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Parks Sharply Criticizes Rampart Study

Former chief says report overlooks important questions. Other officials praise findings but say plan to add officers is unrealistic.

July 13, 2006|Jim Newton and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who served as chief of the LAPD from 1997 to 2002, on Wednesday denounced a new analysis of the department's Rampart Division scandal as the illogical work of self-proclaimed experts who failed in the task assigned to them.

"It's like putting your arms around smoke," he said of the report, adding that it was a collection of innuendo and hyperbole rather than serious analysis of the department.

Parks was not chief when the Rampart officers engaged in most of the misconduct that produced the scandal, but he did oversee the LAPD's own inquiry into the matter. In an interview Wednesday, he said the report -- written by a longtime critic of him, civil rights attorney Connie Rice -- missed the chance to delve into the scandal and instead departed into a philosophical examination of how Los Angeles polices itself.

The panel then fell short, he added, by relying on interviews with police officials who had their own biased perspectives on that issue.

Time and again, Parks said, the report from the Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel misses the important questions: Asked to examine the extent of police corruption in the Rampart Division, just west of downtown, it instead cites the decline in crime around MacArthur Park as a sign of improvement.

Confronted with evidence that unauthorized weapons were discovered in police cars after the Rampart scandal, the report surmises that department misconduct may be resurgent without considering that suspects might have left those weapons, he said.

Rather than support the report's recommendations, Parks argued that the city would be best served by pressing the LAPD to live up to the letter and spirit of a consent decree that commits the department to reforms overseen by a federal judge.

While Parks criticized the report's findings and methodology, other Los Angeles leaders embraced most of its conclusions, although they too questioned whether it was practical to expect to add thousands of new officers, as the document recommends.

The panel endorsed a plan written by Police Chief William J. Bratton that would expand the force by more than 3,000 officers.

"I believe we do need a lot more police," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, noting that the city recently raised trash fees to pay for 1,000 more officers over the next five years. But moving any faster to add more would be politically and practically difficult, he said.

"A thousand officers is our first-phase commitment," Villaraigosa said, "but I will hope that some other mayor, or maybe [I] in my second term, will continue to build on that."

The mayor said that for now the city lacks the money -- and the recruits -- to go beyond adding 1,000 officers to the 9,288-member force.

Police Commission President John Mack defended the recommendations even as he said some would be difficult to carry out.

"It's an extremely significant and insightful document and an important call to action for the Los Angeles Police Department, the Police Commission and elected officials," Mack said.

The commission appointed the panel to produce a final accounting of the 1999 Rampart scandal, in which nine officers were charged with crimes and 23 were either fired or suspended. The commission has scheduled a meeting for 4 p.m. today at City Hall to discuss the recommendations.

The panel called for a significant expansion of the force and a shift in its policing style to a more community-friendly, problem-solving model.

Civil rights leaders hailed the report for bringing new and especially forceful attention to an old complaint.

"It will help to focus on the problem so people won't forget it -- the problem being out-of-control officers," said John Trasvina, interim president of the local chapter of the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund.

The panel found that the Rampart Division has experienced a turnaround to "high road" policing that involves collaboration with the community.

However, the panel also said other LAPD divisions still suffer from lax supervision of officers and are still alienating minority and poor communities.

In addition, the panel criticized the county's criminal justice system, calling for a performance and integrity audit to determine whether checks are in place to prevent the innocent from being convicted.

That drew a lengthy response from Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who said the report "fails to cite significant reforms" that he has made.

The prosecutor stopped short of endorsing an audit of the criminal justice system, but said the panel's report is helpful.

"The ball is now in our court -- police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and others -- to ensure that the necessary changes are made to spot corruption of and within the justice system early," Cooley said.

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Times staff writer Scott Glover contributed to this report.

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