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Hahn Sees Profound Problems at LAPD

September 19, 2002|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As he nears a decision on a new chief for the Los Angeles Police Department, Mayor James K. Hahn says the LAPD faces serious challenges and needs a new leader who can overcome a "resistance to reform" that goes "very deep in the organization."

In an interview Wednesday, and in conversations with friends and associates, Hahn makes clear his view of the department as a seriously troubled institution.

"I think the culture that has been typical of LAPD, that resists outside influence and resists reform, is very deep in the organization, and I need a chief who can change that," Hahn said.

"I think this resistance to reform that has characterized the department over the past 10 years has to go away.

"We have to have a chief who will demonstrate very clearly to the commanders ... down to the officers in patrol cars that reform is not an impediment to policing but that it is absolutely necessary."

The LAPD, as Hahn and his aides note, is the city department the mayor knows best, having watched it closely over his two decades in public office.

Now, with the Police Commission expected today to give him a list of three finalists, aides say the mayor approaches this pivotal decision with a sense of confidence.

"I think he has a complex view of that department that you get with someone who has 20 years experience," said George Kieffer, an attorney who has advised the mayor and others. "I would not say he has a simple view of the LAPD--he views it not only as a reformer but [as] someone who sees the needs of the rank and file."

As city attorney for 16 years, Hahn saw firsthand the problems in the department, from bad cops to poor record-keeping. He created a special unit of attorneys to manage Police Department litigation, and later, he was closely involved in negotiations with the federal government over proposed reforms in the LAPD.

He dealt with the fallout from the Rampart corruption scandal and then, as mayor, he clashed over changes in the department with then-chief Bernard C. Parks, whom Hahn ultimately rejected for a second term.

During these years, Hahn developed a sense of the LAPD as an agency that saw itself as separate from City Hall, autonomous and isolated, according to friends and associates of the mayor. This is the department's fundamental flaw, in his view.

In contrast with past LAPD chiefs, Hahn strongly believes in the civilian oversight provided by the five-member Police Commission, appointed by the mayor.

Commission President Rick Caruso, as well as other commissioners, said they were told when they were appointed that the LAPD needed strong leadership, not stewardship.

"It's not only new leadership at the chief's position," Caruso said, "but changing a philosophy of how we do business."

Much of the discussion about the next chief has focused on whether an LAPD insider or an outsider would be best suited for the job. Some argue that only someone knowledgeable about the department and the city can reform the LAPD, while others say only an outsider can bring a fresh way of doing business.

But Hahn has refused to discuss that question, repeatedly saying that his focus is on finding the best person to reform the department.

The list of candidates that the Police Commission is preparing for Hahn includes both insider and outside candidates, according to sources familiar with the discussion.

In a final flurry of activity Wednesday, the city's headhunter agency made a round of calls to some of the candidates to ask for additional background information and photographs. Candidates who were contacted included LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish, LAPD Cmdrs. George Gascon and James McDonnell, and former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton. Other names widely discussed in City Hall as top contenders were former Philadelphia Commissioner John Timoney and LAPD Cmdr. Sharon Papa.

The Police Commission has been whittling down a list that currently consists of 13 candidates. Under the city charter, the commission forwards a list of three finalists to the mayor, who then picks the chief. If he does not approve of any of the finalists, the mayor, who appoints the members of the commission, can request another list.

The decision on the next chief of police is a weighty political one for Hahn: He faces a secession vote in November brought by supporters of separate cities in Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. And, he faces reelection in 2005.

Friends and associates and others who have watched Hahn work with the department say the politics of the issue are not lost on the mayor, the son of a beloved former county supervisor who grew up steeped in the world of local politics.

"I think Hahn is someone who is aware of the serious problems in the department and would like his legacy to be positive reform," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a USC law professor.

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