Miles to go for L.A. justice
Policing is improved; now let's focus on the root causes of crime.
By Joe Domanick
July 6, 2008
Over the last few decades, it's been easy to blame
the leadership of the Los Angeles Police Department, the L.A. County Sheriff's
Department and the district attorney's office for the catastrophic failures of L.A.'s
criminal justice system. These failures, as most Angelenos know, have led to a
dangerously overcrowded, racially explosive county jail system; a violent gang problem
that continues unabated after 10,000 deaths over 25 years, and generation after generation
of young black and brown men ceaselessly shuttled off to state prisons at a rate of more
than 22,000 a year -- as many as 70% of whom, once released, will recycle back within
During the 1980s and 1990s, the LAPD and the Sheriff's Department epitomized the
problems with the criminal justice system: Leadership was calcified and visionless,
disdainful of social science and innovative policing reforms, tolerant of brutal and
abusive officers, unaccountable to civilian control and perennially at war with the African
American community. Under LAPD chiefs Ed Davis and Daryl F. Gates and Sheriff
Sherman Block, these departments generated scandal after scandal, culminating in 1992
in one of the worst riots in U.S. history.
For their part, Ira Reiner (1984-1992) and Gil Garcetti (1992-2000), as district attorneys,
spent their time sniffing the political winds and playing to the worst instincts of voters.
Reiner reacted to gang violence by calling for the "writing off" and imprisoning of the
70,000 young residents who had, often inaccurately, been identified as gang members.
And Garcetti opportunistically prosecuted the pettiest of offenses as third-strike, 25-
years-to-life crimes (even after having lobbied against the politically popular law in
Today, despite some notorious incidents, such as the 2007 May Day MacArthur Park
police riot, and some ongoing disgraces such as the dangerous and inhuman conditions in
our county jails, we're better served by our law enforcement leaders. They've lowered the
crime rate while largely making peace with the leaders of L.A.'s African American and
Chief William J. Bratton has accelerated the transformation of the LAPD into a much
more accountable organization. Sheriff Lee Baca has worked to transform the
paramilitary culture of his department, and he has sought a comprehensive approach to
public safety that includes better schools, healthcare and social services. For his part,
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has eschewed headline-grabbing, get-tough answers to complex
Unfortunately, they've been busy retooling the engine to run more efficiently instead of
giving it the drastic overhaul it desperately needs. Even though this new generation of
leaders has supported long-term crime prevention strategies, they have been unwilling to
commit significant money or political capital to the process, focusing, for example, on
immediate reductions in gang crime while remaining unwilling to fight for the money and
make the psychological shift necessary to end the gang culture at the heart of the
problem. Their primary focus has remained on crime suppression (or crisis management
in the jails). Consequently, L.A.'s criminal justice system still operates as a zero-sum
exercise in locking up the same people from the same neighborhoods generation after
generation, without an end game in sight.
Why, if they recognize the need for the shift, have they failed to accomplish it? One
reason why is that it's extremely difficult. Baca and Cooley's surrogates have been
meeting for almost two years with the L.A. Public Defender's Office, the Probation
Department, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and with L.A.
Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan to develop rehabilitative prisoner reentry strategies.
Yet only a few small, experimental pilot programs have been established.
Law enforcement agencies are not used to working together for the common goal of long-
term crime prevention. Common goals, a common vision and even a common language
have to be developed, and everybody needs to sign off before there's any movement.
Community service organizations, drug treatment facilities and other such groups all have
to be brought into the fold. A jurisdictional tangle of state, county and city laws must also
be dealt with before much progress can be made.
Much of the problem lies with L.A.'s politicians. With a few exceptions (such as state
Sen. Gloria Romero, City Comptroller Laura Chick and Councilwoman Janice Hahn),
city leaders as well as our representatives in Sacramento have been unwilling to lead on
these issues. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has coordinated all the city's gang programs
under one entity in the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development for the first
time -- in effect laying down the path and officially recognizing for the first time that the
city has to have a holistic approach to eradicating gang crime and youth violence. He
should be commended. But the money he's allocated to the agency is a relative pittance.
He's putting his real political muscle behind a sales tax for mass transit, not public safety.
Organizations like the notoriously anti-reform California Correctional Peace Officers
Assn. -- the prison guards union -- and the California District Attorneys Assn. are also a
big part of the problem. The latter has successfully fought attempts to reform mandatory
minimum-sentencing laws such as three strikes, nearly drumming Cooley out of the
organization a year or so ago when he sought to soften some of the most unjust
provisions of the law.
And Mike Jimenez, president of the guards union, has declared that he has "never met an
inmate that could be rehabilitated." By bullying or buying off governors and legislators
with big campaign dollars, and fear-mongering with the help of victims rights groups, the
union (which has donated $12 million to state campaigns over five years) has been
astoundingly successful in thwarting change. They, along with the conservative
legislators who demand near Old Testament punishment for drug offenses and other
nonviolent crimes, have stuffed our prisons to almost 200% capacity and left us no
money for alternatives to incarceration.
Meanwhile, the public remains profoundly ignorant or deeply misinformed about how the
system really works. Some of the fault for this lies with the broadcast media. Talk radio
drove the hysteria that led to California's three-strikes law in 1994. Now, cable television
has become part of the lynch-mob media. Led by CNN's Nancy Grace, cable shows make
it appear that criminals are constantly getting off scot-free. In fact, America's (and L.A.'s)
crime rates are at record lows -- yet the U.S. prison population has risen every year for 30
Networks such as MSNBC, meanwhile, feature endless prison documentaries that give
the impression that every one of the millions of Americans in prison -- half of whom are
incarcerated for nonviolent crimes -- is a psychotic ax-murderer. Local TV news, with its
love of violence, cheap melodrama and good guys-versus-bad guys simplicity, also
promotes a ceaseless message: Be afraid, be very afraid.
Then there are the cop melodramas that -- with the astounding exception of HBO's "The
Wire" -- almost never look at criminal justice as a system that is dramatically failing large
segments of black, Latino and poor white Americans. Nor do these shows make the
connections between crime and bad schools, shoddy healthcare, bad jobs and a history of
racial disenfranchisement. They don't discuss the connection between the historic racial,
class and economic disenfranchisement of black Americans and the entrenched criminal
culture that has emerged in many of our worst urban ghettos and barrios. Instead, they
present shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order" as dramas where good police in a just
system triumph over bad criminals. Everything is clear-cut good guys vs. bad guys, just
like in real life -- right?
Last among the culprits are those white liberals and black leaders barring the door to
open, honest public discourse about black crime in America because, as the Rev. Al
Sharpton recently pointed out, they don't want to "air their dirty laundry in public." But
everybody knows that crime and violence in our nation's poor, black ghettos has been
pandemic for decades. This must be talked about and examined.
Young black men in ghettos across America are trapped in a hedonistic, values-warped
subculture of narcissistic flash, violence, gangs, immediate self-gratification and self-
destruction -- unable to pass through a revolving door of gangs, drop-out education,
unemployment, incarceration, release and re-imprisonment. Nor is the problem limited to
black communities. Latinos now make up the largest group of inmates in state prisons.
Law-and-order conservatives, meanwhile, have offered nothing but more of the same --
more prisons and bigger platitudes.
We can't deal with the root causes, and begin the long task of fashioning a solution, until
we acknowledge the dreadful dysfunction of this criminal-prone subculture.
And we will never have a criminal justice system that works for all Americans until we
start to hold accountable those who are responsible.
Joe Domanick is a senior fellow at USC Annenberg's Institute for Justice and Journalism
and at the Center on Media Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
From the Los Angeles Times
Prisoners of panic
Media hype and political quick fixes have swelled our inmate population.
By Joe Domanick
January 6, 2008
How much more folly, absurdity, fiscal irresponsibility and human tragedy will we
endure before we stop tolerating the political pandering that has dictated our criminal
justice law and policy over the last two decades?
The pattern has become all too clear. Our politicians, fearful of being labeled "soft on
crime," react to sensationalistic coverage of a crime with knee-jerk, quick-fix answers.
Only years later do the mistakes, false assumptions and unexpected consequences begin
to emerge, and then the criminal justice system is forced to deal with the mess created by
the bad lawmaking.
For example, remember the great crack scare of the 1980s? When basketball superstar
Len Bias, who'd been drafted by the Boston Celtics as a franchise player, died of a crack
overdose, the media went wild in covering it. Alarmed by the sudden increase in crack
use and fearful that the drug was highly addictive and disposed users to commit violence,
Congress mandated tough minimum sentences for crack-related crimes. A defendant
convicted of possessing a small amount of crack could receive the same sentence as one
possessing 100 times that amount of powder cocaine. Because crack users were
disproportionately African American (and powder cocaine users were disproportionately
white), 85% of those receiving dealer-like sentences for possession or sale of small
amounts of crack were black -- an outcome that helped to fuel widespread perceptions
among blacks that there was a double standard of justice in the U.S.
In December, the overly harsh and misguided sentencing policy concocted during the
"war on drugs" in the 1980s was finally modified. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
judges were no longer bound by the strict sentencing guidelines, freeing the jurists to
craft punishment that best fits the crime and the background of the defendant.
The 1990s produced its own racially tinged crime panics. Led by John J. Dilulio Jr., a
political scientist at Princeton University, and William J. Bennett, a former secretary of
Education in the Reagan Cabinet, law-and-order proponents declared that the U.S. was
being overrun by a new generation of remorseless "super-predators" spawned by crack-
head mothers in violence-infested ghettos. Stories of kids committing heinous crimes
were common in the media. One of the most sensational occurred in Chicago in October
1994. Two boys, one 10 years old, the other 11, dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse from the
14th floor of a housing project, killing him, because he refused to steal candy for them.
In response to such crimes, politicians across the country passed anti-super-predator laws.
In many states, including California, the age kids could be tried as adults was lowered to
14, and in 48 states, the decision to try juveniles as adults was taken away from judges
and given to prosecutors. As a result, the number of people under 18 tried as adults rose
dramatically through the 1990s, and a small percentage of them were even sentenced to
prison. Ironically, the predicted crime explosion caused by super-predators never
materialized. Juvenile arrests declined by more than 45% from 1994 to 2004, according
to FBI statistics.
But the ultimate example of media hype meeting irresponsible politicians to produce bad
public policy is California's three-strikes law. It was chiefly written by Fresno
photographer Mike Reynolds after the murder of his daughter, Kimber, in
1992.Introduced in the Legislature, the bill languished until the rape and murder of 12-
year-old Polly Klaas in 1993. A network of right-wing talk-radio hosts reacted to the
killing by fiercely promoting Reynolds' measure, which had provisions like no other
three-strikes bill in that virtually any crime, no matter how petty, could be prosecuted as a
In 1994, the Legislature unanimously put the measure on the November ballot, and
Proposition 184 passed easily. The law would eventually send thousands of Californians
to prison for 25 years to life, some for such third-strike crimes as attempting to steal a
bottle of vitamins from a drug store, buying a macadamia nut disguised as a $5 rock of
cocaine from an undercover cop and shoplifting $2.69 worth of AA batteries.
Today, Californians are still paying the price for that folly and other like-minded laws,
not just in the ruined and wasted lives of people sentenced under these laws, but in other
ways. There are now tens of thousands of inmates in California convicted of nonviolent
crimes and serving out long second- and third-strike sentences, as well as thousands more
behind bars because minor crimes were turned into felonies with mandatory minimum
All these laws have contributed to severe overcrowding in the state's prisons -- as high as
200% of capacity -- that has produced conditions of such "extreme peril" for prisoners
and guards that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was forced to declare a systemwide state of
emergency in 2006. Since 2003, the inmate population has grown 8%, to about 173,000.
But the budget of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has skyrocketed
79%, to $8.5 billion, becoming the fastest-growing category in the state budget and a
factor in opening up a $14-billion budget deficit.
The get-tough-on-crime laws also have helped create a crisis in California's prison
healthcare system, where spending has risen to $1.9 billion a year, up 263% since 2000.
A large part of the problem is that the prison population is aging because inmates are
serving the longer sentences approved by lawmakers, and with aging comes more
medical problems. The system became so understaffed and dysfunctional that a federal
judge ruled that it was causing at least one avoidable death a week through sheer neglect
and ineptitude. He has seized the entire prison medical system and placed it under his
Faced with the huge budget deficit and judicial threats to cap the state's prison
population, Schwarzenegger's office has been floating the idea of early release for about
22,000 inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes. That 13% cut in prisoners, however,
would require legislative approval, something that is by no means certain. The story of
crime and punishment in California -- and the country -- since the 1980s, after all, has
been quick-fix answers fueled by media hype. Let's hope that such proposals as releasing
nonviolent inmates receive serious attention rather than panicky headlines that lead to bad
criminal justice laws.
Joe Domanick, a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice and
Journalism, is writing a book about California's prison system.
Los Angeles Times, Sunday Opinion
May 6, 2007
Joe Domanick’s comments on Chief Bratton:
Chief Bratton is a good cop who should be rehired, but not with open arms and a blank check. He’s still got
work to do. No one is questioning his ―crime fighting‖ abilities. Crime is down, which is all to the good.
But Tuesday’s disgraceful performance in MacArthur Park, in which LAPD officers in full riot gear
responded to a few provocateurs by firing rubber bullets in the direction of mothers wheeling baby
carriages, and clubbing down reporters, points to where Bratton’s real attention needs to be focused: in
turning around the culture that’s still producing police officers and sergeants in the field that think that it’s
perfectly all right to react in that appalling, disproportionate manner.
When the Police Commission rehires the Chief, it needs to make clear to Bratton – through policy
directives and benchmarks tied to his evaluations -- that a significant reduction in the use of excessive
force, and officer training in problem solving as opposed to head-bashing, is going count as much as ―crime
reduction.‖ The Chief must also do a better job of focusing on long-term crime prevention,, given the
abyssal rate of recidivism in Los Angeles, and the thousands of young Angelinos annually joining the ranks
of their fathers and older brothers in our jails and prisons.
Punishing prisoners at all costs
California's prisons are in crisis because of harsh sentencing laws that don't treat violent
and nonviolent criminals much differently.
By Joe Domanick, JOE DOMANICK, author of "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's
Golden State," is senior fellow in criminal justice at the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism
December 10, 2006
IN 1977, CALIFORNIA made a momentous decision that is still sending shock waves through the
state's prison and parole systems. In response to the public's rising fear of crime, the Legislature
changed the goal of incarceration from "rehabilitation" to "punishment." To that end, lawmakers
over the next decade passed more than 1,000 bills toughening and lengthening prison sentences.
They also instituted "truth in sentencing" policies that required prisoners who committed certain
crimes to serve 85% of their sentence before they were eligible for parole. Then, in 1994, voters
overwhelmingly approved a three-strikes law mandating a sentence of 25 years to life for a third
felony conviction and a doubling of a sentence for a second strike.
Criminal justice experts estimate that as much as 25% of California's — and the nation's —
decade-long crime decline is attributable to this punish-all-criminals strategy. But the approach
has come at a huge cost. The longer sentences have swelled the inmate population far beyond
the capacity of our prisons and contributed to the rise of an older criminal class, especially in
California. In Los Angeles County, for instance, felony arrests and incarceration of 40- to 59-year-
olds have jumped dramatically, a stunning development given that criminals tend to commit fewer
crimes as they reach their mid-20s and fewer still as they grow older. But in L.A. County, 40- to
59-year-olds are incarcerated at a rate 1,200% higher than in 1980. Many return to prison
because of technical violations — failing drug tests or missing a parole appointment.
As a result, the medium age of a prisoner in California is 36, up five years from 1984. About 20%
of the state's inmate population is now 45 and older. More older prisoners means higher
healthcare costs. Currently, the medical bill is $1.5 billion a year, and the prison healthcare
system is so dysfunctional that a federal judge has placed it under his direct control.
Although many older, violent inmates may deserve long prison sentences, such treatment for
substantial numbers of nonviolent, repeat offenders who make up the underbelly of California's
criminals — petty thieves, small-time drug dealers, speed freaks, crack heads, winos, junkies and
the mentally ill — has been counterproductive.
Inside prison, little is done during their years of incarceration to help these older inmates shed
their street-hustler values or kick their addictions. As criminologist Joan Petersilia recently wrote
in a report for the California Policy Research Center, "Almost one-quarter of all California inmates
are completely idle during their prison stay, never participating in any treatment programs, despite
an unusually high need for drug and alcohol counseling."
About 42% of California's inmates, according to research done by Petersilia, have a "high need"
for alcohol treatment, but only 7.5% receive it. The numbers are even more glaring for drug
addicts: 56% have a high need for treatment, but only 9% are treated. Opportunities for
educational or vocational training are similarly limited.
"If someone is locked up in prison for 12 years for a crime that previously would have gotten him
a four-year sentence and fails to get any treatment or rehab," said Todd Clear, a professor at
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "they'll just return to their old habits."
The problem, Clear said, is that men "don't age out" of their criminal behavior simply by sitting in
prison. As a result, when released, they have the "same probability of getting rearrested as do
younger parolees," he said.
The state's parole and probation systems, which reinforce the "punish 'em" approach, also have
fostered an older prison population. Rather than provide psychological, social and rehab support
for ex-cons, the parole system has become a surveillance and control mechanism geared to
catching parolees doing something — often anything — wrong, then quickly sending them back to
prison. Parole officers, for their part, often have to choose between ignoring a parolee who fails a
drug test — because there's no state money for treatment — or sending him back to prison, the
more expensive option. Ignoring a violation is a risky choice for them. All it takes to tarnish a
career is a sensational media story about how a parole officer's decision to give a parolee
another chance was followed by the parolee committing a horrible crime.
