Hahn Faces Test in Filling Police Panel


Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn is expected to announce today his appointments to the Board of Police Commissioners, a five-member panel that has the responsibility of overseeing the Los Angeles Police Department and disentangling the thorny issues that confront it.

Filling the Police Commission is the first big public test of Hahn's nascent administration, a move that will be scrutinized carefully by those trying to discern the nature and direction of the new mayor's leadership.

Although most of the commission appointments are being carefully guarded, sources indicate that Hahn is likely to reappoint one current commissioner: Herbert F. Boeckmann II, a Republican civic leader and North Hills car dealer who served on the board under the last two mayors.

Boeckmann, a generally conservative commissioner but one with strong allies of all ideologies, would bring 14 1/2 years of experience to the new panel.

His appointment would demonstrate Hahn's willingness to provide a political voice to conservatives and Valley residents, two constituencies that helped him win the mayor's office.

A fundamentalist Christian who is prominent in national conservative circles, Boeckmann is also reportedly friends with U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft. According to some close observers of the LAPD, that relationship could be useful as the department works with a federal monitor to implement reforms mandated by a consent decree that was negotiated with the Justice Department.

Boeckmann, who endorsed Hahn in the recent mayoral election, could not be reached for comment.

Hahn's police commissioners will have a daunting responsibility: repairing the morale and effectiveness of a department that is struggling to overcome the damage inflicted by the Rampart corruption scandal. The LAPD union also has become increasingly at odds with Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, and is vigorously contesting his management of the LAPD.

Hahn was endorsed by the police union, and the new mayor has indicated that improving the LAPD is one of his top priorities.

Hahn spoke about public safety throughout the mayoral campaign, and he has already made clear he wants the department to radically improve its retention and recruitment of police officers.

"I believe the first job of government is to make sure we provide a safe community for everyone," Hahn said Monday during an address to the Baptist Ministers Conference at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in south Los Angeles.

The unpaid police commissioners will confront a department with dwindling morale and ranks, as well as a crime rate that has been inching upward.

The panel must navigate the often-competing interests of Parks and the police union, and work with the recently appointed federal monitor.

"It's hard to imagine a more volatile time for the Police Department, which is getting hit from all sides with all sorts of things," said current Police Commission President Raquelle de la Rocha.

Boeckmann's presence could help ease the transition between former Mayor Richard Riordan and Hahn.

"It's a very steep learning curve for someone who has not been on the commission before," said former panel member Gary Greenebaum, who served as Riordan's first commission president.

Greenebaum called Boeckmann "a gentleman," a sentiment echoed by many of his colleagues, who noted his strong sense of ethics.

Commissioner Rebecca Avila said Boeckmann also has a valuable understanding of how to run a large organization because of his job running Galpin Motors, a highly successful Valley car dealership.

"He brings to the position not only a lot of knowledge about the department, but some very practical experience," she said.

"We come from two different political outlooks, but I've been very impressed with his common sense and down-to-earth approach."

As for the other four commissioners, Hahn is said to be looking for ethnic and geographic diversity, along with business and civic experience.

On Monday, the mayor said he has not asked his appointees whether they concur with his viewpoints on issues such as a compressed work schedule for police officers.

"I don't want to have any litmus tests for commissioners, other than that they'll do what they think is best for the city," Hahn said.

"I want people who bring their independent thinking to the commission, and I'm looking for people who will be strong voices for promoting public safety."

The first task the new commission will face is curtailing the exodus of officers from the department.

The LAPD now has about 9,100 officers, far short of the 10,000 budgeted during Riordan's administration and hundreds fewer than just two years ago. Hahn said during the campaign that he wants to bring the number of officers up to 11,000.

Rank-and-file police officers say the department must change its disciplinary procedures in order to keep officers. And the police union has been pushing for a compressed work schedule that would allow some officers to work three-day-a-week, 12-hour shifts--a controversial program Hahn supports and that Parks opposed until recently.

The commission's biggest challenge may be working with the monitor to oversee the implementation of reforms to the department that grew out of a Justice Department investigation and negotiation with the city.

Hahn helped negotiate the consent decree that mandates dozens of changes--including the implementation of an improved, computerized officer-tracking system and the collection of data to help clarify whether the LAPD is engaged in racial profiling--and has made it clear that getting those reforms in place is a top priority.

That could put the mayor in conflict with his police union supporters, however, because they have been critics of the decree and have warned that it may place new burdens on police officers.

"He was elected with a lot of support from the Police Protective League, and at the same time, he has to be able to respond to the need for reform that lingers from Rodney King to Rampart," Greenebaum said. "Those problems have never been solved."

The fate of the police chief himself also will be in the hands of Hahn's new commissioners.

In the next year, Parks has to tell the commission whether he will seek a second term. The issue could pit two of Hahn's constituencies--the police union and African Americans--against each other.

De la Rocha, who had been on the Police Commission only two months when the Rampart corruption scandal broke, offered a warning to the new commissioners, who, if confirmed by the City Council, are expected to take office right away.

"On the one hand, it is a tremendous opportunity to do public service. But by the same token, it's a tremendous responsibility that's not paid and just takes over your life."

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