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The Parks Decision

City Council Not Inclined to Save Chief

* Politics: Two-thirds vote could overrule Police Commission but only three of the 15 say they favor doing so.

April 10, 2002|TINA DAUNT and PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Los Angeles City Council has the power to overrule the Police Commission's denial of a second term for Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, but support for the chief among the council members is thin: Only the group's three black representatives said Tuesday that they would favor overturning the commission.

In separate interviews, a majority of the 15-member council argued instead for leaving the matter alone, a course that would remove Parks from office no later than August, when the chief's five-year term ends. Those council members said they did not believe it was their place to second-guess the police panel, which voted 4 to 1 against reappointing Parks.

"Our initial impulse should always be to support the citizen system we have set up," said Councilman Eric Garcetti. "Right now, I don't see a will on the part of the council to assert jurisdiction and slap the system in the face."

Under the City Charter, the council has until April 19 to decide whether to weigh in on the matter. Ten votes are needed to debate whether to even consider overruling the commission. Then, 10 votes would be needed to do so.

Council President Alex Padilla said he had been discussing the matter in recent days with his colleagues, and has found little interest among the lawmakers to even delve into the matter.

"The decision of the Police Commission was based not only on established performance standards, but on an evaluation of the management and leadership of the chief," Padilla said. "The Police Commission has done its job."

Only council members Jan Perry, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Nate Holden stepped forward to express strong, continued support for Parks' reappointment.

"It's an unfortunate decision that needs to be reviewed by the council," said Perry, adding that she will introduce a motion to have the council review the commission action. "The chief has been a stabilizing force for the department. For somebody who has a 37-year body of work with the department including very recent excellent performance reviews, you can't just cast him aside. That's not in the best interest of the city."

Holden said he felt betrayed by Mayor James K. Hahn, who pushed for Parks' ouster despite the objections from many African Americans.

"It has been a closed-door kangaroo hearing for the chief," said Holden, who along with Ridley-Thomas and Perry are the only African Americans on the council. "It really says a lot more than I knew about Mayor Jimmy Hahn."

Hahn said Tuesday that the City Council has a right to decide whether to debate the Police Commission's decision. The mayor said he would not lobby for or against the council's involvement.

A number of the council members said they were hoping the commission decision would put an end to an ugly period of political bickering.

"At the end of the day, it is my hope the decision today will lead us down the path of depoliticizing this issue," said Councilman Jack Weiss. "Because it hasn't been the decision that has been so agonizing for people in this city, it has been the extent to which partisans on both sides have politicized it."

Councilman Dennis Zine, a former LAPD sergeant and an outspoken opponent of the chief's bid for another term, said he would support letting the commission decision stand. "What this Police Department is supposed to be doing is protecting the public," Zine said, "and yet crime continues to increase, gang violence is increasing and we have the embarrassment of the consent decree."

Zine said he respects Parks for his long career but said he proved to be too inflexible a chief and did not provide sufficient leadership.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said it appears the commission gave thorough consideration to the chief's performance.

"The council should only assert jurisdiction if it feels there is a gross dereliction of duty [by the commission] or a gross mistake," Miscikowski said. "I didn't see it" in the commission statement. "I would be unlikely to support asserting jurisdiction based on what I heard today."

Parks' term does not end until Aug. 12, and on Tuesday he vowed to serve until the end. If the chief reconsiders and resigns before then, the Police Commission would appoint an interim chief.

The last time an interim chief oversaw the department was 1997, when the commission selected Assistant Chief Bayan Lewis to head the LAPD after it turned down Police Chief Willie L. Williams' request for a second term.

Williams agreed to leave his post early after getting a $375,000 severance package. That agreement resolved a $10-million claim that Williams had filed against the city in connection with what he said was the improper release of confidential personnel files.

The council's handling of that matter was its second major foray into dealing with the chief's status during Williams' tenure. The council overruled the Police Commission when it tried to reprimand Williams for lying about accepting free accommodations at a Las Vegas hotel. The council action in that case prompted two commissioners to resign in protest.

Tuesday, some outside critics suggested that the council would be wise to avoid a repeat of that battle. "I hope it will stay here, rather than become a prolonged, bitter fight on the council, especially since there doesn't seem to be the votes either way," said USC law professor Erwin Chemerinksy.

"We have to find a way of healing the city and going forward," he added. "This has just been so tragically divisive."

*

Times staff writer Sharon Bernstein contributed to this report.

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