Dumped back onto the streets untreated, with no rehabilitation and with nothing but $200 "gate
money," ex-cons must also contend with laws denying them public housing, food stamps, driver's
licenses, access to their children and federal assistance for education. If they've been convicted
of a drug crime, they are barred for life from receiving federal assistance. Further, once out,
parolees receive little follow-up attention to ensure that they find appropriate residences, positive
associations, employment and treatment.
As a result, California has the worst parolee failure rates in the country. Roughly 66% of parolees
return to prison within three years.
The increasing lack of job opportunities for ex-cons exacerbates the situation. Thirty years ago,
an ex-prisoner could often melt back into society by finding a decent blue-color job at a factory.
Today, by contrast, manufacturing jobs are scarce in California, and available unskilled jobs are
often filled by illegal immigrants. In addition, ex-cons are subject to electronic background checks
by potential employers that often eliminate them from job consideration.
"Research has shown that an arrest record is associated with high unemployment, less income
over time, high rates of family breakup and arrests," Clear said. "The arrest record in itself is a
precursor to future failure."
The prospect of producing another generation of middle-age, often violent criminals and drug
addicts is near 100%. "Two-thirds of the overall growth in [California's] prison population since
1994," Petersilia said, "is due to crimes against persons — especially robbery, assault and
At the beginning of his tenure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked a good game about instituting
comprehensive treatment and education programs that could make a difference in ex-cons' lives.
He added rehabilitation to the official name of the Corrections Department, appointed reform-
minded people to run the prison system and promised to fund rehab programs. But he retreated
at the first signs of political opposition from the guards union, falling back on the old, failed
bromide of building more prisons on top of the 22 the state has built since 1980 and, to the state's
shame, proposing to outsource some prisoners to other states to relieve overcrowding.
What Schwarzenegger needs to do is put state money and his considerable political capital
where his mouth is and lead a charge to rewrite the state's sentencing laws in conjunction with
using any savings to fund rehab programs. California's prison system is in crisis because of the
public's desire to punish all criminals, above all else, instead of treating nonviolent and violent
Opinion : Op-Ed
Prison Fix: Call in the Feds
California's dysfunctional prisons need a judicial jump-start.
By Joe Domanick, Joe Domanick, author of "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in
America's Golden State," is senior fellow in criminal justice at the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice and
August 6, 2006
IF I WERE A BETTING MAN, I'd give 5-1 odds that U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson will place the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under his direct supervision within the next six
months. John Hagar, Henderson's "special master" and chief investigator of the corrections department,
may have foreshadowed a takeover last month when he caustically accused Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
of prompting the resignations of two reform-minded prison chiefs by placating the California Correctional
Peace Officers Assn., the powerful union of prison guards and parole officers.
Schwarzenegger's response was to call a special legislative session, beginning Monday, on the prison crisis.
The governor is expected to ask legislators to spend $6 billion to add 40,000 beds over the next decade by
building two prisons and expanding the capacity of existing facilities. But this is just planning for more
failure, not getting to the root causes of the system's severe overcrowding.
Schwarzenegger entered office in 2003 vowing to transform the corrections system. He promised to reduce
the inmate population significantly; institute drug treatment, education and prison diversion programs to
bring down the state's exceedingly high recidivism rate; and end the guards union's extraordinary political
and policymaking influence. A former inspector general of the department described the union as the
"largest ball on the table, knocking around all the other balls at will."
At the time, the new governor enjoyed an unexpected advantage: The union was on the defensive. Its code
of silence was generating one damning investigation after another. Prison guards were perjuring
themselves, and potential whistle-blowers were being threatened and intimidated. As state Sen. Jackie
Speier (D-Hillsborough), chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Government Cost Control, which
monitors the state's prisons, pointed out, union practices were "so sinister and powerful that … those who
come forward … find themselves sent to a job in the prison's Siberia or fearing for their lives."
Many people also remembered the prison unrest in the 1990s, when 39 inmates were shot to death and 200
were seriously wounded by guards using highpowered rifles to break up gang fights, some of which the
guards had instigated. Above all, the union was widely criticized for thwarting departmental moves to
reintroduce rehabilitation as a goal of the state's corrections system.
But things have gone from bad to worse. The inmate population is more than 172,000 today, about 200%
over capacity. Race riots still rock prisons. The corrections budget has shot up from $7.4 billion to $8.2
Henderson already directly supervises the $1.1-billion prison medical system, and a state judge oversees
the California Youth Authority.
What's gone wrong is less a story of crime and punishment than of politics — a tale of political folly,
power-brokering and conservative ideology triumphing over common sense and sound corrections policy.
The folly was all Schwarzenegger's. Rather than targeting the guards union, he took on all of the state's
public service unions — teachers, nurses, firefighters, cops. Calling them "special interests," the governor
put three initiatives on last November's ballot to try to diminish their power. All went down to defeat, and
Schwarzenegger, not the unions, was weakened politically. Instead of curbing the power of the guards
union, the governor strengthened it.
Critics blame the union for all the corrections system's failures, and it unquestionably has played a major
role in creating problems. But union leaders are neither monsters nor morons. Over the last 20 years, they
have seized on state residents' legitimate fear of crime to shape policy to their interests at a time when
change (and views on crime and punishment) was veering rightward. The union was a strong backer of the
three-strikes law, and TV ads it paid for were credited with killing Proposition 66, which would have
modified the law's onerous sentencing requirements.
Politicians in the Legislature and the governor's office pre-Schwarzenegger deserve blame as well for
allowing the guards union to dictate policy. For example, in 2002, then-Gov. Gray Davis signed off on a
contract to give guards a 37% pay raise over five years, when many other state employees were receiving
small or no pay increases.
State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and Speier have been pushing for reform of the corrections
system. But a politically chastised Schwarzenegger, Democrats beholden to guards union contributions and
ideologically driven Republicans have blocked any attempts to relieve prison overcrowding — the No. 1
problem — by moderating sentences for nonviolent crimes and drug offenses. As a result, 23,000 prisoners
are projected to be added over the next five years, bringing the inmate population to about 193,000.
The Schwarzenegger administration's survival instincts have also sabotaged its own reform efforts. When
nonviolent prisoners were being released this year to halfway houses or home confinement, for example,
victims' rights groups, financed by the prison guards union, ran fear-mongering ads. Corrections quickly
rescinded the program.
Similarly, when parole officers, backed by the union, complained that newly instituted rehabilitation-
oriented policies endangered public safety and were poorly implemented, the Schwarzenegger
administration reverted to the old, failed model responsible for the high-recidivism rate. The corrections
department said it was rescinding the policies because it didn't know if they were working. But it later
reported that the rehabilitation policies had dropped the recidivism rate to its lowest point since 1991.
"Reverting to the old model," San Diego State criminal justice professor Alan Mobley told me, "made the
parole officers happy, but you can bet the old recidivism rates are going to return in 2006 and onward, with
The only hope to change a system everyone agrees is a disaster waiting to explode is for the crusty,
tenacious, 73-year-old Henderson to seize control of the corrections system and place it on the road to
reform. As a tenured federal judge, he has the political independence and statutory power to ignore the
guards union; bypass the politicians; protect and encourage whistle-blowers; appoint corrections managers
and leaders, people from outside the system who have reform track records; and hold corrections
employees and managers accountable, criminally and civilly.
Without a federal takeover, the prospect of reforming California's prison and parole systems will remain a
THE NEW TERM
Every Court Case Is a Person
Beneath paperwork and docket numbers lie tales of human morality and often tragedy.
By Joe Domanick, Joe Domanick, author of "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of
Crime in America's Golden State," is senior fellow in criminal justice at the USC Annenberg
Institute for Justice and Journalism
September 24, 2006
IN MARCH, 1981, 19-year-old Fernando Belmontes drove to the San Joaquin Valley home of an
acquaintance, Steacy McConnell, hoping to steal her stereo while she was out. Unfortunately,
Belmontes had miscalculated and McConnell was home — and in an apparent effort to do away
with the only witness to his crime, Belmontes pounded her head 15 to 20 times with an iron
dumbbell, crushing her skull.
McConnell's parents arrived home later to find their 19-year-old daughter dead on the floor in a
pool of blood. Meanwhile, Belmontes and two accomplices sold McConnell's stolen stereo for
$100 and bought some beer.
Belmontes was convicted and sentenced to death, but justice moves slowly and he is still waiting
in prison for a final determination 25 years later. During those years, his case has wound its way
from the California courts to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it is scheduled to be argued next
week, on the first full day of the court's new term.
Ornoski vs. Belmontes is a horror story of punishment and redemption, pitting those who believe
that an "eye for an eye" should be the law of the land against those who believe in rehabilitation.
But it is only one of many dramatic narratives that will be told and retold in the Supreme Court this
Indeed, beneath the cold, impersonal case numbers and the dry, abstruse arguments and the
technical points of law, there are endless complex morality plays overflowing with the conflict,
passion and suspense of people victimized, and of their victimizers. Stories of murderers and
swindlers, of corporate power plays, of police misdeeds and government conspiracies, many filled
with pathological and sociological behavior, human suffering and human indifference.
Consider Belmontes. He was brought up in poverty in a home with a violent, alcoholic, perennially
out-of-work father who regularly beat his mother — at times so severely that he once broke her
arm, and on another occasion stabbed her. He deserted his family when Belmontes was 10. By
15, Belmontes was out of control; by 19, a murderer.
A jury later found Belmontes guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances — meaning
that it could sentence him to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. But during the
sentencing phase of the trial, the judge instructed jury members not to consider evidence
suggesting that Belmontes had rehabilitated himself — including the fact that he'd converted to
Christianity, been baptized and become a model prisoner and a respected preacher to his fellow
One of two California Youth Authority chaplains who testified on Belmontes' behalf, in fact,
described him as a "salvageable" person who could make a real contribution to counseling other
inmates "because he relate[s] well to other prisoners with similar backgrounds." Although he
believed in the death penalty, the chaplain added, he didn't want it applied to Belmontes because
of "the enormity of the peer pressure and the kind of societal circumstances that were part of his
The jury voted for death. But in 2003, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the
sentence on the grounds that the judge had allowed evidence of Belmontes prior criminal history
while unfairly eliminating the mitigating evidence of Belmontes' rehabilitation and his potential to
"make positive contributions to the welfare of others if his life was spared" — the crux of the
argument on which the Supreme Court is now being asked to rule.
Another California-based case that will be heard this year involves John Cunningham, a former
Richmond police officer who was convicted on charges of sexually molesting his 10-year-old son
— referred to in court papers as "John Doe." Cunningham was convicted primarily on the basis of
the boy's testimony. On videotape, Doe described the repeated anal and oral penetrations in
nauseating detail, and in a heartbreaking scene, his younger cousin recounted how he had
confessed it all to her.
Little physical evidence was apparent when Cunningham's son was medically examined, and
complicating matters further, the boy had previously falsely accused his mother of neglect and his
stepfather of beating him.
Nevertheless, young John Doe's testimony proved so compelling that the jury convicted the father
of the charges. The judge sentenced him to the maximum 16 years in prison, tacking on extra
time — beyond what he'd normally receive under California's fixed sentencing guidelines —
because of the repeated and violent nature of the acts.
The issue before the Supreme Court now has nothing to do with Cunningham's guilt or
innocence, but is about whether a judge in a jury trial can, in effect, play both judge and jury. If
the judge is found to have acted improperly, California's sentencing laws could be declared
A third California-based case that will come before the court in the first weeks of the session is
Carey vs. Musladin, which, were it not so tragic, would just be bizarre.
In May 1994, Matthew Musladin drove to the home of his estranged wife, Pamela, to pick up their
3-year-old son for a weekend visit. They got into an argument outside, and when Musladin
pushed her to the ground, her fiance, Tom Studer, bolted from the house to defend her. Musladin
pulled a gun, fired twice at Studer and killed him. Musladin claimed self-defense — saying he
believed that Studer had a gun — but he was convicted of murder.
As in Cunningham, the issue before the court is not the crime itself. Rather it is the fact that
during Musladin's 14-day trial, the judge permitted three members of Studer's family to sit behind
the prosecutors' table wearing buttons prominently displaying pictures of the victim.
A lower court did not think that this was sufficient reason to overturn Musladin's conviction. But
the 9th Circuit ruled in 2005 that the wearing of buttons had raised the possibility of "inherent
prejudice" to Musladin's right to a fair trial. It overturned his conviction.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said that "the character of every act
depends upon the circumstances in which it is done." Though the lawyers in the halls and
meeting rooms of the Supreme Court this term will no doubt find themselves quickly caught up in
the minutiae of the law, in the competing doctrines and arcane legal theories that underpin the
vast American justice system, it is worth remembering that behind every case is a story, very
often a tragedy, that shouldn't be forgotten.
January 31, 2005
THE MAYOR'S RACE; Stop L.A.'s Crime Engine; Prison and parole policies only
make the streets more dangerous.; [HOME EDITION]
Joe Domanick. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Jan 23, 2005. pg. M.2
Full Text (945 words)
(Copyright (c) 2005 Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton announced last month that violent crime fell
13% in 2004 -- criminals assaulted, robbed or raped about 6,500 fewer Angelenos. That
drop is impressive, and good news for James K. Hahn's reelection campaign, which
promotes the mayor's crime-fighting record.
But I doubt that many black and Latino residents in the city's poorest neighborhoods feel
any safer today than they did a year ago, or will five years from today, unless radical
changes are made in the way we think about crime prevention. Arrests in L.A. have risen
13% in the last four years. Yet despite the fact that tens of thousands of young men and
women have been imprisoned, areas like South Los Angeles remain plagued by a cycle of
violent crime that began in the mid-1960s. The smallest decrease in crime last year was in
South L.A., whose residents are caught in a double bind. They want more police
protection but despair as their sons are arrested, convicted and sent off to prison in record
numbers. If national trends continue, one in three African American males born today
will spend at least one year in state prison.
A fixation on arrest and crime statistics to gauge police effectiveness is standard in law
enforcement -- and politics. But the question police chiefs should be asking is what
strategies will both prevent crime, short-term and long-term, and help stabilize L.A.'s
Most experts agree that between 15% and 25% of the historic national drop in crime from
1992 to 2002 was attributable to harsher sentencing. Demographic changes -- the
decrease in the number of 18- to 25-year-olds, who commit most crimes -- a healthy
economy and other factors account for the rest.
A 15% to 25% decline in crime is significant. But consider the cost. With 162,000
inmates, California has the second-largest prison population in the world (behind China),
and a $6-billion-a-year corrections budget. In 2001, the cost of fighting crime in
California -- cops, courts, jails and prisons -- was $17.5 billion.
The heart of the crime problem in the state is its prison and parole systems. Last year, a
panel commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger described the corrections system as
"dysfunctional," lacking "uniformity [or] transparency," burdened by "too much political
interference, too much union control, too little management courage" and the highest
recidivism in the nation. Until last year and the appointment of the reform-minded Jeanne
S. Woodford as director of the Department of Corrections, the department's sole mission
was to punish prisoners, and its $1.5- billion-a-year parole program reflected exactly that.
Currently, 65,000 to 70,000 parolees a year end up back in prison, with one- third of them
from L.A. County. An additional 35,000 county residents are on parole.
The problem begins to crystallize when you consider that 93% of everyone who enters
prison in California will be released, and that the vast majority of them will return to
places like South L.A. where social services to assist parolees reentering society barely
exist. As a result, ex-cons are unprepared to do anything other than commit another crime
and go back to prison. A 1997 Department of Corrections survey of parolees found that
85% were chronic drug or alcohol abusers, 70% to 90% were unemployed, 18% mentally
ill and 10% homeless.
Parole policies and laws that effectively stigmatize former inmates compound the
problem. Until recently, the operating philosophy of the state's parole system was to
return parolees to prison no matter how minor their violations. Typically, they return to
their communities with little or no money. Employers routinely shun them. Laws deny
them driver's licenses, access to public housing and other services.
The effect on communities is devastating. "As you incarcerate a few people from a
neighborhood, crime rates drop," says Todd R. Clear, director of doctoral studies at John
Jay College of Criminal Justice. "But when you remove ever higher numbers [for low-
level crimes], crime starts to go up at a very high rate because you're destabilizing a lot of
[supportive family and financial] relationships. When high numbers of [parolees] are also
being returned, [the neighborhood is hit with] a double whammy."
Bratton has been far better than most big-city chiefs in acknowledging that "we can't
arrest our way" out of crime and in supporting prevention and intervention programs in
South and East L.A. Laudable as his efforts have been, they don't come close to solving
the problem, let alone challenging the indifference and hostility to intervention and
rehabilitation among politicians, law enforcement and citizens. If Bratton wants to leave a
genuine legacy of long-term crime reduction and community stabilization in Los
Angeles, he'll have to lobby hard for changes in California's prison and parole policies,
not just make more arrests.
Traditionalists will contend that this is not a police chief's job. But what if big-city chiefs
began to think and lead boldly? Bratton has headed the New York and Boston police
departments and now runs one of the country's most fabled forces. He has the national
media's attention and the respect of his colleagues. The public is skeptical of and often
uninformed about methods of reducing crime other than hard-nosed policing. It needs
high- profile education on these matters, and who better to do the teaching than law
enforcement leaders who can convert the public and give politicians fearful of being
called "soft on crime" the cover to reform the corrections and parole systems.
