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LA Police Chief Fights to Keep Job - 2002-04-03

Embattled Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks is fighting to keep his job. The city's mayor hopes to fire the police official, while the city's black community wants to keep him.

The fight centers on two men who are both popular with the city's black voters. Mayor Jim Hahn, a white politician whose father represented the black neighborhood of Watts for 40 years, took the helm of city hall last year with the overwhelming support of the city's black community.

The mayor is demanding the scandal-ridden Los Angeles police department carry out reforms that it agreed to in 2000 under the threat of a federal lawsuit. Following revelations of corruption in an anti-gang unit, the department is implementing new training and oversight procedures.

Chief Parks, an African American, says he also wants reform, but the mayor doubts his ability to push through the changes. The mayor's position has enraged some of the city's most prominent black leaders.

The Los Angeles police commission, whose five members were appointed by the mayor, is now considering whether the chief should be offered another contract when his current five-year term expires in June.

Further angering the chief's supporters, the commission's president has asked that meetings with Chief Parks be held in private, to protect sensitive information about department discipline and personnel issues.

Danny Bakewell heads an organization called the Brotherhood Crusade and opposes the decision by the commission president to close the meetings. Mr. Bakewell said, "He's going to violate the rights of the chief and he's going to violate the rights of all of the people who have shown up to publicly testify and publicly bear witness that this is an open, fair and just process. It's not. It's a witch-hunt, and they're doing the mayor's bidding."

Mayor Hahn has made no secret of his desire to oust the police chief, but the police commission is an independent body not bound by the mayor's wishes. Commission members met with Chief Parks for five-and-a-half hours in a closed session Monday.

Later, the chief was asked about charges by his supporters that the commissioners had determined that they would not renew his contract. "I think if they've made up their mind, then that's unfortunate," he said. But I don't get that sense. No. If that was true, I would not be involved in the process."

Chief Parks is known as a strict disciplinarian. He has fired 150 officers and reprimanded hundreds during his term. His critics say that has not improved the department. The local police union is demanding the chief's ouster, calling his actions "arbitrary" and saying police morale has dropped to an all-time low.

Supporters point out that the chief has reduced the department's bureaucracy and made local captains responsible for problems in their precincts.

Yet violent crime has risen in Los Angeles since 1999, despite the chief's promise to make the city safe. One of the victims was Chief Parks' own 20-year-old granddaughter, who was shot and killed as she drove from a downtown restaurant.

The head of the five-member police commission says he has not determined whether the chief should be offered another five-year term. Any decision must be approved by the Los Angeles city council.