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The Parks Decision

Panel Swayed by Questions About Chief's Frankness and Honesty

Factors: Members say two key incidents weighed against Parks. He disputes allegations.

April 10, 2002|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

City police commissioners who voted Tuesday to oust Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks said that in the end, questions about his frankness and honesty in dealing with them came to be a key factor in their lengthy deliberations.

The commissioners, in an interview with The Times after the announcement of their 4-1 vote, cited two incidents in particular that weighed against the chief and which commission President Rick Caruso said proved pivotal in his vote.

In one of the incidents, Caruso said, Parks allegedly tried to derail a new compressed work schedule for officers after the commission had approved it. In the other, commissioners believed he misled them about one of his job performance evaluations.

Told of the commissioners' statements late Tuesday, Parks--sounding frustrated and exasperated--sharply challenged the allegations.

"If this is so relevant, why didn't it raise its ugly head during the nine hours [in which the commission interviewed him]?" Parks said. "It's amazing how things get interpreted."

Caruso said one of the incidents dates back to last fall, and the other arose in the midst of the commission's deliberations.

The commissioners made their decision after a total of more than 21 hours in closed session, nine of them spent with the chief, and they appeared emotional and exhausted at the end.

Caruso spoke of his concerns in the presence of three other commissioners: David Cunningham, Rose Ochi, Silvia Saucedo. Cunningham cast the lone vote in favor of Parks.

Bert Boeckmann, the fifth commissioner, was not present and was not available for comment after the news conference.

The four sat wearily around the table where they had held hours of arguments in closed sessions at a table covered with half-empty water bottles and scrunched-up pieces of paper. The garbage was stacked high with takeout boxes from restaurants.

Caruso said his admiration of the chief was first tarnished by the incident involving the newly adopted compressed work schedule, a program backed by Mayor James K. Hahn and the police union that allows officers to work three 12-hour shifts a week. Parks had opposed the program, but the commission approved it anyway.

In October, Michael Cherkasky, the independent monitor assigned to oversee the federal consent decree to reform the LAPD, contacted the city asking if the new schedule would compromise court-ordered compliance with the decree. Caruso said he had been told that a high-ranking LAPD official had contacted Cherkasky.

Caruso said that he was stunned to discover that, because it seemed that someone in the LAPD tried to stop the program after the commission had approved it.

It turned out, said commissioners Caruso and Ochi, that Parks was the official who had contacted Cherkasky. Caruso said he saw that as an attempt to sabotage the new work schedule behind commissioners' backs, by using it to potentially jeopardize the city's legal position on the consent decree.

Commissioners said Parks had been evasive when called to task about the issue, although he eventually acknowledged talking to Cherkasky. "He said, 'I make a lot of calls,' " Ochi recalled.

Parks gave similar details about the incident Tuesday night, but a different interpretation. He said the commissioners misread him.

He said, for example, that he calls Cherkasky once a month to discuss various issues, and that his subordinates call Cherkasky also. He said that when commissioners questioned him, he really wasn't sure at first which call they were referring to.

"I know what I said," Parks commented Tuesday night. "I know what the question was. If someone asked the same question today, I would answer the same."

But Caruso said, "It had come to our attention that there were efforts on the part of the chief to circumvent or sabotage programs."

The second incident involved a performance evaluation the chief had submitted as part of his application for reappointment that commissioners felt was misleading.

Caruso said the October incident had left him dubious, but when the issue of the evaluation surfaced Monday, it convinced him not to support the chief's bid.

"He has been less than forthcoming," said Caruso in a Times interview after the announcement. "It has raised an issue of character and integrity in dealing with the commission."

Sources said Commissioner Saucedo, leafing through the documents provided to commissioners, found that they were missing Parks' 2001 performance evaluation and requested that he submit it this week.

Caruso said the chief presented the evaluation as evidence of his good performance. But when Caruso checked into it, he discovered it had never been approved by the full commission, and was in fact only a draft.

Caruso said he felt that was tantamount to being dishonest on a job application, and said he was not satisfied with the chief's response. "I had reason to question the documentation he relied upon. . . . It was influential."

Parks again objected strongly Tuesday night to the notion that he had been at all dishonest, saying the evaluation had been signed by the then-president of the panel, like others he had received, and he had no way of knowing it had not been approved.

Commissioner Cunningham supported the chief's view. "I feel the chief was straightforward," he said.

But Caruso said his vote was sealed by the evaluation issue. Saucedo and Ochi were also influenced, they said.

Caruso said, "I think the chief has a lack of respect for civilian oversight of the department, which is the foundation of reform."

Cunningham said, "I tried to look at what he had to offer the department. His technical knowledge is extraordinary."

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