woulda thunk it?
Until the other
day, I often wondered how Los Angeles mayor James Hahn managed to
walk upright all these years without the benefit of a spine. So
imagine the gleeful astonishment here in the Dunphy house when Mr.
Hahn at last took his place in the phylum Chordata. At great risk
to his political future, Hahn held a press conference last Tuesday
to announce that he would not support Bernard Parks in his bid for
a second five-year term as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Parks is held in high regard among blacks in Los Angeles, and it
was the near-unanimous support of black voters that provided Hahn
with his margin of victory in last year's mayoral election. Most
predictably, notables such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters were quick
to express their "shock and outrage" at the mayor's decision,
and a recall effort against Hahn is being discussed by those still
too shocked and outraged to string together a coherent sentence.
Los Angeles cannot as yet rival New York in the arena of racial
hysteria, but the battle over Parks's future promises to be most
amusing for those of you fortunate enough to live somewhere else.
It will less amusing for those of us living here. I like the circus
as much as anyone, but I suspect living in the center ring would
soon grow tiresome. We can expect Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton
to arrive any day now.
It might be
said that James Hahn inherited his base of support among blacks
from his father, Kenneth, who for 40 years represented South Los
Angeles on the L.A. county board of supervisors. In last year's
campaign Hahn knitted that traditional base with more conservative
voting blocs by portraying his opponent, former California assembly
speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, as a dangerous radical. To that end
he secured his right flank by courting and winning an endorsement
from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents
LAPD officers up to the rank of lieutenant and whose members, myself
included, overwhelmingly wish to see Parks replaced. In the current
debate over Parks's future, Hahn found his coat sleeves being yanked
in opposite directions by cops and constituents who each felt they
were owed a debt.
his decision to turn his back on Parks, Hahn no doubt made the sort
of calculations that politicians ceaselessly and almost instinctively
make: Which constituency can I stab in the back and still have a
shot at winning the next time around? By opposing Parks's reappointment,
Hahn risks losing support among the black voters who so reliably
turned out for him in the last election. But supporting Parks would
have been politically dangerous for Hahn as well, particularly to
any aspirations beyond City Hall he may be entertaining. In addition
to carrying South Central L.A. with the help of black voters, he
also won in the more conservative precincts of the San Fernando
Valley, where the Protective League's endorsement carried more clout.
The Valley is currently threatening to secede from Los Angeles and
take a huge portion of the city's population and tax base with it.
Hahn does not want to be the mayor of a disintegrating city, and
a major issue driving the secession effort has been the LAPD's failure
to respond to the frightening increase in crime in Valley neighborhoods.
Over the two-year period that ended in December, homicides increased
by 39 percent and robberies by 20 percent in the five patrol divisions
that make up the LAPD's Valley Bureau.
I have often
written of the disorder in the Los Angeles Police Department, but
things are growing more desperate with each passing day. Even at
its budgeted strength of 10,000 officers the LAPD is undermanned,
with one of the lowest police-officers-per-capita ratios among the
country's major cities. But the problem is especially pronounced
in the Valley, where the five police stations cover much more territory
than those on the other side of the hill. And the department is
currently about 1,200 officers short of that authorized strength,
forcing those who remain to shoulder a load that grows more burdensome
as crime increases and officers leave the job more quickly than
they can be replaced.
And why are
they leaving? To put it simply, under Bernard Parks the LAPD has
become a lousy place to work. Police officers everywhere are well
accustomed to dealing with the physical dangers and psychological
challenges inherent in confronting crime and villainy. But, reflecting
the chief's apparent beliefs, the attitude among many in the upper
ranks of the LAPD seems to be that we poor wretches who toil in
the streets and do the dirty work exist on only a slightly higher
moral plane than the criminals and villains we confront. Criminals
and their sympathizers have taken advantage of Parks's draconian
disciplinary system by burdening the department with an avalanche
of personnel complaints, to which the department devotes an outrageously
inordinate amount of resources. Imagine working for a company whose
internal policies are dictated by those who wish to see it out of
a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, last year there
were nearly 6,000 personnel investigations in the LAPD, or about
two for every three officers. But the majority of those investigations
of course focused on patrol officers, who make up only about half
of the department. I certainly had my share, all of them frivolous.
Chief Parks defends this policy by citing the most egregious examples
of officer misconduct. No one argues that serious misconduct should
not be punished accordingly, but if I had the mind to do so I could
go out today and pull off all sorts of shenanigans because I know
my supervisor isn't out on the street keeping an eye on me. He is
sitting at some computer in the police station writing a 20-page
report about someone who parked a black-and-white in the red zone
at the courthouse. And, guilty or innocent, it generally takes over
a year for an accused officer to have his case adjudicated. All
of this has had a corrosive effect on morale and caused an exodus
of officers to departments governed by more common sense.
increase in crime in Los Angeles has of course fallen most heavily
on minority neighborhoods, where residents would benefit most from
the presence of a motivated yet disciplined police department. That
unpleasant fact goes unrecognized in an op-ed piece by Maxine Waters
in Friday's Los Angeles Times. In railing against Hahn for
his decision on Parks, Waters expresses no outrage over the spike
in crime in her district and makes no concession that the police
chief might in some way be responsible for it. I would remind the
gentlewoman from California that in South Central L.A.'s 77th Street
Division homicides have increased by 57 percent in the last two
years. How many of your constituents must be killed, Ms. Waters,
before you recognize that Parks has failed?
In a further
blow to Parks's ambitions, on Sunday the Los Angeles Times
ran a lengthy editorial asking him to step down. As with Daryl Gates
and Willie Williams before him, Parks's political support has washed
away beneath his feet. Before making his decision public, Mayor
Hahn met privately with Parks and invited him to retire gracefully
for the good of the LAPD and the city. In a move emblematic of his
tenure as chief, Parks refused. Instead he has chosen to engage
in a fight he cannot win. I hope it ends quickly.
Dunphy is the author's nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are
his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management