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The Damage of This Battle

April 10, 2002

The Los Angeles Police Commission's decisive 4-1 decision to deny Chief Bernard C. Parks a second five-year term is expected to mean the end of Parks' enduring 37-year career with the Police Department. Parks has put up a mighty fight, masterfully fought--he's a much better politician than his foe, Mayor James K. Hahn--but he unsurprisingly failed to get the support he needed from the mayor-appointed commission. Now what?

The tenacious chief has said he will pursue his next option: appealing to the City Council and hoping he can find support to overturn the commission's decision. That's highly unlikely, and even his staunchest supporters know it. He's a strong-willed leader who has accomplished much; we wish he would walk away proud of his long service. It's clear he won't do that, at least not yet.

The City Charter change that created the five-year appointment did not intend reappointment to be automatic. Parks, appointed by a different mayor and Police Commission, didn't embrace the priorities held by this mayor and this Police Commission. Parks' time at the helm of the LAPD looks effectively ended, but he may have a bright political career ahead of him if he wants it.

For anyone who cares about Los Angeles, there's certainly no glee in this tangled civic mess. A tight-lipped Hahn welcomed the commission's decision but claimed he didn't seek to influence it. Of course he did, when he suddenly announced in February that he didn't support a second Parks term. Hahn, despite a lifetime in politics, apparently didn't understand that it doesn't matter whether a decision is right if you handle it all wrong. The way it was repeatedly bungled set in motion political convulsions that are likely to be with the city for a long while.

The bizarre racial politics surrounding the battle between Hahn and Parks went to new heights Tuesday: Hours before the mayor's Police Commission voted to oust Parks, the same commission had African American activist Danny Bakewell arrested during its meeting because he spoke beyond his allotted time. He was escorted out of the meeting by police officers while his supporters sang "We Shall Overcome." What's the next brilliant move for the Hahn administration to calm racial tension in Los Angeles? Round up Rep. Maxine Waters? And what are black leaders going to do to calm racial tension in Los Angeles? Compare this struggle to keep their individual political fiefdoms and exact revenge against Hahn to the civil rights movement?

It's been that kind of year. And the prospect doesn't brighten as we look to daunting challenges ahead for Hahn, challenges that would test even a talented politician. There's heightening friction in the city between regions and between ethnic and racial groups. How Hahn--with, we hope, a better team than the one that advised him on this issue--manages the leadership questions now facing the Police Department may well determine the rest of his term.

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