Promotion Policy Stirs LAPD Clash : Police: Commission hears heated complaint against Assistant Chief Bernard C. Parks, an affirmative action advocate who has blocked advancements. His actions have divided the ranks along racial lines.
A bitter controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Police Department’s second-ranking official came to a head Tuesday as critics and supporters of Assistant Chief Bernard C. Parks clashed in a tense appearance before the Police Commission.
Detectives from the LAPD’s Narcotics Group, backed by the police union, have accused Parks of voiding recent promotions in that unit because the list of candidates did not include any women or minorities. Parks, an affirmative action proponent who has the backing of many City Council members, acknowledges that he blocked the promotions but says he did so because the process for picking the candidates was flawed.
Since the Los Angeles Police Protective League filed a labor grievance against Parks last week, the issue has erupted into a major controversy within Police Department ranks, raising deep concerns about the LAPD’s affirmative action policies, cleaving the department along racial lines and forcing league directors to defend themselves against accusations that they are failing to represent the interests of their female and minority members.
The Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, which represents about 600 African American LAPD officers, has urged its members to break with the protective league, while some white officers have accused that organization of exaggerating the racial dimension of the conflict with Parks in order to politicize what they consider a narrow dispute about the Narcotics Group’s promotion process.
Police Chief Willie L. Williams was on vacation when the conflict erupted, but he was in the office last week, partly to be briefed on the situation, and he summoned the principals in the dispute to a meeting in his office Monday. That meeting included Parks as well as officials from the Narcotics Group, headed by Cmdr. Jimmy Jones.
Williams said during Tuesday’s commission meeting that he has asked department officials to investigate the complaint against Parks, adding that he hopes to have an answer within a few days. Once that investigation is complete, Williams said, he will make a public recommendation.
In the meantime, Williams declined to comment on the accusations, except to express his dismay that Parks was being singled out for criticism.
“I find it very disturbing to hear this attack on one of the assistant chiefs,” Williams said during a recess in the hearing. “He was following the directions of myself in trying to ensure that the department comply with court orders and the direction of the City Council.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the opposing sides met in public.
Dozens of narcotics detectives filled the Police Commission hearing room and spilled into an adjoining corridor. Several addressed the commission, urging the policy-setting civilian panel to review the promotions process in narcotics and to question why Parks refused to accept that process in the most recent round of promotions.
“That process has been used at least the last six or seven times,” said Detective Bob Baker, a spokesman for the group. “What is it that isn’t valid about it now that was valid about it earlier?”
Another detective, Ray Martin, urged commissioners to abide by the department’s code of conduct and refuse to endorse giving preference to minority candidates for jobs. “Stand up and do what’s right, for a change,” he said.
Hank Hernandez, the general counsel for the Protective League, said officers were not trying to level a personal attack at Parks. But he called the assistant chief’s handling of the promotions process a matter “of extreme concern not only to the league but to the entire membership.”
Hernandez conceded that some statements on both sides of the debate had raised racial tensions--one league director publicly complained that Parks was attempting to embark on “ethnic cleansing” of the department, while Parks accused the league board of advocating a narrow view of fairness in part because its board has never included women or blacks.
Because of the intense emotions surrounding the allegations, Hernandez urged commissioners to conduct an independent investigation into Parks’ handling of the promotions. Only three of the board’s five members were present Tuesday, and they did not respond to that request.
Meanwhile, however, Sgt. Leonard Ross, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, accused the narcotics detectives of protesting Parks’ actions out of a desire to keep black officers from advancing into coveted positions in the mostly white unit.
“They have a nice cozy little home, but it’s time for a change,” Ross said, prompting many of the narcotics detectives to grumble and a few to openly mock him. “I recognize the importance of their jobs, but it is time to spread the wealth.”
Ross also reiterated his criticism of the league for filing the complaint against Parks. “If this is the best job that they (the league) can do, they need to step aside,” he said. His views were echoed by two other speakers, one representing the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and another addressing the board on behalf of a coalition of minority employee associations.
Both commended Parks for his actions.