what the other is doing. Its planners foresee a needed doubling of the present cat-shelter capacity -- to over 60,000 -- by 2010. But they dont plan to pick up any more cats. (The current population mostly consists of cats brought in by people.) So the need will not be there, the audit states, unless the city changes its current policy. Which is apparently not being contemplated.
The report doesnt address why the city stopped cat catching. But the decision was made just as the citys finances bottomed in the early 90s. And as one city official put it, When was the last time you ever heard of someone being attacked by a pack of wild cats?
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