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The Parks Decision | PATT MORRISON

A New Episode in L.A.'s Ongoing Police Drama

April 10, 2002|PATT MORRISON

Bernard C. Parks, for all his years with the LAPD, may not know who William Crossman Warren was.

But today of all days, he should.

Will Warren was the only police chief in the history of Los Angeles to be killed in the line of duty--shot by one of his own men.

The spot on Spring Street where Will Warren was murdered on a Halloween afternoon 130-odd years ago is two blocks away from where, on Tuesday, the Police Commission pulled the trigger on Parks' career as Los Angeles chief of police.

As with the toppling of any public figure--and the words "political assassination" will be coming soon to a microphone near you--the whodunits and the whispering began before there was an actual body:

The commission pulled the trigger. The mayor loaded the gun. And--shades of Will Warren--the police union handed over the weapon, one of those ankle-holster numbers kept on hand for unpleasant jobs.

Curiously, that's exactly the image invoked by another chief of police, Ed Davis, who admires Parks and is admired by him. I called Davis up in Morro Bay to hear what he had to say about this.

"I think it means the murder of a police chief by a murderous union. They killed Willie Williams--I don't hold that against them--and now they killed off Bernard Parks."

On the civic stage outside Parker Center on Tuesday, the Police Commission opened the envelope on its decision, padding the bad news with mild, resume-quality adjectives to cocoon the blow: 4 to 1 against Parks.

Theirs need not be the last word. Ten of the 15 City Council members can overrule their four votes.

An hour after the commission delivered its thumbs down, Chief Parks descended the six floors from his office to stand at the same podium and declare he would ask the council to do just that. Tonight, at the historic African American fire station at Vernon and Normandie avenues, residents will begin figuring how to lobby the council to keep Parks.

But already people--the district attorney for one, and the cop-turned-councilman Dennis Zine--have begun speaking of Chief Parks in the past tense, a lame duck expected to clean out his desk by the close of business four months and two days from today.

In the afternoon hours, before the commission made its decision known, Parker Center was aswarm with reporters and activists. Standing near the monument to police officers killed in the line of duty was one of those life-size angel figures--whatever size angels are. Around its right biceps, someone had wrapped a black armband.

A newcomer may wonder why L.A.'s politicians go unknown and ignored--a county supervisor with more money and constituents than many U.S. senators can't get recognized for a table at Lucques.

But the police chief has the TVQ of a soap star. Into police matters, Angelenos pour the passions that other cities expend on real politics. Supervisors and council members kill programs and birth them, and change life every day, but it was the Parks drama that got the TV trucks circled like Conestoga wagons, breaking into a dozing afternoon's TV lineup with the hot news. Hahn's press conference, overlapping with Parks', attracted half as many cameras.

There were rumors Tuesday of a citywide tactical police alert, that there was so much fervor for Parks that people would protest or even riot to keep him. Who can imagine anyone rioting for Jim Hahn?

Why is this so?

The media image, sure, has been carefully pruned and groomed from "Dragnet" on the radio to "Adam 12" on TV. But the real chiefs have buckled a few swashes: Jim "Two Gun" Davis sent L.A. cops to the Arizona border on a "Bum Blockade" during the Depression. Ed Davis famously suggested hanging hijackers at the airport on a portable gallows. The august Bill Parker, the choleric Daryl Gates, the Vegas-loving Willie Williams.

Ed Davis thinks it's the life-or-death nature of policing, the historical high profile of any chief--by nature part lawman, part showman. It was Davis who was asked whether he'd run for mayor and memorably replied, "Why give up all this power?"

Davis put that perspective to Tuesday's events. Parks, he said, is "a great professional." As for Hahn--"Well, he's only a mayor. He's not a police chief."

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