Otherwise, L.A.'s meanest streets will get meaner.
Credit: Joe Domanick is a senior fellow in criminal justice at USC Annenberg's Institute
for Justice and Journalism and author of "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of
Crime in America's Golden State."
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution
is prohibited without permission.
Section: Opinion; Part M; Editorial Pages Desk
Text Word Count 945
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles Times, Sunday Opinion
Rehabilitate Three-Strikes Law ... but Do It the Right Way
Reserve the penalty for the truly violent, and help others reenter society.
By Joe Domanick, Joe Domanick is the author of "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of
Crime in America's Golden State."
There is a broadening consensus that includes prominent law enforcement officials that
California's three-strikes law desperately needs to be fixed. Intended to put repeat violent
offenders behind bars for 25 years to life, the law has also swelled the prison population by
incarcerating nonviolent criminals for decades. More than 350 men and women have been sent to
prison for 25 years to life for such crimes as shoplifting a pair of sneakers or a bottle of Tylenol, or
lying on a driver's license application. More than 670 others have received the same harsh
sentence for possession of a small amount of drugs. All told, nearly 57% of California's roughly
7,000 prisoners sentenced under the law committed a nonviolent third-strike crime.
Now a ballot initiative to reform the law has surfaced. Among other things, it would require a third
strike to be a "serious" or violent crime and eliminate several crimes that now count as strikes. It
already has gathered nearly twice as many signatures as needed and will almost surely qualify
for the November ballot.
The injustice of the current three-strikes law is so glaring, its application so arbitrary, that I will
happily vote for the proposition — despite my concern that the measure would face a bitter, uphill
and potentially fatal battle because of its flaws. Defeat could doom real, sustainable and
achievable reform of the law's mandatory sentencing guidelines and derail a growing recognition
that rehabilitation and reentry programs must play a far bigger role in the state's criminal justice
system than they do today.
Although justice demands that reform be applied retroactively, critics will point out that by making
the initiative retroactive, its authors also created its central weakness. As many as 33,000 of the
state's 160,000 prisoners could be eligible for resentencing or release over the next several years
if the measure passed. The vast majority would have received little or no rehabilitative services
while in prison and, as things now stand, would receive little or no guidance on reentering society
and finding a job. They would join the roughly 100 convicts paroled daily in Los Angeles County
— more than any other county in America.
It's easy to imagine the kind of television ads the initiative's opponents would run. Contra Costa
Deputy Dist. Atty. L. Douglas Pipes has given a hint of their tone. In an in-house analysis of the
planned proposition, he wrote: "The passage … of this initiative would constitute the most serious
and damaging rollback of California's efforts to punish and incarcerate serious and violent felons
in more than 30 years…. Defeat of this initiative, therefore, should be the single highest priority of
Reform advocates can counter such an offensive by developing and lobbying for legislation that
would provide reentry services for the men and women released under the initiative. It would be
an extremely difficult task in light of next year's estimated budget deficit of $14 billion. But the
legislation could be sold for what it is: smart, effective, long-term crime prevention, as well as a
sound financial investment.
The Department of Corrections has already developed successful reentry programs for drug
offenders and the mentally ill. And empirical data, though largely ignored, indicate that long-term
drug treatment in therapeutic communities based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous
works when combined with community support and rehabilitative services. The Corrections
Department knows this to be true for the incarcerated as well. Currently, nearly 10,000 of the
state's 160,000 prisoners receive drug treatment. In 1999, the figure was about 400.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and politicians will feel intense pressure from some of the most
powerful political players in the state to oppose the proposition, and do nothing. They include the
California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., the National Rifle Assn., district attorney
associations, police unions and the multitude of special interests with a stake in continued growth
of the state's criminal justice industry. Beating back that kind of highly organized, well-financed
opposition will be a formidable task for reform's supporters.
The best solution to the initiative's problems might be to withdraw it, then rewrite it for placement
on the November 2006 ballot. The added time might spur a needed discussion of how to reform
an a dysfunctional criminal-justice system.
What might a rewritten reform initiative look like?
First, it would include a mandate fully funding the reentry of nonviolent second- and third-strike
prisoners into society. This is precisely what the authors of Proposition 36, which substituted drug
treatment for jail, included in their successful 2000 initiative. The money earmarked to pay for the
drug treatment under the proposition cannot be cut or transferred.
Second, Schwarzenegger should be drawn into the three-strikes reform process — or, better yet,
lead it. The governor has already demonstrated his skills as a negotiator in getting workers'
compensation reform enacted and is hugely popular with swing voters, whose support will be
needed. As important, he's displayed a willingness to take a second look at the state's status quo
of "lock 'em up and throw away the key" by pardoning clearly rehabilitated prisoners whom former
Gov. Gray Davis let rot in prison.
Schwarzenegger has also signaled his openness to new ways of dealing with the state's special-
interest-laden criminal justice industry, an industry he's not indebted to. For example, he's
demanded that the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. renegotiate the five-year, 37%
pay raise given to prison guards by Davis when the state's deficit was skyrocketing. That
Schwarzenegger seems willing to take on the prison guards union is significant, given that under
the two previous governors the union virtually ran the prison system.
Moreover, Schwarzenegger's 2005 budget proposal cuts $400 million out of the bloated and
hitherto sacrosanct $5.7-billion annual prison budget. And the governor has named the
rehabilitation-minded warden of San Quentin, Jeanne Woodford, to head the state's scandal-
plagued corrections system.
Third, prominent law enforcement officials such as L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, Sheriff
Lee Baca and corrections officials like Woodford should be invited to participate in rewriting a
three-strikes reform initiative, along with politicians from both parties. With their imprimatur on the
proposition, its chances of passage would soar.
It has taken decades for California to come to the point where the annual cost of its prison system
rivals or exceeds that of its once-vaunted system of higher education. And it's taken decades of
shortsighted ideological posturing on the part of conservatives and political cowardice on the part
of liberals to get California's prison system to the point where we're imprisoning three men in a 6-
by-8-foot room designed to house one. Reform of the three-strikes law should be only the
beginning of overhauling an unjust and corrupt system.
If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives.
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times
*What About Reform, Chief?*
By Joe Domanick
Joe Domanick is a senior fellow at USC's Annenberg
School Institute for Justice and Journalism.
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 03, 2002
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 3 Editorial Pages Desk
23 inches; 826 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* piece
For months now, Police Commission President Rick Caruso has been
saying that rising crime and sagging officer morale are the most
critical issues facing the Los Angeles Police Department. He has
apparently forgotten the overriding reason why William J. Bratton was
hired as the new chief: to fundamentally reform the department.
Better crime-fighting techniques and happier police officers, though
commendable objectives, fall well short of the larger goal.
So far, Bratton's emphasis has been misplaced as well. He has had
far more to say about graffiti than reform at a time when many people
wonder how he intends to deal with the cowboy-cop culture that has
mired the LAPD in crisis after crisis since four officers severely
beat up Rodney King more than 11 years ago. Yes, Bratton has been
chief for only about a week, and the kind of fundamental departmental
reform that's needed requires careful planning and implementation.
But it would be reassuring to hear him talk more about his strategy,
even if only in broad strokes, for attacking the root cultural causes
of LAPD problems.
This isn't to downplay the disturbing fact that crime,
particularly the number of murders, is rising in Los Angeles. After
dramatic drops in the late 1990s, homicides have jumped in 2002 by
almost 15%, or 27% since 2000. Police say gang killings account for
about 75% of these murders.
Bratton says that increasing arrests by 16% to 20% will slow down
the killing. But in Los Angeles, with its deeply rooted,
intergenerational gang culture, you can't simply arrest your way out
of gang violence. Truth be told, arrest rates are more a reflection
of crime rates than a deterrent to criminality. During
high-crime-rate years in the 1980s and early 1990s, the large number
of gang arrests made by the LAPD did not deter murderers in the city.
Conversely, when homicides and gang killings in L.A. dramatically
dipped in the latter half of the 1990s, as they did in other big
cities, arrests came down too. A booming economy that enabled large
numbers of people to move out of poverty, fewer people in the
crime-prone age groups, the end of the crack wars, longer prison
sentences, gang truces and smarter policing had more to do with
falling crime rates than numbers of arrests.
Moreover, Bratton's focus on arrest rates overlooks a more
important truth about the LAPD, one that he must accept if he is
serious about changing the department's image. When commissioner of
the New York Police Department, his philosophy was to arrest more
people for minor crimes -- "quality of life" arrests, as he calls
them -- in order to stop more serious ones, and it seemed to work.
NYPD cops whom New York residents regarded as ineffective on the job
were suddenly on the streets making arrests.
But enforcing the letter of the law has never, until recently,
been a problem in L.A. In fact, for decades, the LAPD has made
quality-of-life stops and arrests -- often accompanied by prone-outs,
harassment and policy through intimidation. These tactics, more than
anything else, have alienated and enraged the city's impoverished
Arrests have fallen in L.A. because of officer attrition caused by
the face-off between former Chief Bernard C. Parks and the Police
Protective League over Parks' arbitrary disciplinary system. Fewer
cops on the street mean fewer arrests. And many cops who remain on
the force have backed off from aggressive enforcement out of a fear
of being disciplined for trivial rule infractions. For Bratton to
tell his officers, as he did at his swearing-in, that he didn't want
them driving by "smiling and waving" but "out on the streets and in
the parks," presumably making arrests, may thus send the wrong
message: that it's OK to return to the policing style that has gotten
the department into so much trouble.
This isn't to deny that gangs, gang violence and graffiti aren't
intertwined. Territorial tagging leads to turf wars, and graffiti is
a blight that saps the aspirations and deflates the pride of entire
neighborhoods. To the extent that it can be stopped, it should be.
But enforcing graffiti laws is treating a symptom. Arresting ever
more taggers won't alleviate the underlying problems that lead to
gang killings and violence.
Once Bratton settles into office, he will, it is hoped, formulate
a strategy to deal with gang violence, build on the smart
gang-prevention programs that the LAPD has initiated or been involved
in, and work with community activists, former gang members,
civic-minded business and union leaders and other government agencies
to promote gang truces and devise solutions. In the meantime, a
little smiling and waving, rather than the legendary Robocop
sternness of LAPD cops, is a good, not a bad, thing. It is what
hiring a new reform chief was all about.
PHOTO: EAST MEETS WEST: L.A. Police Chief William J.
Bratton's focus on "quality of life" crimes, a strategy that brought
him success in New York City, might not transfer well to Los Angeles,
where police are often seen in minority communities as harassing
residents over small or nonexistent matters.
ID NUMBER: 20021103h3fd34kf
PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
*Why Bratton Has Edge Over His Predecessors*
By JOE *DOMANICK* , Joe *Domanick,* author of "To Protect and to Serve: The
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams," is a senior fellow at USC's
Annenberg School Institute for Justice and Journalism.
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 06, 2002
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 2 Editorial Pages Desk
29 inches; 1052 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* piece
Even before Mayor James K. Hahn picked former New York Police
Commissioner William J. Bratton as L.A.'s next police chief, the
political climate surrounding the selection process indicated that
the chances for genuine reform of the Los Angeles Police Department
are better now than at any time since 1950. That year, the creator of
the modern LAPD, William H. Parker, was sworn in as chief. He then
began transforming a lax, brutal, corrupt and politically manipulated
police force into a highly efficient crime-fighting machine that
became the model for police departments throughout the Southwest.
Hahn's decision not to rehire Chief Bernard C. Parks ignited a
bitter and racially tinged political battle, costing the mayor
support in the city's African American community. Unlike previous
LAPD controversies, however, the acrimony quickly dissipated, and the
special-interest politics that marked the selection of a new chief
over the last decade retreated into the background.
One big reason for the relative depoliticization of the selection
process was sheer public exhaustion. Since four LAPD officers beat up
Rodney King in 1991, the department has been mired in controversy,
from the Christopher Commission's condemnation of widespread officer
misconduct to the questionable police tactics of the 1992 riots, from
Daryl Gates' ouster as chief to the selection of Philadelphian Willie
Williams as its first black leader. Along the way, city voters passed
a series of charter amendments to reform the LAPD, but 10 years after
the King beating, outsider Williams and insider Parks, plagued by the
Rampart scandal, had failed to reform the department.
But the racial tensions that had marred the selections and tenures
of L.A. police chiefs in the 1990s gave way to a consensus: The time
for symbolism was past. Race was no substitute for reform.
The low profile of the Police Protective League also helped to
mute the politics of the selection process. The league didn't even
endorse a candidate. But union leaders may have concluded that there
was little to be gained from pressuring Hahn. After all, the mayor
had already repaid the debt he owed the league for its support of his
candidacy by successfully pushing for a work plan that allowed
officers to toil longer hours in exchange for more days off. Hahn's
decision not to rehire the disciplinarian Parks was also good news
for the police union. In any case, it would have been a huge
political miscalculation for Hahn to again be seen as doing the
league a favor.
If the police union didn't get what it wanted--a current or former
LAPD insider--it also didn't get what it least wanted: John Timoney.
While head of the Philadelphia Police Department, Timoney had taken
no nonsense from its union, which was accustomed to throwing its
weight around and getting what it wanted. The Philadelphia Fraternal
Order of Police may have gotten a measure of revenge when it told
league officials that Timoney was bad news. "It was strictly a labor
issue," said a source close to the league.
Members of the LAPD command staff didn't play politics, either,
though many were said to be seething over the Police Commission's
decision not to include at least one of their number in the final
list of candidates, a move they correctly interpreted as a slap in
the face. "It's like a morgue up there on the sixth floor," a Parker
Center veteran said of the department's administrative nerve center.
"People are angry, insulted and unhappy" at being excluded, said
But the most important reason for the politically muted selection
process was the manner in which the Police Commission went about its
business of drawing up a candidate list for the mayor. At first, its
members appeared to be inexperienced dilettantes without the will,
stature or knowledge to handle the job of overseeing LAPD reform. Now
they appear to be heavy hitters. After the Parks controversy died
down, the commission settled in and conducted a professional search
for a new chief. This in itself was a departure from the previous
selection process. In 1997, everyone knew that Parks was Mayor
Richard Riordan's choice to replace Williams, and the commission
essentially rubber-stamped his wish.
This time, commissioners had other things on their minds, like the
slow pace of departmental reform, flagging officer morale and
mounting attrition, and a federal consent decree hanging over the
LAPD's head. Hahn also had made clear that the Police Department's
survival as a credible and effective law-enforcement institution
depended on aggressively reforming it. To its credit, the
commission's three finalists--Bratton, Timoney and Art Lopez--tested
By including Lopez as a finalist, the Police Commission had left
the mayor with an exit strategy. Lopez spent 27 years in the LAPD
before becoming Oxnard's chief and was the choice of many Latino
leaders to replace Parks. Furthermore, naming Lopez would have set up
Latino support for Hahn's reelection bid in 2005, not an
insignificant consideration since the mayor can no longer rely on the
loyalty of black voters. Finally, the Police Protective League would
have received yet another Hahn gift, this time a man not known for a
By choosing Bratton, however, Hahn has demonstrated that he is his
own man when it comes to reforming the LAPD. It will be ironic indeed
if Hahn, by picking Bratton, turns out to be the man who finally
transforms the LAPD. As city attorney during the 1990s, Hahn's office
defended LAPD officers in hundreds of police-abuse lawsuits whose
settlements cost the city more than $100 million. Throughout, Hahn
uttered nary a word about police reform. Only when the Justice
Department threatened to sue the city for its police department's
"pattern or practice" of abuse did Hahn get involved in the reform
Bratton, to be sure, faces many challenges in reforming the LAPD.
But because the selection process used to choose him was politically
defused, he has a leg up on his predecessors in modernizing the LAPD
that Parker created.
PHOTO: William Bratton arrives at the LAPD at an auspicious
time: Racial tensions are low, and the chief-selection process lacked
ID NUMBER: 20021006h3fd8zkf
PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
*It Takes a Chief*
The LAPD needs a boss who's tough, who knows how to lead and who believes in
reform. Is that too much to ask?
By JOE *DOMANICK* , Joe *Domanick,* the author of "To Protect and to Serve: The
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams," is a senior fellow at the USC
Annenberg School of Communication's Institute for Justice in Journalism.
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 14, 2002
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 Editorial Pages Desk
43 inches; 1559 words
Type of Material: OP ; *Opinion* piece
Am I alone here? Or are other people getting tired, too, of the
center-stage soap opera that's been playing at the Los Angeles Police
Department for more than a decade? I keep waiting for the city to cut
through a morass of false assumptions about its chiefs of police and
see them in a clear light.
Consider last Tuesday's dueling press conferences. The first
featured Rick J. Caruso, president of the Los Angeles Police
Commission, explaining why his group had followed the lead of Mayor
James Hahn--who, of course, hand-picked the commission--and voted 4
to 1 not to rehire LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks. By Caruso's account,
Parks' greatest sin seemed to be his responsibility for the
ever-plunging morale of the LAPD's rank and file--rather than the
Rampart scandal, or the chief's complete unwillingness to transform
the LAPD's paramilitary culture.
It was enough to make one wonder if the city's African American
leadership hadn't been right in charging that Mayor Hahn, and now his
Police Commission, were jettisoning Parks as political payback to the
white-dominated Police Protective League, which gave critical support
to Hahn during his run for mayor.
