by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
April 17, 2002
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles City Council voted along strict racial lines Wednesday morning not to contest a decision by the city's police commission to terminate the contract of Los Angeles Police Dept. Chief Bernard C. Parks, even as influential black ministers and politicians warned that they may now support citywide secession movements.
It is not inconceivable that Parks will head one of the new departments that could result from today's vote.
Parks, a 37-year veteran of the LAPD known as a tough disciplinarian, fought to the end to keep his job in the face of what he called a political conspiracy to oust him involving Mayor James Hahn, the appointed police commission and a powerful police union armed with millions of dollars that mounted a costly television campaign against him.
The council voted 11-3 along strict racial lines, with the body's three African-Americans supporting Parks and its white, Jewish and Latino council members voting against him. Police spokesmen said the chief had cleared his schedule for the remainder of the week and was not expected to issue any statements. Late news reports Wednesday said "he is considering his options."
The bitter fray left many wondering whether the city's influential African-American community would now support the break-up of Los Angeles that looms on the November ballot, as some of its most influential leaders have vowed to do.
By some estimates, the secession of the largely white San Fernando Valley and Hollywood -- a harbor area secession movement is also a possibility - would leave African-American strongholds in the South Central and Watts areas far more powerful than before.
In Hollywood, activists seeking cityhood said they might call on Parks to serve as Chief of the Hollywood Police Dept. if it wins independence later this year. "I think he would make a great chief for Hollywood," said Hollywood VOTE chairman Gene LaPietra, a longtime member of the Hollywood LAPD division's booster club and an undeclared candidate for mayor of the new city.
At a press conference, Parks' chief supporter on the city council said -- as he has over the past two weeks -- that he would "look at" secession as a response to the chief's firing. Before the council meeting, which was so jammed that a group of schoolchildren was asked to leave -- one black minister from the African American community's largest Baptist church anounced that a forum on secession would be held at the church on Sunday. Hahn and other opponents of secesison had counted heavily on black support in the citywide vote on secession that is expected to be on the November ballot.
It also left much of the public convinced that the police union -- known here as the Police Protective League -- has proved that it can dump its boss.
The union did campaign effectively against Parks, but Hahn, responding at a press conference to a question from The American Reporter, said the union "should not claim a victory" and blasted it as "an obstacle to reform." The union was a major contributor to Hahn's 2001 mayoral campaign.
Hahn also told A.R. that a Federal consent decree that has left a Federal judge in ultimate charge of the department has "not at all" impacted the crime rate, as Parks asserted in a speech to the city council Tuesday. Parks said the loss of the equivalent of an entire police division of 300 officers who have been assigned to manage the consent decree was partly to blame for a rise in crime, especially homicides, over the past two years.
Parks' tenure was one of the most difficult in the department's history.
In 1999, two years into his five-year contract, with crime down and public satisfaction with the LAPD near an all-time high, Parks first learned the outlines of what would become theRamparts Scandal, a saga of rogue cops, official blindness and departmental inertiathat culminated in the firing of more than 40 officers, the jailing of several, and a raft of multimillion-dollar payouts to victims of police shootings, frame-ups and abuse that cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars and ended with loss of control of its own police department to a Federal judge.
Little of the criminality, however, occurred on Parks' watch, although he was sometimes criticized for not doing more about civilian complaints when he headed the LAPD's Internal Affairs division.
Along the way came an erosive battle with police activists who embraced the Senior Lead Officer community policing program suggested by the Christopher Commission, which formed to investigate the causes of ther 1992 Los Angeles Insurrection, several days of rioting that took 58 lives and cost the city billions in property damage.
When Parks moved to take 168 Senior Lead Officers "out of the living rooms" of neighborhood leaders and back into their patrol cars, a slowly simmering revolt that caught the attention of council members began to reach a boil.
It may have been that extra burden, joined to the pain of the Rampart Scandal and its energy-sapping aftermath, that contributed to a crime rise that the police commissioners -- all of them appointed by Hahn -- could use to implement Hahn's decision to sack the chief.
Yet history will probably be kinder to parks than to any of his predecessors except William H. Parker, the famously disciplined, scrupulous former military man who took over a jaded, disheartened department after years of corrupt and inept leadership.Parks, like Parker, is a ramrod-straight, and some say unbending disciplinarian.
Unlike other chiefs, though, he never sought publicity or hammed it up for the cameras, relying instead on a soft-spoken, straight-ahead approach that took the rules seriously and offered little room for criticism until the consent decree began to consume enormous amounts of manpower.
His resistance was ultimately futile, as the courts and ultimately the city's political establishment began to see the need to implement reforms throughout the department.
Parks, it will be said, thought he was reforming the department; the police union, it may be said, knew he was. Its officers on the front lines resented the investigation of every complaint against them, and the extensive tracking system that monitored them ever more closely. The former head of the police union got elected to the city council and led the fight against him there.
With millions of dollars from LAPD paycheck deductions filling its coffers at election time, they drowned out the chief's voice and gave the campaign against him real momentum. Hahn asked them to stop the campaign and they did, but the damage was long done.
To some, it may have become clear when the department was forced to implement union-backed three-day work schedules for some officers that Parks, who opposed the schedule changes, was on a downhill slide from which he would not recover.
But throughout the city there persists a distinct unease with the process and the roots of Parks' ouster. To many, he was a symbol of public pride in the LAPD, a tough cop whose reputation was never even slightly stained, and who fought courageously to instill in the 8,000 officers of the L.A.P.D. a deeper appreciation of their motto, "To Protect and Serve."
Indeed, in the end -- and especially in the black community of Los Angeles that revered him -- he may have been the cop that was too tough for L.A. and its "laid back" ways. At the very least, he will be remembered as a man who was far more honest and widely respected than the people who fired him.