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LA Police Chief Appeals to Keep His Job - 2002-04-17

Embattled Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks has appealed to local officials to keep his job. Last week, the city police commission recommended the chief be replaced. The city council must decide whether or not to overturn the decision.

Mr. Parks called himself a victim of half truths and misinformation as he said the police commission's decision to terminate him was politically motivated. Tuesday, he took his case to the Los Angeles city council. "I would like to say that I have earned the right to continue to be the chief of police in the city of Los Angeles by every standard that has been developed," he said.

One week ago, the police commission voted 4 to 1 not to offer the chief another five-year contract when his current contract expires in August.

Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn opposes the chief's reappointment, and the chief's supporters say four-of-the-five commissioners bowed to the mayor's wishes. The commissioners point to a rise in the city's crime rate and low morale in the department as reasons for the decision.

The 15-member city council can overturn the decision, but most members have said they are reluctant to do that. Tuesday, Chief Parks asked them to intervene, while acknowledging problems in the department where he started as a patrolman in the 1960s. "I have listened to the concerns of the public for 37 years, and I have seen where this department has come up short on a variety of issues," he said. "I have seen where communities have been disenfranchised. I've seen where our conduct was not very good."

That is one thing that Chief Parks and local officials agree on. A corruption scandal has rocked the department, which agreed to a series of reforms under pressure from the federal government. The chief blame high crime rates and unfilled vacancies in the department on decisions made by the mayor and police commission.

Chief Parks is African American and has many supporters in the city's black community. One by one, prominent African American leaders voiced their support. But black lawyer Leo Terrell was there to oppose him. "Let me say in my opinion as a civil rights attorney, Chief Bernard Parks should not get a second five-year term. And I'll give you reasons the people in this community know," said Mr. Terrell.

The lawyer says the chief had defended controversial police shootings of African Americans, and that he was slow to implement reforms in his department.

Those criticisms have cost the chief support among civil libertarians, and the union representing rank-and-file officers also opposes his reappointment. Chief Parks is known as a disciplinarian and the police union calls his decisions capricious and arbitrary. Mayor Hahn has said the chief's performance is not up to standard. "The facts demonstrate that over the last two years, homicides have been on the rise instead of on the decline," said Mayor Hahn. "Gang violence has been epidemic proportions in this city. The department is shrinking and the morale in the department is terrible."

The chief has hired a lawyer, saying the police commission has challenged his integrity by suggesting he tried to mislead them.

The commission's decision to terminate Chief Parks can only be overturned if 10 of the 15 city council members challenge the decision. The city council does not have to intervene, but if it does, it must do so this week.