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Police Officer Perfection Comes at a Very High Price

LAPD: A tortuous work ethic has priority over employee welfare, but it's a sacrifice officers must be willing to make.

April 11, 1999|PAUL MARKS | Paul Marks recently retired as an LAPD captain

The price for perfection is often too high. A former, highly respected deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department occasionally uttered this wisdom. He was referring not to financial issues but, rather, to the depths of sacrifice incurred by department employees in pursuit of perfection.

Chief of Police Bernard Parks conscientiously adheres to a tortuous work ethic. He approaches his professional responsibilities with detached precision and an unyielding analytical perspective. He is concerned more with deployment than with morale. The solidification of his authority consumes much of his energy; meaningful interaction with street officers does not. Because he anticipates evil in his staff, this chief of police punishes severely and without forgiveness.

The chief is not wrong; in fact, he is exactly right.

The dynamics of contemporary law enforcement now compel an impersonal, dispassionate, almost cynical style of professionalism. The magnitude of society's conflicting expectations of local law enforcement requires a carefully crafted contingent of officers and an eclectic command mentality. For example, the community's demand for the maximum deployment of street officers, while simultaneously cringing at the thought of senior lead officers being assigned to work as patrol officers, is one of the many service expectations Chief Parks is willing to challenge. Additionally, his anticipatory focus on negative performance is often visionary, and too often realized.

Many modern-day enforcers of contemporary laws and statutes themselves commit vile and disgusting acts, often at the level of criminal misconduct. Punishing wayward officers is a profound and disturbing necessity. Officers guilty of misconduct must be punished with a penalty that accurately reflects the dimensions and the gravity of the misconduct, while appropriately acknowledging its consequences.

The leadership of the Los Angeles Police Department has to continue, perhaps even elevate, its integrated, aggressive and carefully orchestrated offense against those who are, in effect, aggressively campaigning for mediocrity. The current leadership of the Police Protective League is reveling in its inglorious and disturbingly energetic pursuit of inept service to the public.

The Los Angeles Police Department's cadre of command and staff officers now in place, with very few exceptions, are quite capably meeting these and other operational challenges. They accept the fact that execution of their responsibilities will routinely require 18-hour days, that they must work nights, weekends, on holidays, on their wedding anniversaries and on their children's birthdays. These commanding officers know that they are going to miss some, if not most, of the key moments in their children's lives.

Those in the department's echelons of leadership willingly incur such sacrifices because they know that martyrdom is an inescapable part of their command responsibility. They are obligated to meet their administrative and leadership demands and challenges, while also ensuring meaningful accessibility to the public. They are willing to pay the exorbitant costs for the LAPD's relentless, and necessary, pursuit of perfection.

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