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Wanted: Experts to Help Assess Chief Parks

January 03, 2002|ERWIN CHEMERINSKY | Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor at USC, conducted an independent review of the LAPD Board of Inquiry's report on the Rampart scandal for the Police Protective League.

One of the most important decisions facing Los Angeles in the coming year is whether LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks should be given a second five-year term when his current one expires in August. This decision should be based on Parks' merits and not on political considerations. To help accomplish this, the Police Commission should appoint a group of independent experts to evaluate Parks and advise it as to whether Parks deserves to be reappointed.

Already, political pressures are beginning to mount on both sides. In November, the Police Protective League--the police union and a key political force in Los Angeles--issued a "report card" on Parks and gave him failing grades. In response, several prominent African American politicians, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and City Councilman Nate Holden, held a news conference strongly defending Parks.

The league also plans to poll its members on whether they have confidence in the chief. On the other side, influential business leaders reportedly are mobilizing a lobbying effort on Parks' behalf, after he told supporters that he would seek a second term.

The decision whether to reappoint Parks should not be about which group can muster the most influence with Mayor James K. Hahn and the Police Commission he appointed. The sole question should be whether Parks' performance in office has been of a sufficiently high quality to warrant a second term.

Without a doubt, there is substantial division within the city about this question.

Parks' supporters see him as a strong administrator, a tough disciplinarian, a career officer who rose through the ranks and has the experience needed to run the Los Angeles Police Department.

Parks' detractors blame him for the low morale among officers and for preventing a thorough investigation of the Rampart scandal. Parks' critics believe that he is arbitrary when it comes to disciplining officers, at times harshly punishing minor infractions and at other times imposing minor sanctions for serious violations by his command staff.

A thorough, nonpartisan evaluation of Parks is thus essential. The Los Angeles City Charter prescribes detailed procedures for the reappointment of the chief of police. Parks has until Feb. 13, which is 180 days before the expiration of his term, to formally apply to the Police Commission for a second term.

The commission then has until May 13 to decide whether to reappoint Parks. Its decision, for or against Parks, can be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the City Council.

If the Police Commission does not act by May 13, the mayor has 30 days in which he can reappoint the chief. Such a decision also could be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the City Council.

Ultimately, the Police Commission, the mayor and the City Council all will be involved in evaluating Parks. All would benefit from an independent, nonpolitical assessment.

This group should be composed exclusively of individuals who have expressed no position about Parks or his performance. Some members of the group should be experts on policing from outside of Los Angeles. The group should be as diverse as possible, reflecting a range of viewpoints and experiences on police issues.

There are many advantages to using such a process. Public confidence in the LAPD would be enhanced if the decision about the chief is seen as based on merit rather than on politics and back-room lobbying. A neutral, expert evaluation might also lessen racial divisions over the issue. Five years ago, when Mayor Richard Riordan decided not to reappoint then-Chief Willie Williams, there was strong opposition from the African American community.

Further, using neutral evaluators would set a laudable precedent as to how other key administrators in the city should be evaluated. The new City Charter gives the mayor much greater authority to remove general managers of departments, but it does not specify any evaluation process.

Most of all, this expert assessment would provide the best guidance for the city as to whether Parks should stay as police chief. The Police Commission should act immediately to create such an evaluation team, but if it fails to do so, the mayor and the City Council should insist on it.

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