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Speak Up, Mr. Parks

August 27, 2003

Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former chief of the Police Department, has "15 or 20 reasons" for refusing to meet with a panel investigating the LAPD's Rampart corruption scandal, according to Bernard Parks Jr., the councilman's son and communications director. The councilman's office has yet to release those reasons, despite phone calls over two days requesting them. It's hard to imagine any that would justify such stonewalling.

It's easy to suggest some petty reasons, however, given the politics involved. The same mayor-appointed civilian Police Commission that in June created the Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel refused to renew Parks' contract as chief last year -- launching his entry into politics.

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice, appointed to lead the panel, openly faulted Parks when he was chief, saying he had not done enough to change the LAPD's insular culture; she did not support his reappointment. The idea for an independent review panel came from Chief William J. Bratton, whose actions inevitably invite comparisons to and sometimes imply criticism of his predecessor.

If Parks were a conspiracy buff, he might even view this newly launched investigation into the Rampart scandal, which happened under his watch, as an attempt by Mayor James K. Hahn to derail a Parks candidacy in the 2005 mayoral election. But the scandal itself, not to mention Rice's and other panel members' advocacy of police reform, predates the overt Hahn-Parks political rivalry, which began when Hahn opposed Parks' appointment to a second term as chief. By not cooperating, Parks ends up looking as if he has something to hide.

Surely Parks is above these kinds of games. Perhaps he questions whether another Rampart investigation is needed after four years and four earlier studies. Deadlines for criminal prosecutions have passed. That's why, rather than continuing to probe rogue cop Rafael Perez's allegations of beatings, planted evidence and unjustified shootings, Rice intends to look at how the LAPD handled them. Parks himself promised to deliver such an "after-action report" to the public while he was still chief. He had not yet done so when he was forced out of office.

The Rampart scandal has resulted in more than 100 overturned convictions. It has cost city taxpayers more than $40 million to settle claims by victims of police abuse, all aside from what it did to the LAPD's reputation and credibility.

The goal of the new Rampart panel is to learn how to avoid future scandals. That's one powerful reason for an elected city leader to cooperate.

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