At his own press conference, meanwhile, Parks was avoiding the
real issues as skillfully as Caruso. The chief admitted to no
failings or missteps and defiantly vowed to take his battle to the
City Council. The Council, if it so chooses, could overturn the
Commission's decision by a two-thirds vote--a highly unlikely
Parks is rightly viewed by many African Americans in Los Angeles
as an important symbol--a smart, successful black man holding down
one of the most visible and powerful public positions in the city.
But in the end, being a symbol was not enough. Parks was simply
unwilling to institute the crucial reforms that would have provided
the city with the police department it desperately needs and
deserves. Consequently, he's become the latest in a long line of LAPD
chiefs whose tenures have ultimately been failures.
Although in perfect philosophical sync with Mayor Richard Riordan,
who appointed him Chief in 1997, Bernard Parks never gave the people
of Los Angeles what they voted for in 1992 and 1995 when they
overwhelmingly passed a sweeping package of police reforms
recommended by the Christopher Commission and designed to serve as
the mechanism for rebuilding and reforming the LAPD. Training and
discipline were to be placed under far greater civilian control,
while monitored by a civilian Inspector General's Office. And a
Christopher Commision-endorsed computer system for tracking problem
officers was to be installed. Underpinning all this was to be a new
operating philosophy of community-based policing, in which officers
would work with the community rather than ride herd over it.
Little of this, however, was on former Mayor Richard Riordan's
agenda. He wanted a big, tough, smoothly oiled crime fighting
machine--a less-controversial, better-run version of the old LAPD.
When Riordan's Police Commission named Parks as the new chief in
1997, the mayor laid out the criteria by which he'd judge Parks'
success: crime stats and arrest numbers. That was what Riordan
Parks embraced Riordan's message. But he danced as well to his own
tune. For nearly half a century the central tenet of all LAPD chiefs
(save Willie Williams, the despised outsider) has been that the chief
and only the chief ran the LAPD. And Parks, by instinct, training and
character, is very much in that tradition.
In 1950, Chief William H. Parker was the first to recognize the
astounding power granted a chief in the city charter, and he used it
shrewdly to make the LAPD his own. Ed Davis, police chief throughout
most of the 1970s, once summed up his and Parker's attitude toward
outsiders "interfering" with their department. "Parker," said Davis,
"found himself fighting off the evil forces from City Hall ... and
various groups in the city. And it is absolutely vital that this
department not be dominated by politicians." Davis also understood
the power of the office. Asked if he intended to run for mayor, he
replied, "I don't want to be mayor; I already have more power than
the mayor." And he was right. From 1950 to 1992, LAPD chiefs had
ironclad civil-service protection and the same lifetime tenure
enjoyed by federal judges. Mayors came and went, but a chief of
police remained as long as he wished. That situation changed only
when Charter Amendment F, passed in 1992, limited future chiefs to
one five-year term, with the option of applying for a second and
final five years in office.
One huge impetus for that change was the spectacle of Mayor Tom
Bradley impotently imploring Chief Daryl Gates to resign following
the 1991 beating of Rodney King. Gates simply refused. By the time
Parks became chief, however, the power dynamic had shifted. A chief
like Parks could no longer push the mayor around. But he still
retained enough power to serve as the mayor's equal, especially given
that Parks, Riordan and their sycophants on the Police Commission
were all on the same wavelength--and they weren't focused on reform.
So Parks contemptuously dismissed community policing, forced the
department's first inspector general out of office and refused to
share vital investigative information with the second, failed to
implement a computerized officer-tracking system, denigrated the
importance of the Rampart scandal and severely limited the
department's investigation into it, tried to cut the district
attorney out of the Rampart-prosecution loop and launched an enormous
number of investigations of officers over the most trivial of
Parker, Davis and Gates had turned rigidity, intransigence and the
arrogance of power into an art form. But times had changed, and Parks
seemed not to have noticed. The Rodney King beating, the '92 uprising
and the Rampart scandal all helped destroy the once sacrosanct LAPD
mystique, sapping the juice out of the department's public support;
while charter reform diminished its once unchecked power.
Parks had been a noncontroversial, even popular choice for chief.
Other than some totally ineffective grumbling from the Protective
League, he had no real opposition. Yet Parks is now leaving office
with few non-African American defenders. Lawyer and political
kingmaker William Wardlaw--who had literally helped Parks study for
the chief's test--turned against him. Parks' friends in government,
like County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, have failed to spring to his
defense. The same has been true of the city's corporate leaders,
civil libertarians and police reformers. Parks began his tenure as a
virtual co-mayor, and ended up out of a job.
Now we're about to search for a new chief. And all the wrong
questions are being asked: Will he be black? Will it cause problems
if he's brown? Should he be an insider? Can an outsider do the job?
What about a woman? There are times when such criteria must be taken
into consideration, as in 1992 after Gates' departure. The African
American community had suffered decades of racism, brutality,
killings and humiliation at the hands of the LAPD. Simple justice
demanded a black chief. Now Los Angeles has had two, and we've
learned that, while symbols are important, race has largely been
beside the point in fundamentally reforming the LAPD. And fundamental
reform is all this selection process should be about.
The Police Commission should choose a chief who has stature,
reform experience and an iron will in standing up to the command
staff and Protective League, coupled with the leadership skills to
bring officers and their union along during the reform process. Most
especially we need a chief who recognizes that the mayor, through his
police commissioners, is the boss. The new chief should be at the top
of his or her game and look upon reforming the LAPD as a career
capstone. He or she must be an outsider--someone who can see far
beyond the department's culture and who, unlike former Chief
Williams, has the savvy to come into L.A. and form political
alliances with like-minded political players. Whether Mayor Hahn has
the desire, self-confidence or strength to urge the hiring of such a
chief, remains, of course, an open question.
If he does, Hahn should not stop there. He should go on to push
for a charter amendment allowing the mayor to directly choose his
chief of police. The city must learn to regard its police chief as a
skilled and very important department head--but one who is
ultimately, and directly, responsible to the city's chief executive.
The argument that this will inject politics into the department is
absurd. What have chiefs in Los Angeles been if not unelected,
unaccountable politicians representing their own interests? A chief
needs to be selected directly by the mayor and serve at the mayor's
pleasure. Tom Bradley should have had the right to fire Daryl Gates
before he led us down the path to racial insurrection. Richard
Riordan should have been able to fire Willie Williams if he felt he
couldn't work with him. And James Hahn should have a chief of police
who shares his vision. Then we can hold the mayor--and only the
mayor--accountable come election day.
PHOTO: (no caption)
ID NUMBER: 20020414gugy27ke
PHOTOGRAPHER: TIM TEEBKEN / For The Times
*No Way to Pick a Chief*
The debate about Parks' future has pitted elite blacks against a police
union. Where's the rest of the city?
By JOE *DOMANICK*
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 20, 2002
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 Editorial Pages Desk
34 inches; 1244 words
Type of Material: OP ; *Opinion* piece
Whose police department is it? That's the question the people of Los
Angeles should be asking themselves as the first term of Police Chief
Bernard C. Parks expires. Parks has strongly indicated that he wants
another five years as chief, a decision he's expected to make
official next month. Whether the Police Commission reappoints him or
looks elsewhere, however, seems, so far, unrelated to what the rest
of the city may want, or to what's best for the city. Instead, it's
come down to a nasty political fight with heavy racial overtones
between the city's black establishment and the department's
rank-and-file union, the Police Protective League.
The question of de facto ownership of the Los Angeles Police
Department used to be easy to answer. It belonged to the chief of
police--to William Parker, Ed Davis and Daryl F. Gates. They ran the
department as if it were a personal fiefdom, proudly accountable to
no one, serving at their own pleasure for as long as they chose.
Then came the videotaped beating of Rodney G. King by four LAPD
officers, the highly critical Christopher Commission report outlining
the department's misconduct, the 1992 Los Angeles riots and a
voter-approved charter amendment limiting the chief's term in office.
The chief no longer has life tenure. He is now limited to one
five-year term, after which an additional five may be requested, with
10 years being the maximum.
During his five years as chief, Willie Williams never owned his
department. An outsider from Philadelphia, he was hostilely greeted
by the department's command staff and by newly elected Mayor Richard
Riordan, who hadn't chosen him and didn't like him. Such politically
cold treatment, combined with Williams' own erratic behavior, led to
his dismissal. The commission then chose the man who Riordan wanted
for the job--Parks.
Parks tried to make the department his and Riordan's. But in 1999,
the Rampart police corruption scandal raised questions about Parks'
leadership, management skills and commitment to the Christopher
Commission reforms. Parks also got himself into more trouble when,
acting on principle, he opposed the Police Protective League's
flexible-workweek plan, which allows officers to work 12-hour shifts
three days a week or 10-hour shifts fours days a week. Parks did
himself further harm by implementing a disciplinary system the League
considers harsh, arbitrary and capricious--the root cause, the union
claims, for officers leaving the department by the hundreds.
All this made Parks' reappointment an issue in last years' mayoral
campaign. Facing a tough challenge from former Assembly Speaker
Antonio Villaraigosa, then-City Atty. James K. Hahn hit on the
winning strategy of making Villaraigosa appear dangerous to
conservative white voters, of gaining the Police Protective League's
support by promising to implement its flexible-workweek plan and of
gathering up the black vote by promising African Americans a seat at
his administration's table and, in contrast to Villaraigosa, being
noncommittal about Parks' future.
Now Hahn is caught in the middle of his two key constituencies,
and the city is paying the price.
The battle began in late November, when the police union, after
polling its members, released a "report card" giving Parks'
leadership all Ds and Fs. In response, black leaders, including two
congresswomen and three City Council members, blasted the League and
announced their undying support for Parks. "Hahn has to do the right
thing for the whole city," asserted Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
"And placating the [league] is not consistent with doing what needs
to be done in the interest of public safety."
Last Thursday, the league released the results of its latest
poll--a no-confidence vote--that, according to league director Ted
Hunt, had a "rate of return" of 68%. Of those, 93% voted "no
confidence" in Parks. "The league," said Hunt, is "willing to spend
up to $1 million to tell the people of Los Angeles that the LAPD is
mismanaged and organizationally broken....[W]orking conditions [under
Parks] are simply intolerable."
Earlier, the president-elect of the black police officers'
association, the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, sent an open letter to
Hahn. Describing the current situation as an "internal race war,"
Ronnie Cato wrote that "the [Protective] League is determined to
convince you ... that [Parks] should not be selected for a second
term. ... They have hired a political campaign firm ... to inundate
you and the Police Commission with negative misinformation about the
chief. ... He is being targeted by a [predominately] all-white league
that has never allowed an African American to serve on its board
....[or] found anything wrong with the actions of any white officer
who has killed or beaten an African American citizen. ... The league
is making it clear that they do not want an African American chief to
tell them what to do."
The black political elite and L.A.'s business establishment that
most vocally support Parks, and the largely white union that opposes
him, constitute far less than 1% of the city. That leaves more that
99% of the city unheard in the debate over whether Parks should be
Parks is a well-connected black man; a hard-won symbol of black
political power in Los Angeles. But he's also a failed chief opposed
to fundamentally reforming his department's training methods, tactics
and attitude. Should he be reappointed chief simply because of his
race and regardless of his past performance?
In the early 1990s, race was--and should have been--a decisive
factor in the selection of a successor to Gates. Not only had African
Americans borne the brunt of the LAPD's violence and abuse, they had
led the fight to reform the department. It took nearly a century of
battling and a 1980 consent decree to ensure diversity within the
LAPD. But we're now entering our 10th year with a black chief. Two of
the department's eight deputy chiefs--Julius Davis and Maurice
Moore--are African Americans, as are 20% of its commanders, 11.4% of
the highest-ranking captains and about 12.6% of the highest-ranking
lieutenants. In all, black officers comprise about 13.6% of the
force, slightly more than their proportion in the city's population.
After one of the city's worst police scandals, reform, not color,
must be the overriding issue in the selection of a new chief. Parks'
race should not protect him from his failure to overhaul the
As for the Police Protective League, it is what it is, a union,
nothing more. It exists for no other reason than to obtain the best
pay, benefits and working conditions for its members. At election
time, it provides money and support to candidates who advance its
goals. The voters of Los Angeles should realize that, and stop
allowing this relative small group of public servants to remain king
Mayor Hahn maintains that when it's time to state his *opinion* on
who should be chief, he'll do the right thing, unswayed by the two
groups to whom he owes his job. And he may do just that. But just in
case, the rest of the public and their representatives had better
wake up and ensure that L.A.'s next chief is the best possible person
to reform the department, not someone who's named--or not named--as a
Joe Domanick, the author of "To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD's
Century of War in the City of Dreams," is a senior fellow at the USC
Annenberg School of Communication's Institute for Justice in
PHOTO: Bernard C. Parks' first five years as police chief
are nearing an end, and he has strongly indicated that he wants
ID NUMBER: 20020120g17hstke
PHOTOGRAPHER: KEN HIVELY / Los Angeles Times
*Politics Trumps Justice*
By JOE *DOMANICK* , Joe *Domanick,* the author of "To Protect and to Serve: The
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams," is working on a book about
California's three-strikes law
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 18, 2001
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 *Opinion* Desk
29 inches; 1026 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
"With every book, when you read it, you close it," said Steve
Cooley after he announced earlier this month that his office will The anterooms of civil rights
attorneys, meanwhile, remain filled shut
down its Rampart investigation by the end of the year. The L.A. County
district attorney then added that he expected no new indictments in the
It was a stunning pronouncement. During his hard-fought campaign to
unseat Gil Garcetti, Cooley had presented himself as a reformer appalled
by a district attorney's office that seemed always to look the other way
when confronted with police lying, brutality and other abuses. He had
promised to change the widely held perception among the public that LAPD
officers could pretty much do what they wished without fear of punishment
or indictment. In April, Cooley repeated his pledge, vowing to take the
Rampart probe "as high, wide and deep as the facts indicate."
So, why has he stopped looking for "the facts" so soon? Despite the
furor over the Rampart police corruption scandal, there still has been no
official investigation of the Police Department's 17 other divisions,
although scores of credible cases of police abuse were documented as far
back as 1991 in the Christopher Commission report, and complaints against
cops continue to be made. As for what happened at Rampart, we have only
the LAPD's own self-serving inquiry, limited to the division's anti-gang
unit, and one by the Police Commission that was more concerned with
making recommendations than investigating misconduct.
victims of Rampart-style police abuse. And the implications of the cases
already in the pipeline are extremely serious. They suggest that the
abuses carried out by Rampart's anti-gang unit were known about high up
in the LAPD chain of command and that such misconduct was widespread in
the entire Rampart division. But we will never know the truth of these
and other allegations because Cooley, in announcing the end of his
investigation, has removed any incentive for potential or current suspect
officers to disclose misconduct going on at Rampart or any other division
in the department.
The reasons that Cooley has retreated from aggressively pursuing
abusive cops seem to have more to do with local politics than with
Since Sept. 11, public esteem for the police has shot way up, while
the desire to put their conduct under a microscope has all but
disappeared. Cops, after all, have become our front line against
terrorists. Accordingly, there is little political advantage for Cooley
to continue the Rampart investigation, especially since L.A. Mayor James
K. Hahn, Chief of Police Bernard C. Parks and the Police Protective
League all want Rampart assigned to the dustbin of history.
Hahn signaled his attitude toward police reform--and, indirectly,
toward the Rampart investigation--with his appointments to the Police
Commission of four members who have no reputation for and little interest
in the kinds of reforms that would curb police abuse. (The panel's fifth
member, Bert Boeckmann, whom Hahn reappointed, has displayed scant
interest in the issue as well.) Hahn also owes a political debt to the
city's African American community, which heavily supported his candidacy.
His reappointment of Parks, who remains popular among L.A.'s blacks, as
chief next year would help with that task. Finally, a continuing and
expanded probe of police abuse could prove embarrassing to Hahn. As city
attorney, he never pressed the hard questions about why police-abuse
lawsuits seemed to have a distinctive pattern or why the LAPD never
changed the policies, training and culture that many outsiders, including
the Christopher Commission, believed were at the root of the department's
misconduct problems. Instead, Hahn dutifully paid out some $100 million
to settle police-abuse lawsuits against the city during his watch.
From the day the Rampart scandal broke, Parks has successfully limited
any "outside" investigation of his department. Throughout, he decided
which information would reach the D.A.'s office, and thus largely shaped
the outcome of the probe. For the police chief, who's up for
reappointment next June, Cooley's announcement could not have been more
welcome news. Six or seven months is a long time in politics--certainly
plenty of time for voters and the media to have forgotten Rampart.
Cooley, too, benefits from dropping the Rampart probe. He will be able
to solidify his relationship with a still powerful and very shrewd chief
of police. As important, he enhances his strong relationship with the
Police Protective League. The last thing Cooley wants is to rile the
league, which, with great energy and effectiveness, supported him in the
In theory, Cooley could have done whatever he wished when it came to
rooting out and punishing police misconduct. For example, he could have
set up an independent task force, staffed solely with his deputies and
their investigators, with the goal of restoring public confidence and
trust in L.A.'s criminal-justice system. That would have put the LAPD on
notice. In practice, however, his options were limited. Had he decided to
form a task force and take the Rampart probe as "high, wide and deep as
the facts indicate," he would have had to take on the Protective League
and deal with the wrath and formidable stonewalling talents of Parks. In
short, had Cooley decided to pursue an aggressive, open-ended
investigation, he would have risked alienating a huge portion of the
city's political establishment, with no real payoff. Kudos from various
civil rights organizations are nice, but they don't win elections.
