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Feud's Expansion Could Shape the LAPD's Future

Twists in Bratton-Parks spat alter alliances and might affect the chief's bid for a second term.

July 23, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Waged by blog, interoffice memo and television airwaves, a feud between Los Angeles' current and former police chiefs escalated last week from a personal tit for tat into a far more complicated fight with potential implications for who leads the LAPD into the future.

It surprises few observers that the sharp-tongued chief, William J. Bratton, and thin-skinned former chief, Bernard C. Parks, would end up disliking each another.

"When a chief later becomes a City Council member, he's likely to second-guess the new chief," said political consultant Arnold Steinberg, a veteran of City Hall battles.

It goes both ways, according to Councilman Dennis Zine: "Some people are saying maybe it's Bratton's New York style of being brash."

But what has been more striking of late is how that predictable spat has expanded across Los Angeles politics, throwing former adversaries into unlikely alliances and former allies into nervous conflict.

Zine, who was relieved of duty by Parks when both were at the LAPD, joined with his former boss and critic in signing a letter attacking Bratton. Councilman Jose Huizar, normally a reliable ally of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, found himself uncomfortably joined with the harshest critics of Villaraigosa's police chief. And council President Eric Garcetti, who heretofore has said little to criticize the chief, last week joined in demanding that Bratton apologize for his criticisms of the council.

The debate still has miles to go, and Bratton has begun efforts to mend fences, but already some observers say its outcome could determine whether the chief stays or goes when his term expires next year.

Bratton downplays the dispute, saying it is between Parks and him, not a larger bloc of council members.

"It's a difficult rift with a particular one," Bratton said in a recent interview on KPCC-FM (89.3).

Still, Parks was just one of five council members to sign a letter July 13 asking the Police Commission to investigate the chief for making "unprofessional" comments.

In particular, the signers were upset that Bratton said Parks and Zine "don't know what the hell they're talking about" regarding a change in police hiring policy. The two councilmen, Bratton said, should "mind their own business." Zine, Parks and the others then accused the chief of insulting the city's elected leadership and questioned his ability to lead the Police Department.

While rejecting calls to apologize, Bratton has quietly reached out to those who publicly challenged him, and some of those council members said they are trying to put the dispute behind them.

Bratton's public brashness and private diplomacy highlight the delicacy of the unfolding debate and the odd coalition arrayed against the chief. Nowhere is that more evident than in the joined forces of Parks and Zine, whose disagreements are part of modern Los Angeles lore.

In 1999, when Zine was a police sergeant, then-Chief Parks relieved him of duty in connection with charges that Zine had sexually harassed a female police officer. Zine denied the charges and accused Parks of orchestrating a campaign to drive him off the force because of his outspoken criticism of the chief's leadership. The department eventually cleared Zine of the allegations.

That was their most personal battle but hardly their last. In 2002, Zine opposed Parks' effort to win a second term. The following year, when Parks refused to participate in a new investigation of the Rampart police scandal, Zine accused him of being needlessly obstructive.

Now, longtime associates of both marvel at their joint criticism of Bratton.

"What it says to me is this goes beyond any personal agenda that people perceive Parks having," said Melanie Lomax, a former Police Commission president and confidant of Parks.

The conflict between Parks and Bratton has similarly had a number of chapters.

Some observers place the blame on Parks and argue that the feud appears to be as much about his losing his job to Bratton in 2002 as it is about the chief's inability to control his acid tongue.

"One could draw the conclusion" that Parks' criticism "is sour grapes, because Bratton has done a good job of reducing crime," said Bob Baker, president of the police union.

But Bratton has taken his shots. Parks was stung, for instance, when Bratton, on his first day as chief, said of the LAPD, "The organizational chart currently makes no sense.... [It] looks like it was put together by three blind men...."

Regardless of their differences, Parks initially focused most of his anger and criticism on Mayor James K. Hahn, whom he accused of conspiring to drive him from his post.

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