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OUTSIDE THE TENT

The Times (heart) Bratton

The paper consistently praises the police chief while taking shots at his predecessors.

June 03, 2007|Bernard C. Parks | Former Police Chief BERNARD C. PARKS is a member of the City Council.

WHEN I SPOTTED the May 12 headline "Bratton Faces His Toughest Test Yet" in The Times, I wondered whether the article would -- in keeping with previous articles and editorials -- go out of its way to give Police Chief William J. Bratton the benefit of the doubt in the May Day incident at MacArthur Park. And indeed, as I read the "news analysis" by reporters Patrick McGreevy and Matt Lait, I saw that the newspaper remains seemingly determined to make the chief look good even in the worst of situations.

Since the beginning of the chief's tenure in 2002, The Times has steadfastly painted his administration as a crime-reducing, reform-minded, public-relations-savvy machine. In tirelessly making this point, the paper is not above dredging up the tenures of previous chiefs.

In a July 21, 2005, editorial headlined "The chief in context," the paper briefly admonished Bratton for "insensitive, even callous" comments that he made in response to public protests over the accidental police shooting of a 19-month-old girl. But then the editorial excused him, citing the "ghosts" -- principally former chiefs Daryl F. Gates and me -- that "haunt the LAPD," and then called on Bratton's critics to acknowledge his accomplishments.

Less than a month later, another editorial, "The Bratton difference," concluded -- after dutifully criticizing Gates, former Chief Willie L. Williams and me -- that three years into his five-year contract wasn't too soon to start hoping for "10 years under a single effective chief."

But given the May 1 melee at MacArthur Park, along with the results of a recent Loyola Marymount University survey, that cheery depiction of the department under the current chief seems misguided.

Confronted with a possible credibility crisis, The Times did what the LAPD did when it was faced with the May Day chaos -- it panicked. Honesty and generally accepted journalistic standards would have required it to aggressively question the leadership of a department whose officers went out of control in the park. You'd think the head of the department would have to be included in that analysis, but he is the same guy The Times has bent over backward to praise since he arrived in L.A.

So instead, in the May 12 article, McGreevy and Lait drew comparisons between the current chief and his three immediate predecessors -- again! -- for no other apparent purpose than to praise the current chief's response to the May Day incident. For instance, they stated that in contrast to his predecessors, Bratton doesn't deny the seriousness of policing problems and is quick to launch investigations of wrongdoing and holding officers accountable.

During my years as chief of the LAPD, from 1997 to 2002, I fired more than 130 problem officers, more than the previous two chiefs and the current one combined. The newspaper never applauded my administration's uncovering of the Rampart incident despite the fact that its news story of Aug. 26, 1998, announcing the arrest of one of the scandal's central figures, reported that it had come following a six-month internal investigation initiated by me.

When Bratton, in one of his first acts, relaxed the department's disciplinary system, no news analysis or editorial questioned the wisdom of the move in a city with a history of troubled relations between the LAPD and minority communities. When this paper reported last year that of the roughly 6,400 complaints filed by residents against LAPD officers in 2005, only about 400 officers were disciplined, no follow-up news analyses or editorials criticized or questioned Bratton's commitment to officer discipline or his stewardship of departmental reform mandated by the consent decree.

Yet when he disciplined the two top-ranking officers in the MacArthur Park incident, the chief won praise for his swift action. No editorial or news analysis pointed out how clearly inconsistent this decision was with the day-to-day administration and application of discipline in the LAPD.

I find it hard to believe that the tougher accountability standards that emerged after the Rampart incident would lead residents to lose confidence in my leadership, as the May 12 article stated. In fact, a March 2002 Times poll, conducted at the end of my tenure, contradicted it. When respondents were asked whether they approved or disapproved of the way the LAPD was handling its job, "more than six in 10 (63%) residents gave a thumbs-up to the city's cops."

Furthermore, according to a survey of residents on the 15th anniversary of the L.A. riots, conducted this year by Loyola Marymount University's Thomas and Doris Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles, only 40% of Angelenos say they believe that the LAPD is effectively imposing more discipline among its police officers. In the center's 2002 survey, the percentage was 54%.

To make the illusion of the May 12 news analysis complete, The Times reporters phoned across the country to get the comments of a man who made a career of bashing the pre-Bratton LAPD -- Duke University law professor and civil libertarian Erwin Chemerinsky, who was hired by the police union to write a report on the Rampart scandal. Right on cue, the professor praised Bratton's approach to policing departmental problems while criticizing mine and Gates'. I imagine that the Rolodexes at The Times are pretty impressive. Was there no one available to comment on the chief's response to the May Day calamity with a 213, 310 or 323 area code? The fact that Chemerinsky's predictable statements were not balanced by a differing view further calls into question The Times' objectivity when it comes to Bratton.

All this points up the pro-Bratton bias of the newspaper. True to form, The Times gives Bratton another pass.

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