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Parks Calls Cutting Crime Key Test of Success as Chief

Law enforcement: Mayor's choice to lead LAPD says he plans many changes to improve the department's 'quality of service.' Important role seen for Kroeker.

August 07, 1997|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vowing to make Los Angeles "the safest big city" in the nation, Police Chief designee Bernard C. Parks met with reporters and politicians Wednesday and said he should be judged on whether he can succeed in driving down crime.

"If [crime] decreases it is a positive for . . . L.A., if it increases, the chief of police hasn't done his job," the 32-year department veteran said at a morning news conference.

Minutes later, Parks and Mayor Richard Riordan, who tapped him to become the 52nd chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, rushed to a hospital upon hearing that an officer had been shot in the back while on duty just blocks away from City Hall.

Such was the day for Parks, who--pending City Council approval--will lead the LAPD into the 21st century. He inherits an organization that has struggled in recent years to define its vision for fighting crime and to adopt reforms aimed at reducing police misconduct.

Parks, in a wide-ranging interview with The Times after his public appearances, said he plans to implement a host of changes within the department to improve the "quality of service" provided to Angelenos.

During his first few months in office, Parks said he plans to:

* Survey city residents to determine what their law enforcement concerns are so the department can better deploy its resources.

* Streamline the LAPD's top command structure to increase "accountability" and give outlying stations more control over fighting crime in their neighborhoods.

* Restructure the agency's beleaguered lab and eliminate certain analysis work, such as DNA testing, which would be contracted out to specialists.

* Press forward on departmental reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission following the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King, particularly in the areas of excessive force and officer training.

Noting that the LAPD spends one-fourth of the entire $4-billion city budget, Parks said it is "important the citizens feel they are getting an adequate return on that investment."

The department's brass and rank and file, he promised, will be on the "front end of the curve, looking for better ways" to solve problems and "deal with the 4 million people of Los Angeles and provide the service they deserve."

Although he offered glimpses into the changes he plans to make as chief, Parks declined to provide many specifics, saying he planned to move methodically after consulting with his top staffers in the weeks ahead.

Among those expected to be key players in his administration is Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker, who was Parks' main competition for the chief's job.

Kroeker, he said, would have a "visible and important" position in coming months.

Additionally, Parks said that although there are many issues facing the department, he will not immediately prioritize them.

"The single most important thing is not to have a single most important thing," he said.

In making one of the most important decisions of his administration, Mayor Riordan said he will closely monitor Parks' performance and hold him accountable for the successes and failures at the LAPD. He said the new chief's "awesome mission" is, among other things, to implement new technology to track and prosecute criminals and put an end to gang warfare.

"We are putting gang members and other criminals on notice," Riordan said as he introduced Parks as his nominee. "Los Angeles is not the place for you. We will no longer tolerate your tactics of intimidation. We will use every tool in our power to fight you. Simply put, we will fight crime and we will win."

'Does Not Dwell on the Past'

Riordan pledged to work with Parks to provide funding for LAPD programs and initiatives, particularly in the area of community policing. Riordan agreed to help Parks in pressing for a "community-based government" in which all city services, from cops to building inspectors, become more responsive to the residents' problems.

For Parks, who will become the department's second African American chief, the ascension to the top post is a vindication of sorts.

Five years ago, the 53-year-old cop came within one vote of getting the position, losing out to former Chief Willie L. Williams. Many department observers said Parks was passed over largely because the Los Angeles Police Commission--which was responsible for choosing the chief in 1992--felt an imperative to bring in an outsider to shake up the department.

Although Parks and Williams tried to work together, their relationship became increasingly strained during Williams' early years in office. In September 1994, Williams publicly demoted Parks from assistant to deputy chief, blaming him in part for the slow pace of departmental reforms.

Ultimately, Williams would be criticized for the lack of progress on reforms by his Police Commission bosses, who refused to rehire him for a second five-year term earlier this year. Williams, the former chief in Philadelphia, was the first chief to come from outside the LAPD and its first black chief.

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