Moreover, any such investigation would surely have led back to
Cooley's office, that is, to many of his deputies and top lieutenants.
The Rampart scandal has always been about more than the LAPD. For
decades, the Police Department sent under-investigated and poorly crafted
cases against abusive officers to the district attorney's office, and the
D.A. didn't send them back to be improved. No D.A., certainly not one new
to the job, wants to publicly question the judgment and integrity of the
top people working for him.
Cooley faces another problem that dogged Garcetti--getting
convictions. With the exception of LAPD Officer Rafael Perez, whose
disclosures set off the Rampart scandal, the code of silence worked
remarkably well during the investigation. Cooley doesn't want to bring
highly publicized cases that he'll lose--and make enemies of a lot cops,
As district attorney, Cooley will continue to send his deputies to the
site of officer-involved shootings, a procedure known as rollout. But
what will Cooley do if the LAPD tries to prevent his
investigators--"outsiders"--from doing the nitty-gritty work that can
make or break a case? And rollout, of course, only deals with shootings,
not with beatings and evidence planting.
The consent decree negotiated by the city and the U.S. Justice
Department will provide a higher level of oversight, but its focus will
be future conduct, not what has happened in the past. More important, the
monitor of the agreement will rely on the LAPD for the information that
will be the basis of its judgment. Therein lies the problem: Decisions
about police misconduct are, in effect, being made by the source of the
*Parks Gets a Second Chance*
By JOE DOMANICK
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 15, 2001
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 6 Op Ed Desk
27 inches; 961 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
James K. Hahn's election as mayor of Los Angeles appears to have
given Police Chief Bernard C. Parks a new lease on his professional life
and made the Police Protective League a strong player in the running of
the Police Department. The league's newfound power, when combined with
Hahn's choices for the Police Commission and Parks' well-established
reluctance to implement fundamental change, do not bode well for the kind
of serious reform called for in the consent decree that the city
negotiated with the U.S. Justice Department.
Parks' hold on the chief's job is problem No.1. During the mayoral
campaign, Hahn, unlike most of his competitors, left open the door to
renewing Parks' contract. One reason is Hahn's long-time alliance with
the city's African American community. Unlike the rest of the city during
the unfolding of the Rampart corruption scandal, black support for Parks
remained strong and solid. Announcing that he would not automatically
seek his termination was a signal from Hahn that he took black concerns
about the chief seriously--sort of.
For Hahn's simultaneous pursuit of the Protective League's endorsement
set off a powerful new dynamic for Parks to deal with. Hahn obtained that
endorsement after he signed a written pledge to implement a three-day
workweek for some cops within 90 days of his swearing in. Initially,
Parks adamantly opposed the truncated work schedule, but after a
post-election meeting with Hahn, he announced he'd implement it.
Nevertheless, the league remains highly skeptical of Parks and badly
wants him removed. In securing the police union's endorsement, it should
be noted, Hahn also did a back flip on Parks, assuring league officials
that, as the union tells it, he was "not committed to retaining the
current chief of police."
The Protective League has reason to be skeptical. Parks has been
remarkably ineffective at achieving goals he believes in, such as
meeting former Mayor Richard Riordan's goal of adding 1,000 new officers
to the department. According to a recent Los Angeles grand jury report,
the number of LAPD officers, which slightly exceeds 9,000 today, has
actually declined by 800 during the past two years; the department has
lost 30% of the officers it had on the force five years ago. Meanwhile,
the number of applicants has dropped from 14,000 in 1995 to under 7,000
How warmly, then, can Parks embrace a three-day work schedule that's
good for union members but that he thinks is wrong-headed policy for the
department and the city? Moreover, how fully will the chief cooperate
with a federal monitor assigned to measure his department's compliance
with the consent decree when he can't even abide an inspector general?
"He's certainly taken a position on a number of issues that make it
difficult for him to change and move in an opposite direction," says
Richard E. Drooyan, who led the Police Commission's investigation of the
Rampart scandal. "[And] this is a critical year. His working relationship
with the commission, his ability to implement reforms--all are critical
issues as to whether he should be replaced."
"It's going to be difficult for Parks to get big things done," adds
Dave Smith, a former LAPD area commander who retains close ties to the
Many rank-and-file cops and field commanders who are not members of
Parks' inner circle also wonder about Parks' commitment to reform. The
chief's failure to implement the Christopher Commission reforms, most
notably, a computerized system to track abusive officers, is
well-documented. In any case, there's little upward communication flow,
because Parks doesn't want any feedback from below. And with department
morale so low, it will be hard for him to accomplish an ambitious reform
agenda even if he is motivated to do so.
Former Asst. Chief David D. Dotson, who once had great respect for
Parks' abilities, says that the chief now "appears not to have the kind
of depth of judgment and understanding to get along with people and to
make things work in the city. .... I'm beginning to think he may not be
up to the job."
Hahn, for his part, has never shown the grit needed to take on Parks
or any other LAPD chief during his 16 years as city attorney. While he
deserves credit for helping negotiate the consent decree, his work on the
agreement should be seen for what it was: a sensible reaction to a
Justice Department ultimatum that the city had to reform its Police
Department or face a lawsuit. A protracted trial, furthermore, could have
been personally embarrassing, raising questions such as what he was doing
as city attorney to protect the city, whose interests he represented,
while it was paying out $144 million to settle lawsuits against the LAPD
from 1992 to early 2000?
Hahn's appointments to the Police Commission, announced last week,
suggest his new office hasn't emboldened him to challenge Parks. Instead,
Hahn has assembled a panel similar to Riordan's, one that Parks
dominated. The previous commission took a stand only when pushed to its
limits, failed to support its own inspector generals, often allowed
itself to be used as a rubber stamp and rarely took its oversight mandate
It's unfair, of course, to prejudge people's performance or intent,
but there's little or nothing in the appointees' backgrounds, save for
San Fernando Valley businessman Bert Boeckmann, to suggest that any of
them has a strong base of knowledge or experience in police-reform issues
or in dealing with a large intractable organization like the LAPD. By the
time they've concluded what's known around Parker Center as their "wooing
period"--their wining and dining, the helicopter rides and trips to the
Police Academy, etc.--and complete the learning curve for members of a
commission that meets half a day a week, a crucial year of reform
opportunity will have passed. As for Boeckmann, who has served an
extraordinary 141/2 years on the commission, if reform means more cops,
better recruitment and retention, and lower crime rates, then he's surely
a reformer. However, when it comes to a broader view--community policing,
police brutality, training, tactics and philosophy of
policing--Boeckmann's place on the commission can only be described as a
The most charitable interpretation of Hahn's appointments is that
fundamental police reform is not an issue for him, and, like Riordan, his
priority will be recruitment and retention of officers. The only
difference between the two mayors seems to be that the Protective League
is going to have more say in Hahn's City Hall than it did in Riordan's.
In the continuing battle to create an accountable Police Department,
it appears Hahn has decided on his strategy: allow an inexperienced
Police Commission to "run" the LAPD in theory, while its anti-reform
chief and self-serving Police Protective League fight it out for who will
run it in fact.
PHOTO: Chief Bernard Parks, above, faces less pressure to reform
his department after the election of James K. Hahn as mayor.
ID NUMBER: 20010715efhwqagw
PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
THE STATE: LAW ENFORCEMENT
*The Crack in the LAPD Wall of Silence Widens*
By Joe Domanick
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 8, 2001
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 6 *Opinion* Desk
31 inches; 1088 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
The press-conference venue, the body language and the announcement
all seemed to point to a long-overdue shift in the balance of power in
L.A.'s criminal-justice system. And perhaps the beginning of the end of
the Los Angeles Police Department's 50-year domination of the city's
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, U.S. Atty. Alejandro N. Mayorkas, LAPD Chief
Bernard C. Parks and the FBI's James V. DeSarno Jr. had all gathered to
announce what could prove to be a significant turning point in the
year-and-a-half-old investigation of the Rampart corruption scandal.
Ex-Officer Nino Durden, former partner of Rafael Perez, whose revelations
sparked the scandal, had pleaded guilty to four felonies in exchange for
a relatively lenient sentence. Most important, he'd agreed to tell all he
knew about possible crimes and abuses committed at Rampart.
Just days earlier, two of three other Rampart cops arrested and
charged with beating a suspect in 1998 had also agreed to fully cooperate
in the investigation, bringing to four, including Perez, the number of
officers willing to breach the department's wall of silence. That is
reason enough to hope that the days of the district attorney's office
being just another division of the LAPD might be ending. For if Cooley
and Mayorkas are serious, they now have three additional opportunities to
pursue a host of new indictments and to conduct a full investigation into
how high and wide the corruption and cover-up went at Rampart.
All this represents a stark departure from the state of affairs
existing at the time Cooley took office last January. Then, the Rampart
investigation seemed headed nowhere. Park's own probe of the scandal had
focused almost exclusively on the Rampart Division, stopping any wider
investigation in its tracks. A Police Commission inquiry had followed his
lead. Perez's credibility was so suspect that he was not put on the stand
at the trial of four officers he had accused of crimes. One of those
officers was acquitted, and the convictions of the other three
subsequently overturned by the judge presiding over their trial. The
indictment of Durden for attempted murder, which was also based largely
on Perez's testimony, seemed in serious jeopardy. We seemed destined
never to know about the police abuse that many believed had occurred in a
significant number of other LAPD divisions.
Although then-Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti seemed reluctant to pursue the
Rampart investigation for political reasons, Parks, it's now apparent,
was the main stumbling block. It is he who decided whether or not to send
a case of alleged police criminality to the DA. And even before then,
such a case had to pass through three different, ascending levels of
filtering and review. The procedure was explicitly laid out in a 1998
memorandum from the LAPD's Internal Affairs Group [IAG] regarding the
referral of allegations of criminal misconduct by LAPD officers. "Under
no circumstances," it read, "shall any complaint investigation
investigated by IAG personnel or other department entities [that involves
police officers] be presented for district attorney review without the
recommendation of the commanding officer, IAG and the concurrence of the
chief of staff and chief of police."
It thus took a long time for police-misconduct cases to reach the
DA--time enough for leads to grow cold and memories of the scandal to
fade. In compelling statements from suspected officers, moreover,
Internal Affairs was creating self-incrimination problems down the line
for a DA mulling possible criminal indictments.
A big reason why Parks enjoyed monopolistic power over the Rampart
investigation was that the district attorney's office had no formal,
written protocols with the LAPD, no written agreement on the rules of the
game when dealing with alleged criminal misconduct by LAPD officers. In
fact, before the Rampart scandal, the DA's office had no formal internal
protocols instructing prosecutors on how to proceed should they uncover
evidence or suspect a police officer of lying or framing a suspect.
Since taking office, Cooley has moved to change this situation. He has
nearly completed negotiations on such a protocol with the Police
Department. In a memorandum to the judge overseeing the federal consent
decree regulating the department, Cooley explicitly criticizes the LAPD
for its handling of criminal police-abuse cases and its failure to turn
over records of accused police officers to defense attorneys in a timely
manner, if at all. He's also said, when asked, that he is proceeding with
the investigation of the Rampart scandal, is in it for the long haul and
will follow the probe "as high, wide and deep as the facts indicate."
But saying, "I intend to evaluate each case as it comes before me" or
"I'll follow the case wherever it leads" is not enough given the level of
public mistrust that exists. What the public deserves is an unequivocal
statement that says, "I have taken on the responsibility of heading Los
Angeles' top prosecutorial agency at a time when the city is enduring one
of its worst police scandals and when much of that story may yet be told.
Here are the steps I'm taking to restore confidence in our failed
To be sure, a DA can't talk about every individual case of police
misconduct. But he can tell us how involved he is and intends to be in
the Rampart investigation. What, for example, is his overall strategy?
What's the relationship of his office's investigation to the probe
simultaneously being conducted by the U.S. attorney? Who's calling the
shots? Are they working together? How much of a priority will the Rampart
scandal, in particular, and the investigation and prosecution of police
corruption, in general, be in his administration? What message does he
want to send the public? Is this case going to die with the indictment of
the usual suspects or are we really going to see a probe of other LAPD
divisions besides Rampart? Does he intend to follow the investigation up
the chain of command, and put those on a supervisory level on the hot
Answering these and other questions forthrightly, then following
through will take a level of candor and commitment that the City Council,
the Police Commission, the city attorney, the federal and local judiciary
and the former district attorney have never demonstrated. It would mean
risking the loss of politically damaging cases involving the testimony of
dirty cops, tainted statements and reluctant police witnesses. It would
mean conducting time-consuming and resource-draining prosecutions. It
would mean constant public scrutiny, leaving the DA and his office open
to criticism and second-guessing, and making it harder to seal deals. But
we're not talking here about a daily blow-by-blow account. We're talking
about the public knowing the road map and stops on the way to the
During his campaign, Cooley took risky, principled positions,
promising to modify his predecessor's draconian application of the
three-strikes law and speaking out strongly against Proposition 21, which
makes it easier for prosecutors, as opposed to judges, to decide if kids
age 16 and younger are to be tried and sentenced as adults.
Now it's time for Cooley to focus a glaring spotlight on one of the
most shameful episodes in the history of Los Angeles. And for us to hold
him and other public servants in the criminal-justice system to a higher
standard; to ask tough questions as a matter of course; and to no longer
nod our heads when anyone of them says "trust me." Let's hope that last
week's announcement of Durden's intention to cooperate with Rampart
investigators is the first step.
Joe Domanick is the author of "To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD's
Century of War in the City of Dreams."
PHOTO: Police Chief Bernard C. Parks at a pres conference
announcing a breakthrough in the Rampart investigation.
ID NUMBER: 20010408hop0097
PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
*Riordan Revives Reform Debate --and Ensures Its Irrelevance*
* Chief Parks is in the catbird seat.
By Joe *Domanick* , Joe *Domanick* is author of "To Protect and to Serve:
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams."
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 11, 2001
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 *Opinion* Desk
36 inches; 1280 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
Last Monday, Mayor Richard Riordan did the city of Los Angeles an
enormous favor by firing Police Commission President Gerald Chaleff. For
just as hopes for a top-to-bottom transformation of the Los Angeles
Police Department were fading, the mayor stepped up and reignited a
debate that was fast heading to the burial ground of past reform efforts.
It was none too soon. Reform was already on life support.
From the start, public concern over Officer Rafael Perez's transcribed
confessions of widespread police abuse have never inflamed the public as
did the Rodney G. King-beating video. Even at the height of the Rampart
scandal, the public seemed to feel that violating the civil liberties of
gangsters and immigrants, in a neighborhood as poor and politically
marginal as Pico-Union, was a necessary part of a dirty job. The longer
the scandal dragged on, the less it seemed to care.
There was little that followed Perez's initial revelations to bolster
the story's momentum. The LAPD's self-serving report on the scandal
limited itself to the Rampart Division's anti-gang CRASH unit. The Police
Commission's inquiry, though candid and more substantive, was also not
the in-depth, wide-ranging probe of other CRASH officers that was needed.
Similarly, the absence of police reform as a contentious issue in the
mayoral campaign, the lack of a vocal coalition of citizens to hold the
candidates' feet to the fire on the issue, the election of a new
president who believes the federal government should not intervene in
local police affairs and a City Council committee's foot-dragging on
placing LAPD-reform initiatives on the ballot--all contributed to serious
reform of the Police Department be-ing pushed to the sidelines. But by
firing Chaleff, Riordan not only revived the debate, he also greatly
clarified it. The question used to be: Will we have reform? Last week,
Riordan inadvertently raised two others: Who will define reform, and what
kind of reform will we have?
Riordan's answers can be gleaned from his dismissal of Chaleff, a
respected defense attorney with a sterling record in support of civil
The city's liberals expected big things from Chaleff, but relatively
little was delivered. He refused, for example, to publicly defend the
department's first inspector general, Katherine Mader, when Riordan and
Police Chief Bernard C. Parks used the Police Commission to force her out
of office for committing the sin of independently doing her job of
monitoring the LAPD. Then, at a critical juncture, Chaleff opposed a
full-fledged outside investigation of the department that would have
challenged Parks' oft-repeated contention that the Rampart scandal was
nothing more than an isolated incident that should not reflect on the
department's overall behavior.
But Chaleff also stood up to Riordan and Parks when he led the Police
Commission in ruling that the fatal shooting, in 1999, of Margaret
Mitchell, an elderly homeless woman suspected of stealing a shopping
cart, violated department policy. The ruling enraged Riordan and Parks.
Chaleff also broke ranks when he unequivocally supported negotiating a
federal consent decree, aimed at reforming the LAPD, with the Justice
Department. Riordan and Parks had adamantly opposed the idea. In the end,
Chaleff proved not to be an obsequious team player, so he had to go.
In firing Chaleff, Riordan blamed him for the department's low morale,
unsuccessful recruitment efforts and failure to implement community-based
policing. In so doing, the mayor redefined reform. Making cops happier,
the force larger and instituting a community-policing strategy, rather
than fixing the LAPD's broken culture, are now Riordan's goals of reform.
