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Chief, Charging Conspiracy, Berates Mayor, Police Union

LAPD: In urging council to give him a second term, Parks blames politics for an increase in crime.

April 17, 2002|TINA DAUNT and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A determined Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks used his appeal to the City Council on Tuesday to denounce Mayor James K. Hahn and the city's police union, whom Parks accused of conspiring to make life better for police officers at the expense of public safety.

The chief's extraordinary address was covered live by local television stations and made before a packed council chamber, with hundreds of his supporters listening quietly as he excoriated the very political leadership whose support he was courting. At one point, Parks suggested that political motives had cost lives.

"You as council members and the commission in the future will have to determine how many lives should be lost to accommodate a police union as payback for its endorsement of the mayor and to accommodate a small number of community activists who want the Police Department at their beck and call," he said. "The true question is how much emphasis is placed on the value of life over political agendas."

Parks has been a Los Angeles police officer for 37 years, and he appeared for Tuesday's hearing in the dark blue uniform of the LAPD--his adorned with the four stars on the collar that only the chief is allowed to wear.

Somber and deliberate, he read for more than an hour. He addressed the council members individually by name as they sat a few feet away.

The mayor did not attend the session, and afterward his staff refused to make him available for comment. Hahn had no public events Tuesday afternoon.

"Mayor Hahn was disappointed that Chief Parks chose to use his time before the council to engage in personal attacks instead of laying out a vision for the next five years at the LAPD," said Julie Wong, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

Others who came in for criticism from Parks were quicker to respond. Rick Caruso, president of the Police Commission that denied Parks his reappointment, defended the panel's decision and its process.

Mitzi Grasso, who heads the police union, called the chief's remarks "absurd" and said the union was not as powerful as Parks suggested.

In the council chambers, the chief suggested sinister motives by his opponents, principally Hahn and the union. He concluded his statement by acknowledging that the odds were against his reappointment, but he urged the council to give him a chance.

The council is expected to vote today on whether to overturn the commission's 4-1 decision. To date, only three of the council's 15 members--Nate Holden, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Jan Perry--have expressed strong support for the chief.

Although members of the council said they were impressed by some of the things Parks said, several questioned whether he would be able to secure the 10 votes needed to override the commission.

"His speech was really, really impressive," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who heads the council's Public Safety Committee. "There may have been some minds changed, but I just don't know. I just don't think there are enough votes to overturn it."

Councilman Jack Weiss agreed.

"I think it is still an extraordinarily uphill battle for the chief in council," he said, adding that he would reserve voicing his opinion until the council discussed the matter in today's session.

"It is unfortunate how negative and personal this debate has become, for all sides and for the sake of the city," Weiss said. "I think that it's important to remember that no one in public office--an elected official or an appointed official--has a right to a public job. . . . We need to keep this in mind as we evaluate what has occurred here."

Hearing Not Fair, Chief Asserts

Parks' address blended his defense of his record with his curt rejection of the decision to deny him a second term. Throughout, he alluded to political machinations that he said prevented him from receiving a fair hearing.

Among other things, he argued that it was unfair to judge him on the city's increase in crime over the last two years. He noted that crime had declined in his first two years as chief, and he blamed the recent increases on politics and politicians.

Specifically, Parks said the drive to alter the Police Department's work schedule, to adopt a federal consent decree governing LAPD reform and to take officers out of patrol duties and put them into community policing assignments caused crime to increase. Mayor Richard Riordan, who appointed Parks, agreed to the consent decree and pushed Parks to beef up popular community policing programs. Hahn, who succeeded Riordan, also supported those moves and pressed for the revised work schedule as well.

All three efforts enjoyed strong council support.

"We were directed to move forward swiftly and implement all three of these changes," Parks said. "Then, as arrests went down, crime went up and [those] who were responsible for these decisions refused to take responsibility. They have disingenuously turned to me, as chief of police, and asked, 'Why is crime going up?' "

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