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Protest in Favor of LAPD Chief to Target Key Official

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As the Los Angeles Police Commission continues to weigh the fate of Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, commission President Rick Caruso on Thursday angrily denounced efforts by Parks supporters to hold a protest at the site of a new shopping mall he is building.

“What ... are they trying to accomplish other than extortion?” Caruso asked. He said the protest planned by African American supporters of the chief at the site of the Grove--a complex of more than half a million square feet about to open next to Farmers Market in the Fairfax district--is a threat to his financial interests and a misguided effort to influence his vote.

One Parks advocate involved in planning the protest defended the efforts and said he suspects that Caruso has already made up his mind to back Mayor James K. Hahn, who opposes a second term for Parks. Caruso, who was appointed by Hahn, has said he has not yet decided whether Parks should be reappointed.

“When you get in the midst of battle, you’ve got to go all the way,” said the Rev. Frederick Murph of Brookins Community AME Church, who is organizing the March 9 rally with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Waters did not return phone calls Thursday.

At a contentious commission meeting Tuesday, Murph and others passed out fliers announcing the planned rally and, as the news spread, several observers, including Parks, took Caruso’s side. “Caruso is doing a service to the community, and he does not deserve that,” said Lt. Horace Frank, spokesman for the chief.

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“I am kind of amazed,” Commissioner David Cunningham said. “I think it is unfair.... Rick has been more than available to talk to people.... At the end of the day, he is a very fair person.”

The Grove, now under construction, is the biggest project of Caruso’s development career and the latest of his malls in the Los Angeles area. A developer, Caruso, like the other members of the commission, serves in the post part time as a volunteer.

He spends much of his time outside the commission at the construction site. The mall is scheduled to open March 15.

He said he will not resign from the commission because of the planned protest. But, “you know, I don’t think this works to motivate anyone to get involved in public service,” he added. “That’s why a lot of people don’t do it.”

Caruso and the four other members of the civilian commission have been feeling intense political heat in recent weeks, since Hahn announced that he does not favor a second term for Parks.

Parks is the city’s second African American chief and a local to boot. He is popular among many of the same African American voters who supported Hahn for mayor, but strongly disliked by many leaders of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing officers, for reforms he has made in LAPD discipline.

On a different front, Parks also faces criticism from some civilian reform advocates who have clashed with him over the years on particular reform proposals, controversial decisions on use of force, or access to information.

Under the Los Angeles City Charter, the commission holds the power to reappoint the chief to a second five-year term, subject to a City Council override. In declaring his opposition, Hahn has said he is only expressing his opinion and that the commission is empowered to act independently.

The commission is in the midst of an eight-step process to evaluate the chief’s performance on such criteria as management and community policing.

Commissioners have said repeatedly that they will not be swayed by political considerations. Instead, they say they will vote based on their evaluation of Parks’ merits as chief.

Parks supporters said they are divided on the wisdom of the planned protest. Early Thursday afternoon, Danny Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade, said some supporters had been discussing the plan and that they had not reach a consensus on whether to go forward. Bakewell called back a short while later to report that Parks had called him and asked him not to participate.

“He asked me pointedly not to be involved and to encourage others not to be involved,” Bakewell said.

He quoted the chief as saying, “Look, I want to be evaluated on the merits of my performance, nothing more and nothing less.”

Also Thursday, Inspector General Jeffrey C. Eglash, who works for the Police Commission, said he had heard rumors that police resources had been misused to help protesters who support the chief.

Asked about the rumors, Parks strongly denied that any police resources had been used, saying, “The LAPD has no role in the community’s activities.” Frank, his spokesman, said Parks’ staff has strict instructions not to become involved in the political activity swirling around the department, and called the allegations “ludicrous.”

Eglash, however, said he planned to discuss the rumors with the commission during its session Tuesday and ask commissioners whether a formal investigation is warranted.

Bakewell, meanwhile, said the protest idea remains “on the table” despite Parks’ efforts to dissuade him. But he added, “if I didn’t say this before, I am not desirous of confronting Mr. Caruso in his personal life.” A protest would be warranted only if evidence surfaced that Caruso had attempted to mislead community activists, he said.

But Murph said he continues to plan the protest, which he expects to draw 750 people. The idea is to bring continued attention to “the issue at hand, which is fairness.”

Murph also said he had received a phone call from Parks. He said the chief conveyed Caruso’s dismay about the planned protest. But he said he remains skeptical of Caruso’s professed neutrality. Murph said activists are also considering holding a protest during the grand opening of the Grove.

Caruso is being targeted, Murph added, because he “has been extremely smug and arrogant.”

Caruso said Thursday that he has made a point of contacting concerned African American leaders and listening to their views. Told of the comments of Bakewell and Murph, Caruso said he would call them too.

He said the protest could harm him financially by tainting the Grove and discouraging people from shopping there. “If they are doing this to impact my business, I think it is a crime,” he said. “They are going to the very core of this decision. It is about making judgments on the merits, not influence.”


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