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Review of Parks Will Be Private

LAPD: Citing the need to discuss some sensitive personnel matters, Police Commission decides to interview the chief in closed meetings.

April 02, 2002|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite a request by Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks to open to the public his crucial interview for a second five-year term, city Police Commission members opted Monday to conduct a lengthy meeting with the chief in private.

Explaining their decision through Commission Executive Director Joe Gunn, commission members said they wanted to protect information about sensitive officer-involved shootings, disciplinary procedures and personnel matters involving people other than Parks that might be raised during the discussion.

The decision prompted an angry outcry from a crowd of about two dozen Parks supporters who had gathered in an auditorium of LAPD headquarters at Parker Center in hopes of hearing him publicly defend his record and spell out his vision for a second term.

"We are talking about violating certain people's rights, but what about the public's rights?" asked Danny Bakewell, head of the Brotherhood Crusade, who found himself under the television lights as Gunn slipped away from the podium.

Shortly afterward, the chief, appearing somewhat more serious and preoccupied than usual, walked down a long hallway to meet with commissioners in private.

Not long after the doors closed, City Councilman Nate Holden released what he said was the chief's prepared response to the commission's queries.

The inch-thick report, titled "Chief of Police Reappointment Criteria--Response by Bernard C. Parks" and dated Monday, lays out in detail the changes during his five years heading the department.

Written in the impersonal, bureaucratic style that characterizes many LAPD reports, the document has 14 sections, and addresses each of the commission's criteria in turn, and presents a grocery list of internal LAPD programs and procedures explaining how they were established or expanded under Parks.

The report placed little emphasis on the chief personally, instead talking of the department as a whole. It lays out, for example, Parks' efforts to reorganize the LAPD to reduce bureaucratic layers, the reorganization of the former CRASH anti-gang units into new gang units with different training, and the establishment of a command accountability program to fight crime in which captains are asked to answer for specific crime problems in their areas.

The five-member Police Commission is empowered to decide, subject to a City Council override, whether Parks receives a second term.

The commission is in the final stages of deciding Parks' fate, and has scheduled additional closed sessions for today, Wednesday and next Tuesday.

In its session Monday, the commission was due to hear the chief address each of eight performance criteria on which members had said they wanted to judge his tenure.

Those criteria are: vision and leadership; control and prevention of crime; management; police reform; strategies for community policing and programs; communications; personnel administration and employee relations; and relations with the Police Commission.

After about 41/2 hours, the commissioners emerged for a brief break, and Parks called it "a very good meeting, a very good meeting."

He said his impression was that commissioners had not made up their minds.

Commission President Rick Caruso said that the session was going "very well." The panel and the chief, he said, had been "going back and forth and having a very open and frank discussion."

Explaining the decision to keep the session closed, he said, "The reality is that we are dealing with very sensitive information," including personnel and deployment issues ordinarily discussed in closed session. "What's the option?" he asked. "To keep it in open session and violate people's rights?"

As the meeting broke up about 9:30 p.m., commissioners emerged to announce they would continue interviewing the chief in closed session today.

"The meeting went well," Caruso said. "It was a good, open, honest discussion." Parks "made a good presentation, a very honest appraisal of his strengths and his weaknesses."

Caruso, who has said before that he is struggling with the decision, said, "I still have very mixed emotions. I still am where I was months ago. I'm still on the fence."

The issue of whether Parks, the LAPD's 52nd chief and the second African American, will serve another term has been fuel for political fire since early February, when Mayor James K. Hahn announced he opposed Parks' reappointment.

On paper, Hahn's pronouncement only had the weight of an opinion, because the city's charter assigns the job of reappointing the chief to the commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor, but are empowered to act independently in overseeing the police department.

Still, the mayor's early entry into the fray enraged supporters of the chief, including a number of prominent African American clergy and politicians, even as it gratified Parks' opponents, such as the Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers.

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