Riordan's excuses for firing Chaleff are simply ridiculous. It is
Parks' autocratic, sometimes arbitrary and often inflexible leadership
that has largely compelled hundreds of officers to leave the department
in the last year, and that has caused the president of the Police
Protective League to do the unthinkable and call for the formation of a
police review board. If it were Chaleff, not Parks, who was responsible
for the department's recruitment problems, why, then, did the mayor blame
former Chief Willie L. Williams, not the Police Commission, for precisely
the same problems?
The answer should be more obvious than ever: The mayor does not want
real police reform. Throughout his eight-year tenure, Riordan has defined
reform as fighting crime, more cops on the street and ever-mounting
arrest statistics. While crime fighting must be the primary goal of any
police department, and adding more police officers a necessary element in
that fight, neither can even remotely be considered police reform. What
the mayor has been pushing for is a smoother, well-oiled version of the
old hard-charging LAPD, not the democratization of the oversight of the
department or getting the troops to respect the public and the
Chaleff's dismissal highlights the mayor's true reform desires in
another way: It seeks to undermine the consent decree. Chaleff would have
been a key player in the Police Commission's selection of the monitor
responsible for ensuring that the LAPD fully implements the reforms
called for in the decree. By firing Chaleff, Riordan removed one of the
strongest voices in favor of a hands-on monitor.
The real future of reform, however, will largely depend on who is
elected L.A.'s next mayor and who is selected as its next chief of
police. The one and only candidate for chief thus far mentioned is the
man who currently holds the post. But if Parks is reappointed next year
to a second five-year term, it would be bad news for reformers. He
fiercely battled opposed the consent decree, failed to implement key
Christopher commission reforms and has ceaselessly undermined two
successive inspector generals. Like Riordan, he stands for the old LAPD.
But it would be a serious mistake to underestimate Parks. He is
already campaigning hard and building support for his reappointment,
particularly in his core constituency, other than the mayor: the city's
African American establishment and middle class. Within the black
community, Parks and his wife have been highly accessible and seen at
dinners, charities and churches, making clear they are not only active
members of the black community, but also of L.A.'s increasingly wealthy
and influential African American elite.
Black support for Parks is crucial to the future of reform, for two
reasons. The first is the ballot box. In Los Angeles, African American
turnout is consistent with black representation in the city's general
population. African Americans constituted 11.5% of the city's population
in 1998, and 13% of the voters who turned out in the last mayoral
election. That blacks have tended to vote as a bloc in recent citywide
elections, that there is no black candidate for mayor and that two Latino
candidates will likely divide the Latino vote--these factors will make
black voters a key constituency in the mayoral primary. To oppose Parks
could be bad politics because, as chief, he is an extremely important
symbol of black success and influence for African Americans.
The two mayoral candidates who have the most at stake in terms of
black support are City Attorney James K. Hahn, who counts blacks as a
core constituency, and former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa. Hahn
has already promised, if elected, to reappoint Parks as chief. When asked
to comment on Chaleff's firing, he said "the mayor has every right to do
what he thinks best." On the other hand, Villaraigosa, who has been
relatively mute about Parks, this time put the chief on notice that if he
did not seriously implement key reforms, his job would be in jeopardy.
The second reason the black community is important to LAPD reform is
its historic leadership on the issue. It was the black community that
first brought the issue of police abuse to the forefront, and arose in
rebellion in 1965; the black community that for years led the battle for
police accountability and reform; the black community that bore the brunt
of the department's brutal policing under Chief Daryl F. Gates; and the
black community whose outrage over the acquittals of four cops in the
first King-beating trial sparked the 1992 uprising. Yet, as a community
their voice has been eerily silent during the Rampart scandal--and
continues to be as the battle for lasting reform plays out.
Perhaps the black leadership is in a quandary over Parks. Most African
American leaders have not only been at the forefront of police reform,
but they have also been unceasing advocates for blacks in high-profile
positions. There is none more high profile in L.A. than the chief of
police. Yet, if the African American community continues to remain on the
sidelines, the LAPD will likely evade, as it has so often in the past,
the pressure to reform.
"There are two major issues facing the Police Department," the mayor
said last week. "The safety of the system and reform." Until he or his
successor understand that the two are interchangeable, nothing will
change in L.A., or its Police Department.
PHOTO: Mayor Richard Riordan.
ID NUMBER: 20010211g4ej41ke
PHOTOGRAPHER: BOB CHAMBERLIN / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW
The Obstacles Are Many to Reforming the LAPD
By Joe Domanick, Joe Domanick is the author of "To Protect and to Serve:
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams."
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 10, 2000
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 3 *Opinion* Desk
55 inches; 1959 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece ; Interview
In the wake of the videotaped beating of Rodney G. King by LAPD
officers in 1991, then-Mayor Tom Bradley appointed a blue-ribbon panel to
fully investigate the Police Department. Known as the Christopher
Commission, the panel produced a powerful indictment, unequivocally
characterizing the Los Angeles Police Department as needlessly
confrontational, aggressive and brutal on the street, isolated from a
citizenry it often regarded as the enemy and unaccountable to civilian
authority. The commission laid out a detailed reform agenda. In
subsequent years, some of the reforms were enacted into law through
ballot initiatives, while others were never implemented by the
Nine years later, Richard E. Drooyan, who was deputy general counsel
with the Christopher Commission, was chosen to lead another panel
investigating LAPD misconduct, this time, the Rampart corruption scandal.
Since former Officer Rafael A. Perez first disclosed the tale of
beatings, frame-ups and shootings that he and his fellow officers
committed as members of the anti-gang unit known as CRASH (Community
Resources Against Street Hoodlums), five officers have been indicted and
three convicted. More than 70 others are facing possible indictment or
disciplinary action, and as many as 3,000 convictions require review and
may be overturned by the courts.
On March 1, the LAPD released its own Board of Inquiry report
detailing what had gone wrong with Rampart CRASH. While exhaustive, the
report focused primarily on managerial and operational problems within
Rampart Division. No outside community input was solicited.
The Police Commission then announced it would conduct its own
investigation, one that wouldn't focus on Perez's charges, but on "the
broader issues raised by his allegations." The Rampart Independent Review
Panel, composed of more than 190 attorneys, investigators, retired judges
and community and business leaders, was assembled, and Drooyan was tapped
to lead it.
Trim, intensely focused and no-nonsense, Drooyan's persona reflects
the tough government prosecutor he was for 12 years. Before leaving the
Justice Department in 1997, he was named chief assistant U.S. attorney
for the Central District of California. As chief of its criminal
division, he supervised about 160 U.S. attorneys and their support staff.
Since 1999, he has been a litigation partner at the law firm of Munger,
Tolles & Olson.
A graduate of Claremont Men's College and Harvard Law School, the
50-year-old Drooyan grew up in Woodland Hills, attending Taft High
School. He is married to Superior Court Judge Anita Dymant. They have two
In an interview in his downtown law offices, Drooyan talked about his
Question: Your report was reminiscent of the Christopher Commission's.
Many of that commission's key reforms were never implemented. Why should
the public believe that yours will be?
Answer: I look at the Christopher Commission report differently. Key
reforms were implemented. For example, taking away the chief of police's
Civil Service protection, limiting his tenure to two five-year terms and
creating the offices of executive director [of the Police Commission] and
of inspector general--all were critical in creating a framework for more
Q: If the framework was there, how could we have had the Rampart
A: One of the things we observed was the weakness of civilian
oversight. The Christopher Commission concluded that by increasing the
Police Commission staff, by establishing an executive director [to
oversee the staff] and an office of inspector general [to keep the
commission independently informed], you could have effective civilian
oversight. Our conclusion is that this is not enough. Truly effective
civilian oversight requires a full-time president and vice president of
the Police Commission, who can spent all their professional time thinking
about the department, identifying issues, setting an agenda and then
Q: Should they and the other commissioners still be appointed by the
A: Yes. There has to be accountability to the residents of Los
Angeles. . . . If you're going to have accountability, you have to have a
chain of command, with the commission accountable to the mayor, and the
chief accountable to the commis sion. If the commissioners are not doing
their job, then it's up to the mayor to replace them.
Q: But how do you ensure that full-time commissioners don't get
co-opted by the LAPD, which has been a traditional problem with the
A: You have to find people who are respected, professional,
independent and who will resist any effort to be co-opted. I've been
impressed by the people who have served on the commission. But given
their part-time status, they wind up relying on the department for their
information, and they don't have the ability to independently analyze
what they are given. Having a full-time president and vice president will
correct the information imbalance and enhance the commission's ability to
assess what the department is doing.
Q: What about the problem of getting the information from the LAPD, a
problem that both inspectors general have complained about?
A: This has been a significant problem. The department has tried to
marginalize the inspector general's office. It has resisted and ignored
requests for information, and I don't think the Police Commission has
done a particularly good job of backing up the IG's requests. They've
issued broad proclamations about the right of the IG to have access to
information, but I don't think the situation has gotten significantly
better. Recently, there was an attempt to put a limitation on the IG's
office that is inconsistent with the terms of the consent degree [that
the city has reached with the Justice Department to reform the LAPD].
This happened at a time when many people think the powers of the
inspector general should be expanded, not limited.
Q: You say the LAPD "has to be receptive" for reform to occur. But as
you've pointed out, it has not been. So what can be done?
A: The chief of police has a five-year term. At the end of that term,
he will be evaluated by the Police Commission. If the commission is
dissatisfied with the job the chief is doing--including following its
directives, resisting the inspector general and not being receptive to
outside ideas--that will be a significant factor in whether or not he
Q: How important is the mayor in reforming the department?
A: Very important. He has the ability to support the commissioners
when they need him, and to ensure that the commissioners are accountable
to him. But if he's lukewarm about reform and doesn't back the
commission's efforts to exercise oversight, it becomes difficult for the
commission to do its job.
Q: Why has the city's civilian leadership been so ineffective in
reforming the LAPD?
A: Mayor [Richard] Riordan's focus has been on building up the Police
Department and providing public safety, rather than on the implementation
of reforms. That's where he wanted to use his political influence.
Q: But could he not have done both?
A: In hindsight, he certainly should have done both.
Q: Many observers think the paramilitary culture of the LAPD is a big
obstacle to change. How critical is it?
A: When you say OK, let's change the culture of the LAPD, you have to
consider that it is a relatively small department covering a very large
area and population, and that, historically, it has not been a
community-based police force. The Christopher Commission recommended that
the department adopt a community-based policing model. Some of that has
happened, but not enough. To the extent that the LAPD has undertaken
community-based policing, the decisions are not collaborative with the
community. For example, it was the department that decided unilaterally
to put senior lead officers [who served as liaisons between the
department and community] back in their cars without consulting the
Q: Why has that problem not been dealt with?
A: Because there remains an insularity to the department, an attitude
that if a problem exists, it needs to be fixed with a solution that comes
from the department. How you change that attitude is a much more complex
question. You can try, but if the command staff doesn't embrace it, it's
just not going to happen.
Q: How do you make it happen?
A: You start with a mayor committed to reform, and who will lead the
commission in a reform effort. Those individuals need to be committed to
changing the culture and attitude of the department. We're going to have
a new mayor and a new commission starting next July. They'll have to work
with this chief [Bernard C. Parks] and see if those kinds of changes
occur. If, at the end the chief's term, which is up in July 2002, they
don't believe that they have, then they have the option of replacing this
Q: How important is the chief in making these kinds of reforms happen?
A: Absolutely critical. If you're going to change the culture of the
department, you have to have a chief of police who's willing to do that.
Q: In light of that, should Parks resign?
A: No. Many of the department's problems preceded his tenure, and he
has demonstrated a willingness to make changes. Nevertheless, there are
morale problems that the next Police Commission will have to consider in
deciding whether or not to retain him as chief of police.
Q: What did you find out about the department's training of officers?
A: The LAPD has made significant strides in its [officer] training.
But we found it tends to stress adherence to rules more than the
development of judgment on the part of officers. We also felt that the
department has not embraced [the post of] director of police training and
education [recommended by the Christopher Commission and filled by an
outsider.] She does not have the resources or the influence to really be
effective in improving the department's training.
Q: Do you see a connection between all these outside recommendations
and the way the department has received them?
A: There is a failure to fully embrace ideas that come from outside
the department. If the idea comes from within the LAPD, the department
will find the resources to support it--for example, the recommendations
from its own Board of Inquiry report. But has it fully embraced the
office of inspector general or the director of training and education, or
implemented a tracking system [for problem officers[, all of which were
recommended by the Christopher Commission--the answer is no. That's why
you need a strong Police Commission to see that these things do get
Q: You mentioned the LAPD has made some strides in training officers.
But we continue to see questionable shootings of people: an elderly,
homeless woman, a man shot in the back at a Halloween party and an woman
perhaps permanently blinded by a nervous officer firing beanbags.
A: Tragedies happen in police departments. What I do think is that the
history of the department, the culture of the department, certainly
colors how people view these incidents. I don't know if these three
shootings are the product of the training of LAPD officers. But there is
a fundamental mistrust of the Los Angeles Police Department. It's based
on a legacy that precedes this decade's incidents--from the Rodney King
beating to the civil unrest to the Rampart scandal--that have severely
tarnished the department's reputation. Mistakes are going to happen, but
when mistakes happen in the LAPD, there is no reservoir of goodwill among
the public for them to believe that [a shooting] was a mistake.
Q: Critics complain that it's not just the way the LAPD deals with
gang members that's a problem. It's also how it deals with ordinary
citizens: If you have an encounter with an LAPD officer, it's going to be
an unpleasant experience. Do you agree?
A: In our interviews of community leaders, a lot of them commented on
the attitude you describe: Confrontational and hostile, us versus them.
This was the theme expressed at a number of community meetings.
Q: It's clear that Rampart CRASH was a law and a unit unto itself. How
could a situation like that have existed without the chief of police and
his command staff knowing about it?
A: I don't know what the chief of police knew. I don't think that he
or anybody else in the command staff knew the specifics of Rampart. The
failings are not that the department knew about the specifics and did not
do anything. The issue is that there was general knowledge that Rampart
CRASH had developed its own culture, was not being supervised very well
and was resisting supervision. Yet, nothing was done to tighten
supervision and control that unit.
Q: Why was nothing done?
A: I think it was a very productive unit: Arrests were up and crime
was down. So rather than look at management and supervision issues, the
department looked at the statistical results.
Q: How useful is the consent decree the city has signed with the
A: It's one of the building blocks of reform. But the federal monitor
[who will oversee the decree] doesn't have a mandate to reform the LAPD.
Its emphasis is on the implementation of procedures and the collection of
data. It doesn't address the framework for real civilian control of the
department, as our report does. So we can't rely on the consent decree to
reform the LAPD.
Q: What was the most surprising thing, for you personally, that you
found in the course of your investigation?
A: The disconnect between the LAPD and the community, and the
disconnect between the department and its officers. The department has
one view of how it's doing its job, the community has a completely
different view of the department's performance; and the relationship
between LAPD management and the Police Protective League appeared at
times to be nonexistent. It just surprised me how much anger there is in
the community toward the department and how much animosity there is
between the LAPD management and the Protective League. *
PHOTO: (no caption)
ID NUMBER: 20001210g55tmgke
PHOTOGRAPHER: PAUL MORSE / Los Angeles Times
*Can the LAPD Reform Itself?*
* The City Council has agreed to a consent decree, and Parks says he'll
implement reforms. But the department's paramilitary culture stands in the
By Joe *Domanick* , Joe *Domanick* is the author of "To Protect and to Serve:
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams."
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 24, 2000
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 *Opinion* Desk
33 inches; 1145 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece ; Infobox
Mayor Richard Riordan and the police chief he hired, Bernard C.
Parks, have finally accepted the inevitable and agreed to reforms that
aim to rid the Los Angeles Police Department of corruption and
lawlessness. To accomplish that, the City Council last week voted, 10-2,
to enter into a consent degree with the U.S. Justice Department that
spells out the changes the LAPD will have to make. Big questions remain,
however. Will the consent decree, for example, be strong enough to
overthrow the department's paramilitary culture--the source of so many of
its problems? Will the council add language to encourage community
policing? Perhaps the biggest question of all is the resolve of Parks and
his department to implement reform. After bitterly opposing any deal with
the Justice Department, he declared last week that he will "diligently
implement" the reforms called for in the consent decree. He even claimed
that "roughly 60%" of them are already being put into practice.
But there is plenty of room for skepticism, beginning with Parks' past
performance and attitude toward reforms mandated from "outside." His
treatment of the department's first two inspector generals, his record of
implementing key Christopher Commission reforms, the self-described
"mediocrity" of the department's middle management and a recent public
exchange between Parks, the current inspector general and the president
of the Police Commission all suggest that reform will not come easily.
Among the Christopher Commission reforms the chief failed to
implement, for example, were two that were intended to provide warnings
of trouble. The first was the development of a computerized system to
track use of force, complaints,performance evaluations, disciplinary
actions and other data on officers. Such a system would have enabled the
civilian inspector general, who oversees the LAPD for the Police
Commission, to assess the department's efforts to deal with problem
officers. It would also have cracked the monopoly on "inside" information
the chief's office has closely guarded for decades.
One consequence of the lack of a computer tracking system was highly
embarrassing to the department. Katherine Mader, the first inspector
general, found that LAPD Internal Affairs was investigating only 10% of
use-of-force complaints, while the rest were left to its divisions, where
they were easier to cover up.
