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LAPD Confidential: Let's End 40 Years of Bad Juju

September 15, 2002|JAMES ELLROY | James Ellroy is the author of "L.A. Confidential" (Warner Books, 1990) and a memoir, "My Dark Places" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).

I'm an LAPD observer of 40 years standing. I've watched cops, I've written about them, I've spent a few nights in their lockups. They have been lauded, unduly decried and misrepresented across a wide sociopolitical spectrum. Despite the many brickbats hurled at chiefs, from William Parker through Daryl Gates, the Los Angeles Police Department has clawed, bungled, PR-blitzed and pushed its way toward public accountability--many times under duress--since Parker's appointment in 1950. County commissions, city boards, federal look-see overseers--the LAPD's sizzled under hot interrogation room lights and got hit upside the head with a phone book. The councils, media scrutiny, changing times rife with attendant protest have served as interrogation props. It's out in the open now. All the LAPD wants to confess.

It just isn't working. The old ways are moribund. The new ways are yet to be defined. L.A.'s overpopulated. The LAPD is understaffed. It's been 40 years of divisive bad juju. The '60s to the '90s constituted no police-citizen love fest. Rodney King, the '92 riots, the repugnant and racially ratified O.J. verdict and Rampart--what a bring-down! Many people are vying for the new chief's position. They know that old-type hard-line chiefs won't survive. They know that the last two chiefs blundered and floundered and wobbled behind the assumed wishes of L.A.'s '92 post-riot citizenry--and withered behind scores of civilian complaints, many genuinely proffered, most cheap attempts to pick the pocketbooks of that long-term blue boogeyman.

Today's society bops behind fatuous concepts of retribution, reparation and payback time. That cosmic welfare check will never arrive. A new LAPD chief will arrive, but will he or she strike the necessary philosophical balance? Know where the LAPD has been, and thus glimpse the road it should travel? Be able to mount a hybrid street presence: essential, aggressive police work and a new cross-cultural civility? The LAPD has long suffered a self-imposed isolation, steeped in the noble loner myth cooked up by Jack Webb and Chief Parker. The new chief will have to say, "That was then, this is now--and here's what we're going to change."

Among the 13 finalists for chief is Cmdr. Jim McDonnell. He's smart; he's experienced; he's dedicated. We've spent evenings discussing where the LAPD has been and where it should go. He's an aggressive conciliator. He thinks in big pictures and reduces them to street discourse size. He loves L.A. He'd love to fire up the troops to fight crime in the new and wild and woolly and multicultural L.A. He revels in the minutiae of everyday police work without ever losing sight of the human aspect.

Our most recent LAPD chiefs have been long on circumspection and short on hard leadership skills. The new chief has to stride forth forcefully, as Parker did 50 years ago, but without "Whiskey Bill's" racial attitudes and martinet personality.

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