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Parks Defends Record on Crime, Consent Decree

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In his monthly meeting with reporters Friday, Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks took after what he called misinformation on various aspects of his record, particularly crime trends, a federal consent decree mandating reforms, and recruitment of officers.

Parks faces an uncertain future as the city’s Police Commission weighs whether to reappoint him for a second term. The question became highly charged this week when Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn came out publicly in opposition to Parks’ request for a second five-year term.

Parks’ regularly scheduled press appearance fell the day after Hahn met with numerous supporters in the San Fernando Valley who are angry with the chief over community policing.

Parks argued, as he has in the past, that although the crime rate has gone up slightly over the last year or so, the more meaningful way to interpret such statistics is by looking at long-term trends. By this measure, he said, “we are better off than we were in the 1970s.”

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Rather than fueling criticism, long-term crime trends should make people “pleased and proud and singing the praises of all those involved,” he said, adding that media focus on high-profile crimes and short-term trends makes “officers believe they are failures.... They are not failures.”

Similarly, Parks said it was important to get “proper information out” on the federal consent decree. Inadequate progress on carrying out consent-decree reforms is among the charges Hahn has leveled against Parks.

Parks told reporters that the Police Department had moved to carry out the federally mandated reforms even before the consent decree was signed, and said the department has been praised by other city officials for its quick work. “I don’t know how anyone could criticize this department, particularly myself, for the consent decree,” he said.

On recruiting, Parks argued that factors outside his control have made it more difficult for the LAPD to expand its ranks. These include the city’s slow adoption of his recommended changes to the pension system, a tight labor market for police officers nationwide, and higher standards for recruits, he said. A new polygraph test, for example, eliminates half of all applicants, he said.

“There is not an unlimited reservoir of people who not only want to be police officers, but who are qualified to be police officers,” he said.

Responding later in the day, Hahn spokesman Matt Middlebrook reiterated the mayor’s contention that the facts on crime and recruitment favor the mayor’s view. “Let me tell you: Violent crime is up 17.3% over the last two years,” Middlebrook said. “That is a fact. The department has lost more than 1,000 officers over the last two years. It appears that the city attorney and the police chief will accept a C-minus grade with regard to implementation of the consent decree. The mayor is unwilling to accept anything [but] straight A’s.”

The consent decree has scores of requirements. The city has not met every one, but the city’s representatives in the legal proceeding have maintained that overall progress has been reasonable, and the court has issued no sanctions.

But Middlebrook said the mayor holds that nothing less than absolute compliance is acceptable.

“As far as I’m concerned, the consent decree is the floor in terms of reform,” Hahn said. “I want us to be the model for police reform in the nation. We have to do at least that much.”


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