The second unimplemented Christopher reform also involved the
inspector general's office. As the commission's representative, the
inspector general was supposed to have complete access to all records and
information she needed to carry out investigations. But when Mader tried
to do just that, she found Parks to be an insurmountable stumbling block.
She eventually was forced to resign when the Police Commission refused to
back her demands for unrestricted access.
Evidence that the chief is still the zealous gatekeeper surfaced at a
recent conference on the Rampart scandal at Loyola Law School. Among
those on one panel were Parks, Jeffrey C. Eglash, the current inspector
general, and Gerald L. Chaleff, president of the Police Commission. Their
exchange indicated how difficult the job might be for the independent
monitor of the consent decree.
"Time and again," said Eglash, "we'll get a shooting report or a
complaint of misconduct, and we'll want to go to the source, whether it's
an Internal Affairs file or a report of an officer-involved shooting
that's been investigated by Robbery-Homicide Division. We want to take a
look . . . so we can perform our responsibilities, advise the commission
and . . . see if there are problems. And the next thing I know, a reason
will be given why we cannot look at a file. . . . We'll be told that an
investigation is still ongoing and that we can only look at something
when it's done. . . .
"I know if I were to go to the Anti-Terrorist Division or the
Organized Crime and Vice Division and ask to look at informant
files--certainly a reasonable inquiry in light of some of the revelations
of the Rampart scandal--I would be told not only 'no,' but 'heck no,
you're crazy.' And I have a very strong belief that if Chaleff were to do
the same thing, he would be met with similar delays."
During the same panel discussion, Parks complained that he had been
waiting "for three years for the [Police] Commission to give us
guidelines as to the work performance and duties of the inspector
general, which has not come about. . . . " To which Chaleff replied: "In
January of 1998, we issued a resolution regarding the inspector general,
[saying] that the [inspector general] had complete access to all
information and what the rules relating to confidentiality were. They are
specifically stated out. I don't think there was any need to go further."
On the surface, there's a big difference between a federal monitor and
the city's inspector general, and between the Christopher Commission
reforms and those mandated by a federal consent decree. For one, a
consent decree is judicially enforceable. If Parks doesn't give the
monitor complete access to the information being sought, the Justice
Department can go to court and have a federal judge order Parks to turn
it over. If there is any obstruction by the department, a federal judge
can hold it in contempt of court. That's a tool--and a check--that no
reformer has ever possessed.
But the LAPD hierarchy in which Parks came of age has always been
among the most skillful of bureaucracies in getting as close to the edge
of noncompliance as possible without getting nailed. It is a master at
appearing to be in compliance without actually being in compliance. A
cultural sea change will have to occur for the LAPD bureaucracy to behave
The department may need an equal transformation in morale to ensure
reform. According to leaked sections of a study commissioned by a Police
Commission task force, officer morale is at rock bottom. The rank and
file generally regard Parks as an autocratic leader whose disciplinary
practices are disproportionate to the offense. Many cops and supervisors
on the street, moreover, have gotten accustomed to doing sloppy work. A
consent decree will require them to work much harder to make a good,
by-the-book case. That's unlikely to boost their spirits.
This assumes that the effects of the decree will even reach them,
since all reforms will have to pass through the LAPD hierarchy and its
"mediocre" middle management--the term the Board of Inquiry report used
when it sought to place blame for the police abuse in the department's
Rampart Division. Nothing even remotely as big as this project has made
its way through the LAPD's bureaucratic layers successfully. Certainly
not the department's response to the Rodney G. King beating verdicts and
the riots that followed them. Certainly not implementation of key
Christopher Commission reforms. Certainly not community policing.
Any changes that have taken place, whether under former Chief Willie
L. Williams or Parks, never settled down to the Rampart Division. Neither
chief knew what his anti-gang units were doing because what appeared to
be the facts on the street changed as they rose up the chain to the
chief. In many cases, there is no relationship between what the chief
actually saw and what really happened.
Whoever winds up monitoring the LAPD had better have superhuman
tenacity and strength of character. Even with Parks' full cooperation,
they'll have their work cut out for them.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
For LAPD, a Year to Forget:
Sept. 8, 1999: Former LAPD Officer Rafael Perez pleads guilty to
cocaine theft and agrees to assist LAPD corruption probe.
Sept. 16, 1999: FBI launches civil-rights investigation of LAPD
March 1, 2000: LAPD releases its Board of INquiry report into Rampart.
March 12, 2000: Justice DEpartment start civil-rights inquiry.
September 2000: Unreleased report for Police Commission finds low
morale in the LAPD.
Sept. 11, 2000: Study of LAPD culture commissioned by Police
Protective League criticizes the Board of Inquiry report.
Sept. 19, 2000: City Council votes 10-2 to accept consent decree
between LAPD and Justice Department.
PHOTO: Police Chief Bernard Parks' past attitude toward reform may
hamper the effort to change the LAPD.
ID NUMBER: 20000924g196jhke
PHOTOGRAPHER: LUIS SINCO / Los Angeles Times
THE STATE / LAPD
*The Last Stand of a Dying Police Culture*
By Joe *Domanick* , Joe *Domanick* is the author of "To Protect and to Serve:
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams."
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 14, 2000
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 *Opinion* Desk
33 inches; 1178 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
As Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks sat stone-faced last
Monday during a closed-door meeting with city officials and lawyers from
the U.S. Justice Department, a press release summing up the reason for
Parks' grim demeanor was being distributed. "The LAPD," read the release,
"is engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations through
excessive force, false arrests, unreasonable searches and seizures, and .
. . management deficiencies have allowed this misconduct to occur . . .
on a regular basis." Later that day, the Justice Department revealed that
it was also investigating charges that the LAPD has regularly
discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities in enforcing the law.
At the Monday meeting, the Justice Department also made clear that it
was prepared, if necessary, to sue the city to force it to reform its
police department. A day later, the City Council announced that it would
support a consent decree to avoid a lawsuit, one likely to put oversight
of the LAPD in the hands of a federal judge. In such circumstances, Parks
might well be a bystander.
The Justice Department's charges, and the threat behind them, were a
stinging, unequivocal rebuke to the city's political establishment and
criminal-justice system. But for Parks, they must have seemed a wallop to
his solar plexus. Should a consent decree give a federal judge the final
word on LAPD policies and reforms, Parks, who has zealously defended the
proprietary rights of his department, will have effectively lost control
of it. Wasn't it just three years ago that Parks basked in the
near-idolatrous support of the mayor, the Police Commission and the
public? What went wrong, and how could attempts to reform the LAPD have
failed so miserably?
Following the police beating of Rodney G. King, the worst U.S. riots
in the 20th century and a scathing report on the LAPD's management and
policing practices by the Christopher Commission, a hoped-for breath of
fresh air flew into Los Angeles: Willie L. Williams. The new chief's
mandate was to reform the department and implement the Christopher
But Williams soon clashed with Richard Riordan over the mayor's goal
of rapidly increasing the LAPD's manpower and earned Riordan's lasting
enmity. Meanwhile, a hostile command staff at Parker Center, including
Parks, openly mocked their new chief. Adrift in a system he didn't
understand, Williams contributed to his own problems by trusting no one,
alienating the political establishment, failing to get a grip on his
department and allowing key Christopher Commission reforms to languish.
When Riordan's Police Commission refused to rehire Williams, the mayor
handpicked Parks to succeed him. Under President Edith R. Perez, the
Police Commission gave Parks its unswerving loyalty to carry out his and
the mayor's goal of creating a buffed-up, more efficient version of the
old militaristic, hard-charging LAPD. It encountered little resistance.
Nor did Riordan's choice of Parks. Because Parks, like Williams, is an
African American, replacing Williams with him could not be viewed as
racism. Parks was a highly regarded veteran with the reputation of being
a smart, efficient, discipline-minded technocrat who knew the department
inside out and could get things done. Moreover, Parks was a favorite of
the black bourgeoisie, and, more important, of the incestuous,
back-scratching downtown political establishment that runs the city. For
most people, Parks was the ideal choice to be chief.
Few people listened, however, when Parks said that he didn't so much
want to reform the department as fix it. When asked before his selection
as chief about the LAPD's "tremendous problems," he replied: "When you
think about the millions of contacts our officers have on a yearly basis,
a high, high percentage of them are done in a positive manner, with no
complaints. So I don't think you can make the case that there are these
Once in office, Parks has proved to be an extraordinarily proud,
unbending man. And as he has come under increasing fire as a result of
the Rampart scandal, his reaction has been to stand tall and dismiss
criticism, never realizing that it was time to save what he could.
It's hard to explain how Parks became so intransigent in the face of
adversity. Tom Bradley, former LAPD lieutenant and five-term mayor of Los
Angeles, possessed a similar pride, developed in large measure as a
consequence of being black in a racist society and police department. But
Bradley's pride was tempered with the politician's sense of reality and
the art of compromise.
Parks has shown none of that. In dealing with a questioning press and
politicians who challenge him, he is often condescending, an attitude
that perhaps comes from being a veteran of an organization that always
encouraged its members to believe they are a cut above the people they
It is an attitude inherited from the man who Parks resembles far more
than Bradley: William H. Parker, the founding father of the modern LAPD.
In 1950, Parker took over a notoriously corrupt police department and
transformed it into what it is today, for better and for worse. Among the
worst aspects of Parker's legacy is an antidemocratic, proprietary
attitude toward the department, a credo that proclaims that the chief and
only the chief should control the LAPD.
In the end, this religion of policing, and the command of his
department, became more important to Parker than the public. He had lost
sight of the essential difference between a true public servant and a
self-aggrandizing, power-hungry bureaucrat. When the 1965 Watts
insurrection crept up on him, he didn't have a clue as to what was really
happening, or why.
Like Parker, Parks has shown that acquiring and holding on to power is
of paramount concern to him. Each time "outsiders" have questioned his
decisions or policies, he has reacted negatively, dismissing concerns of
people who believe that civilian control and oversight, along with public
input, are crucial to the department's governance. He reacted scornfully
to the public outcry following an officer's killing of a 55-year-old,
mentally disturbed, homeless woman named Margaret L. Mitchell. When
inspector general Katherine Mader said she intended to be truly
independent in monitoring the department, Parks successfully pushed for
her resignation. When it appeared that community policing might be
evolving into a real partnership between police and community, Parks
effectively jettisoned it. And when implementation of Christopher
Commission reforms continued to lag, he held a press conference and
announced that "86%" of them had been enacted, and that it was time to
move beyond them. The remaining "14%," however, included key reforms,
among them an officer-tracking system that would have enabled the Police
Commission's inspector general, the chief and his staff to better
pinpoint problem officers and problem divisions like Rampart.
At the same time, Parks' autocratic, top-down management style has
alienated the Police Protective League, silenced critics on his command
staff and demoralized the rank and file. As a result, officers are
leaving the department at a high, accelerating rate. People were already
skeptical when Parks announced that his department would investigate and
report on Rampart. And his official inquiry died still-born because it
focused only on Rampart, failed to address relations between the
department and the community and contented itself with blaming the
scandal on the department's "mediocre" middle management. That Parks
thought the media, public and political establishment would gratefully
settle for an investigation of just one of the LAPD's 18 divisions was
either folly or a desperate attempt to limit any true investigation.
Now, with Riordan acting as if the Rampart scandal and the Justice
Department's threat to sue the city are happening in Detriot, and with
the chief's allies on the Police Commission, the City Council and in the
city attorney's office ducking for cover, Parks is in serious trouble.
For decades, he stood on the wrong side of a dying police culture, one
resurrected and artificially pumped up by a callous and repressive war on
crime and drugs. That culture is now under assault from all directions,
but, like Bill Parker in 1965, Bernard Parks still seems not to have a
PHOTO: LAPD Police Chief Bernard Parks
ID NUMBER: 20000514fugpwdke
PHOTOGRAPHER: RICK MEYERS / Los Angeles Times
GRAPHIC-DRAWING: (no caption), TIM TEEBKEN / For The Times
ID NUMBER: 20000514hop0009
*Too Close for Justice*
* When it comes to the LAPD, the district attorney's office, historically, has
never aggressively pursued allegations of misconduct. Can that change?
By Joe *Domanick* , Joe *Domanick* is author of "To Protect and to Serve:
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams."
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 13, 2000
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 *Opinion* Desk
40 inches; 1406 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's reaction to the Los Angeles Police
Department's scandal-plagued Rampart Division has been as curious to
watch as it is, at first glance, hard to understand. The mounting
allegations of criminal wrongdoing--murder, evidence planting, beatings,
perjury--are unquestionably worse than any offenses committed in the 1991
police beating of Rodney G. King. Indeed, Chief Bernard C. Parks has, so
far, asked for the dismissal of 99 cases and has estimated the potential
damages from civil suits at $125 million. More than 70 officers are under
investigation, more than 30 of them for conspiring to incarcerate
innocent people and to cover up unjustified beatings and shootings. In
the face of all this, the D.A.'s office has been playing, at best, a
reluctant second banana to the LAPD. Garcetti, to be sure, has been
saying all the right things. Last November, for example, he declared: "We
are aggressively pursuing every lead," and noted that the Rampart
investigation was "absolutely critical . . . to every police agency and
the criminal-justice system as a whole."
The problem with Garcetti's pronouncements is that they come after the
Rampart revelations. Would we, for example, ever have known about the
abuses of the anti-gang Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, or
CRASH, unit at Rampart if one dirty cop had not been caught stealing
cocaine from a police-evidence locker and started to sing to get a
lighter sentence? Probably not.
That possibility spotlights a critical choice that every district
attorney has to make: whether to be a watchdog or a lap dog of the police
department. In dealing with the LAPD over the past 50 years, L.A. County
district attorneys have usually chosen the latter, for understandable if
The modern subservience of the D.A.'s office to the LAPD goes back to
the transforming presence of the tough, tenure-protected, politically
astute Chief William H. Parker, who, from 1950 to his death in office in
1966, reigned almost unchallenged in Los Angeles. He knew where all the
bodies were buried and used his power to keep "outsiders," including the
district attorney, out of LAPD affairs. The idea that the department, and
only the department, should monitor itself became a nonnegotiable
principle passed on to Parker's successors. Chiefs Edward M. Davis and
Daryl F. Gates kept the office of chief of police the most potent and
most feared political post in the city.
They were not alone in keeping it that way. The LAPD's rank-and-file
union, the Police Protective League, and the Command Officers Assn. both
used their influence and financial clout to punish or reward local
politicians during election campaigns. They wanted high pay and benefits,
but they also didn't want D.A. investigations and officer indictments.
And the last thing a D.A. wanted in the months leading up to reelection
was for the chief, the league or the officers association to point at him
and say that he's anti-cop.
The best example of the power relationship between the D.A. and the
LAPD is that of officer-involved shootings. From the mid-1950s until
1977, the LAPD, by design, had no shooting policy. Such a policy would
limit officer actions and expose the city to civil lawsuits. Whenever an
officer shot someone, the LAPD investigated the incident and came to its
own, nearly always self-serving conclusions. It then reported the results
to the D.A. End of story.
That changed in 1979, when a series of LAPD shootings of unarmed
civilians culminated in the slaying of Eulia Mae Love over an unpaid gas
bill. Love's death created an uproar. Except for an indictment filed the
same year in an unrelated case, the district attorney's office had not
filed any charges against any officer involved in a shooting during the
previous eight years. In response, Dist. Atty. John K. Van de Kamp
established a special D.A. unit called Operation Rollout to investigate
police shootings. A furious Gates reacted with a vengeance.
Almost immediately, Rollout members complained that the LAPD Officer
Involved Shooting team (OIS) and its leader, Lt. Charles A. Higbie, were
deliberately interfering with their investigations. Deputy D.A.'s charged
that OIS members were directing civilian witnesses out the back doors of
police stations, making it impossible for them to be interviewed. Some
said they were denied access to shooting scenes.
Garcetti, who then headed the Special Investigations Division of the
D.A.'s office, accused Higbie of withholding "information for hours, days
or weeks [and] impeding our investigations." To which Higbie replied: "I
do not welcome these people with open arms. Our dealings with them are
purely professional. I don't serve tea or cookies at these unfortunate
When Robert H. Philibosian became D.A. in 1983, funds for Rollout were
drastically cut. The LAPD itself continued to investigate
officer-involved shootings, but the district attorney stood passively by.
From 1977-87, LAPD officers were involved in 571 shootings; many victims
were unarmed civilians. But only officer was indicted.
Prosecuting police officers isn't easy, to be sure. Cops are trained
in how to testify, have lots of witness-stand experience and make great
impressions with juries. Furthermore, because prosecutors want
convictions, they are reluctant to antagonize officers whom they may need
in the future to help make their cases. Consequently, it's rare that
police officers are challenged.
As if to underscore that reality, Garcetti dismantled the Rollout unit
in 1996. He blamed county supervisors for not giving him the money to run
the unit, even though his overall budget was growing by tens of millions
of dollars. Only if the police department requested that his office
voluntarily review a shooting, would his office do it, said Garcetti.
The D.A.'s see-nothing attitude toward LAPD shootings continued until
last September, when, in the wake of the Rampart revelations, Garcetti
asked and received funds from a skeptical Board of Supervisors to revive
the unit. "What's the point if you're blocked by law enforcement?" asked
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "It's your [the D.A.'s] obligation to go out
to the chief of police and raise hell with him. Now's the time to do it."
