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LAPD Discipline: Don't Back Off

January 17, 1999

It was a stunning rebuke: Several officers said last week that they have told the Los Angeles Police Department that they do not want Chief Bernard C. Parks at their funerals if they die in the line of duty.

At first glance, one might wonder what could be so wrong between the officers and the police chief as to prompt such a request. Upon closer examination, the requests are less of a mystery, though still disturbing because of what they tell us about a strain of us-versus-them thought that apparently remains within the LAPD.

The requests came from officers who said the rank and file receives no support from Parks and complained that he has come down too hard on infractions. Turns out, however, that some of those slamming Parks had been disciplined by the chief. So they can hardly be seen as objective in evaluating Parks as a disciplinarian.

The harsh reaction to Parks' insistence that officers be held to high standards and that officers who break the rules be punished indicates that some within the LAPD may still long for the good old days--oh, before 1991. Those were the days when officer-involved shootings were more common and even an incident as serious as the 1991 Rodney King beating was met initially with a decided lack of outrage by then-Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.

So context, as always, matters. It's worth noting that the police union, the Police Protective League, has been locked in hand-to-hand combat with Parks since the early days of his administration, when he rejected a workweek of three 12-hour days for officers.

The union has also been pushing for a few changes that could soften discipline of problem officers; for example, the league wants a city charter change that would make it more difficult to review unresolved complaints against officers when they are again facing a misconduct charge. That's a bad idea. It would only further insulate problem officers.

Regarding the reports of low morale among officers, any such attitude would of course be a cause for concern. But Angelenos have to be able to distinguish between widespread morale problems based on abusive or dangerous conditions and more limited morale problems that are the result of tightening a once-loose disciplinary system. If there's just cause for widespread morale problems within the LAPD, union leaders haven't made that case. In the meantime, at least the police union and management can agree in hoping there will be no more officer funerals for Chief Parks, or anyone else, to attend.

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