But given the LAPD's power, a politically conscious D.A. in Los
Angeles is not going to launch an independent investigation of police
wrongdoing unilaterally. He would quickly earn the enmity of the Police
Protective League and lock horns with Parks. The LAPD credo that the
department is its own best monitor has been passionately embraced by the
chief. He has steadfastly fought against strengthening the Police
Commission and strongly resisted an empowered inspector general. He has
enervated a community-policing strategy that would have involved
community leaders and cops making decisions about law enforcement in
their neighborhoods. Moreover, the D.A.'s office knows that convicting
the cops recommended for prosecution by the LAPD may be difficult if they
all decide to take the 5th Amendment, leaving the D.A. with only the word
of one dirty officer to be corroborated by victims, many of whom are gang
members. Garcetti hardly needs to lose another big case after O.J.
The district attorney has thus followed tradition and ceded control of
the Rampart investigation to the LAPD. Even granting Parks the best of
motives, he can simply limit the information the public can receive. He
can blame it all on dirty cops, demand their quick indictments and get
the scandal out of the headlines. But since 1994, Parks has been either
in charge of the department's Internal Affairs or chief of police. Who
will look into how he or his top command staff may have contributed to
the situation? Since Parks has become chief, for example, he has changed
the LAPD manual so that he and a high-ranking command officer must pass
on any recommendation that an LAPD officer be indicted before it goes to
the D.A. Before the change, internal affairs did that job.
A D.A. has an obligation to enforce all laws. But he can choose what
to focus on and what to downplay. He can shape policy at the
investigatory, charging, case-settlement and sentencing stages. If, over
the last 50 years, there had been an attitude emanating from the top of
the D.A.'s office that it was an independent agency, and that if police
officers did something wrong, they would be investigated and let the
chips fall where they may, perhaps the alleged crimes so routinely
carried out at Rampart might not have happened. It's not enough to just
blame the CRASH unit or the LAPD. There are others culpable, too.
Regrettably, nothing will change until the institutional power of the
LAPD is curbed. To do that, the Police Commission must begin to
vigorously carry out its statutory oversight duties and support a
powerful, independent inspector general's office. Better, an office of
civilian complaints independent of the LAPD, with its own investigators
and subpoena powers, should be established. Short of that, the district
attorney's office must start to investigate all civilian complaints in
which an officer's actions are potentially criminal, as is done in many
municipalities. Finally, the city attorney's office, which regularly pays
out tens of millions of dollars in police-abuse settlements without any
public complaint, should not escape attention. The city attorney cannot
simultaneously defend the LAPD against civil suits and play an
influential role in reducing the shootings and brutality cases that Los
Angeles has witnessed.
City politicians, for the most part, have been eerily silent in
response to the unfolding Rampart scandal. Other than expressing sticker
shock over the potential civil damages stemming from the alleged police
abuses, the City Council has mostly been mute. Mayor Richard Riordan
steadfastly backs his chief of police, believing the LAPD remains its own
best disciplinarian. In Los Angeles today, it is not only the D.A. who's
decided to be a lap dog.
GRAPHIC-DRAWING: (no caption), LOU BEACH / For The Times
ID NUMBER: 20000213hop0049
*Civilian Control of LAPD Is Elusive Despite Reforms*
By Joe *Domanick* , Joe *Domanick* is author of "To Protect and to Serve:
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams."
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 14, 1999
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 1 *Opinion* Desk
34 inches; 1180 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
'We know who the bad guys are. Reputations become well-known. . . .
[But] the sergeants know that . . . officers who . . . generate the most
complaints also make a lot of arrests and write a lot of tickets." These
are the words of the late Asst. Chief Jesse A. Brewer, as told to the
Christopher Commission in 1991.
"The sergeant," said the lieutenant, "was quarterbacking the whole
thing . . . "Ambitious officers [were trying] to do the right thing . . .
trying to impress supervisors . . . and stopping at nothing to do that."
These words have been used to characterize the unfolding scandal at the
Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division.
The remarkable similarity in these descriptions of the LAPD's worst
moments in the 1990s raises a question: Why have the Christopher
Commission's reforms, most of which are now law, done so little to curb
police misconduct? Three times over the past decade, the people of Los
Angeles have voted for more civilian control and oversight of their
police department precisely because of incidents like those alleged to
have occurred at Rampart. Yet, they still don't have it.
The Christopher Commission was convened by Mayor Tom Bradley following
the brutal beating of motorist Rodney King by four LAPD officers. Its
conclusions proved so devastating that Chief of Police Daryl F. Gates was
forced to resign and a new reform-minded chief was brought in from
outside the department. The LAPD's hard-charging style of policing was
condemned, and civilian oversight of the department was harshly
criticized for being nonexistent. The next year, Los Angeles endured the
worst big-city rioting in the 20th century, aimed directly at the LAPD.
The time was ripe for what the entire city seemed to be demanding: strong
civilian oversight and a philosophy of community policing that
underscored the principle that society controls the police, not the other
It would be premature to make a direct connection between the alleged
frame-ups, shootings and beatings at Rampart Division and the
ineffectiveness of the inspector general's office, one of the Christopher
Commission's key recommendations for bringing the LAPD under greater
civilian control. What can be said, however, is that the LAPD's first two
inspectors general were deliberately thwarted by Chief Bernard C. Parks
in their attempts to monitor the department at a time when patterns of
abuse in the Rampart Division may have been detected. So what can be
First, the Police Commission must use its power to set policy, broadly
direct the affairs of the LAPD and impose direct civilian control and
oversight over the department. Simultaneously, it must serve as a check
and balance to the LAPD's seemingly unquenchable desire to be accountable
only to itself, not to the public it serves. How, after all, can men and
women with the power to kill or destroy lives be permitted to hide behind
a wall of secrecy and possess a monopoly on information about themselves?
Second, it should be acknowledged that an inspector general's office
is one of the weakest forms of civilian oversight in California. A
station-house complaint doesn't go to the inspector general; it goes to
internal affairs, which only serves to perpetuate the problem of cops
policing cops. A good inspector general can only look at systemic
problems, not individual cases. Nevertheless, the inspector general's
office should be enlarged and allowed to function unimpeded until public
support for something better can be mustered.
At least such an office would have the virtue of the system currently
in place in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. In 1992, the Board of
Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb to monitor the department,
to which he was given complete access. Since then, Bobb has released
semiannual--and frequently highly critical--reports on the department.
Such a regular flow of information would allow the public to
differentiate between a "rotten apple" incident, as Parks has described
Rampart, and a true systemic breakdown.
Giving the inspector general the kind of power Bobb enjoys, however,
would not address the heart of the problem: police officers investigating
their fellow officers and sergeants and division captains discouraging
the filing of complaints. What's needed instead is a civilian-controlled
system in which citizens, particularly poor, powerless ones, feel
confident that when they file a complaint about an officer, they can
expect to receive a semblance of truth and justice.
San Francisco, San Diego County, Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento and San
Jose all allow for at least some civilian role in the investigation or
oversight of police-misconduct complaints that is stronger than an
inspector general's office. In contrast to an inspector general, for
example, these municipalities have civilian bodies that establish the
principle of direct accountability to the public either through direct
investigation of police misconduct or as an investigative panel that
resolves a civilian complaint during a public hearing. Even the weakest
models--Sacramento and San Jose--have the authority to look over the
shoulders of internal-affairs investigators and evaluate the job they're
doing in terms of fairness and accuracy.
The best example of an effective, impartial civilian investigative
agency is San Francisco's, which has been in existence since 1982. Like
Los Angeles, San Francisco has a police commission to which its police
chief reports. Every civilian-generated complaint must, by law, be
investigated by an independent agency known as the Police Commission
Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC).
The OCC investigates more than 1 thousand complaints a year. Its
budget is locked into a city-charter requirement that there must be one
full-time OCC investigator for every 150 sworn officers. The office,
according to OCC director Mary C. Dunlap, has a staff of 30, including 15
investigators with backgrounds as non-SFPD cops, attorneys and other
professionals experienced in fact-gathering. They are schooled in police
science and other investigative skills, screened for bias and trained to
keep their personalities and politics out of the investigations.
Once the OCC has completed an investigation, it sends its findings and
recommendations to the San Francisco Police Department for final action.
If there are any disputes between it and the SFPD over the findings, the
police commission makes the final determination on what should be done.
According to San Francisco Police Chief Fred H. Lau, who has run the
department since January 1996, the system is working. He characterizes
his relationship with the OCC as good, adding that the office provides "a
conduit for people to voice their concerns about policing," as well as a
"check and balance for the public." The public, he says, "feels that the
OCC is an institutional advocate for their concerns."
Of the 1,043 complaints reviewed in 1998, 108 were sustained, meaning
that more than 900 resulted in no action being taken against an officer.
That is one factor, says Lau, that indicates his officers are getting a
fair shake. Moreover, "everything OCC finds is subject to review by the
police department's internal-affairs investigators . . . before anybody
is disciplined." The officers' union further protects their rights,
serving as a defense attorney throughout an investigation. And, as
everywhere in California, the officers are protected by the powerful
Police Officers Bill of Rights. All this, Lau points out, serves as a
check and balance ensuring that officers don't get railroaded.
An additional benefit of the OCC system, according to Dunlap, is that
it requires her office to point out policy failures that need to be
corrected. "We made 12 policy-change suggestions last year, ranging from
use of pepper spray to officers carrying business cards. If the
department doesn't follow through on them, we take it up with the police
The true measure of the OCC's success, says Dunlap, is that her office
is receiving "complaints from a wide range of people who are most
impacted by police service and who have traditionally been fearful of
The hard work here in Los Angeles is not in finding a good oversight
system but in mustering and maintaining the political support for one.
Lately in Los Angeles, the will to do so seems to be reviving. It's about
time we found a way. *
PHOTO: (2 Photos), Former Chief Daryl Gates, top, and current Chief
ID NUMBER: 19991114hop0081
PHOTOGRAPHER: KEN LUBAS / Los Angeles Times
PHOTO: (2 Photos), Former Chief Daryl Gates, top, and current Chief
ID NUMBER: 19991114hop0082
PHOTOGRAPHER: GARY FRIEDMAN / Los Angeles Times
GRAPHIC-DRAWING: (no caption), JEFF BOHLANDER / for The Times
ID NUMBER: 19991114hop0083
*A Shooting Reminiscent of the LAPD's Worst Days*
By Joe *Domanick* , Joe *Domanick* is the author of "To Protect and to Serve:
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams."
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 6, 1999
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 6 *Opinion* Desk
27 inches; 955 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
It unfolded like a dream. A distraught, middle-aged African
American woman suspected of committing a petty crime was approached by
two Los Angeles Police Department officers. Seeing that the woman held a
common but potentially dangerous household implement in her hand, the
officers ordered her to put it down. When she refused and allegedly
threatened them with the object, she was shot and killed.
That's a fair description of what happened to Margaret LaVerne
Mitchell. Last month, the 54-year-old, mentally ill and homeless Mitchell
was wheeling a shopping cart when she was shot dead after allegedly
lunging at one of two LAPD bicycle officers with a 12-inch screwdriver.
But the story isn't hers.
Instead, it is the recounting of the death of Eulia May Love, a
39-year-old South-Central housewife who was killed 20 years ago by a
different pair of LAPD officers in a dispute over a $22.09 unpaid gas
bill. Love, too, had been holding a potentially dangerous household
object, an 11-inch boning knife she had been using to whack at two rubber
trees in her front yard. When the cops approached her, Love, like
Mitchell, reacted irrationally. So intent were the police officers in
getting her to promptly obey their commands that two minutes and 27
seconds after their arrival, she lay dead with eight bullet wounds.
But the similarities between Love and Mitchell's killings don't end
The best-case scenario for the killing of Love, for example, was that
officers believed their lives were threatened and used poor judgment in
not trying to calm her down or call for backup. The worst case was that
the officers quickly grew annoyed at Love screaming at them and simply
shot and killed her because she was challenging them. "Even if you take
the officers' version at face value," former LAPD Assistant Chief David
D. Dotson says, "Eulia Love was an incident where the officers did a
terrible job of dealing with her." The Los Angeles Police Commission's
report on Love's death came to the same conclusion.
It appears that the officer who shot and killed Mitchell did a
similarly terrible job. Clearly, there is no good reason for the woman to
be dead for what was, at most, a petty crime.
Of course, as Police Chief Bernard C. Parks urged at a news conference
last month, the officers' actions should not be judged until all the
facts are collected. Regrettably, Parks didn't stop there. He went on to
forcefully defend the officers involved in the shooting and bitterly
condemned department critics. "From what we're seeing so far," said
Parks, "these officers, at this point, do not appear [to have] done
anything wrong. We are not going to, for political expediency or for
community concern, just declare that these officers are wrong or make
them a scapegoat. These offices are . . . responding to spontaneous
events, and they are being asked to do something well beyond the skill of
"The same people who would criticize law enforcement for stereotyping
them," continued the chief, "seem to have a knack of stereotyping law
enforcement. If police officers, in turn, stereotype the community in
that fashion, those same people would be up in an uproar . . . "
Parks' comments were extraordinary not just because of their defiant
and petulant tone but also because of their flagrant disregard for recent
LAPD history. One would have thought that after all that Los Angeles and
its Police Department have been through the past 20 years, that a veteran
officer like Parks would have been far more sensitive to the situation
and mindful of the potentially explosive consequences of off-the-cuff
How, for example, could the chief have forgotten the LAPD's shooting
history during those years? Not only did the shootings themselves enrage
segments of the population, but the official explanations given for them
were frequently condescending, dismissive and scornful of the victim. It
was precisely that attitude that eventually provided the fuel for the
firestorm of criticism that followed Love's slaying. But it was criticism
that was ignored.
The department's shooting policy remained essentially the same, though
shootings began to be investigated more thoroughly. Nevertheless, unarmed
people continued to be either shot or choked to death for wielding such
items as a liquor decanter, wallet, sunglasses, gloves, hair brush,
silver bracelet, typewriter, belt, key chain and even a bathrobe. Parks
was working his way up the ranks when all these incidents took place.
Yet, he still acts as if his department's actions are above reproach. In
this, Parks is very much like his predecessors as chief, William H.
Parker, who established the LAPD's once unassailable power in Los
Angeles, Ed Davis, under whom Parks came of age as an officer and whom he
greatly admires, and Daryl F. Gates, who viewed the LAPD as a tiger views
its hunting ground.
Throughout the controversy following the Love shooting, for example,
Gates never went off message. He described the incident as "tragic," but
maintained that there was not "one single good thing" that came out of
the killing and subsequent investigation. Despite the Police Commission's
condemnation of the officers' behavior, Gates attacked the press,
vigorously defended the officers' conduct and applied minimal
disciplinary action. Parks risks falling into the same defensive trap if
he clings to his original remarks on the Mitchell shooting.
Just when, ironically, the LAPD has been training officers in
nonlethal-use-of-force techniques. Some of these techniques previously
were unavailable to officers in threatening circumstances. They include
the use of disabling rubber bullets and pepper spray. In the early 1990s,
pepper spray was used about 30 times a year to subdue combative suspects.
More recently, its use has risen sixteenfold. At the same time, baton use
is way down. In the early 1990s, batons were used about 500 times a year.
Today, they are employed about 30 times a year. That's a positive sign in
terms of reducing injuries.
Moreover, shootings have been going down, not up, since 1992, most
radically since Parks became chief in 1996. In 1992, the year of the
riots, 21 people were killed and 54 wounded by police gunfire. A year
later, the number was 15 killed, 48 wounded. In 1998, it dropped to 11
killed and 14 wounded, and for the first five months of this year, only
four people have been killed and four wounded by police fire.
In all likelihood, when all the facts are collected and investigated,
the shooting of Mitchell will be found to fall within LAPD guidelines.
That shouldn't be good enough. Instead, Parks should acknowledge what the
public already knows, that the shooting of Mitchell should have been
avoided and that any explanation to the contrary defies common sense.
Short of that, Parks only serves to remind us all of the bad old days.*
PHOTO: (No caption / Los Angeles Police Department badge with gun
in hand), TIM TEEBKEN / For The Times
ID NUMBER: 19990606hop0140
*Why Chief Willie Williams Deserves Five More Years*
By Joe *Domanick* , Joe *Domanick* is author of "To Protect and to Serve: The
LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams" (Pocket Books)
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 22, 1996
Home Edition *Opinion* Part M Page 6 *Opinion* Desk
29 inches; 1017 words
Type of Material: *Opinion* Piece
The people of Los Angeles owe Police Chief Willie L. Williams an
enormous debt of gratitude. Yet, you'd never know it by listening to the
small, insulated cadre of downtown *opinion*-makers who have characterized
Williams as a hapless administrator and uninspired leader unworthy of a
second, five-year term in office.
Much of the criticism directed at Williams comes from his natural
enemies in the Police Protective League, within the old-guard hierarchy
of the Los Angeles Police Department and from their conservative allies
in the mayor's office and City Hall. From the start of Williams' tenure
in 1992, they have abhorred the idea of an overweight, East Coast,
African American reform chief leading what had been the groundbreaking
and preeminent model of paramilitary policing throughout the Southwest.
Increasingly, however, complaints about Williams have come from his
philosophical allies--from past and present liberal police commissioners,
police officers, politicians and journalists who have declared themselves
deeply frustrated with Williams. Their dissatisfaction is not entirely
Progressive elements within the department's rank and file, men and
women who understand the compelling need of the LAPD to transform itself,
have often felt adrift. The daily, concrete, by-the-numbers directions
they've longed for, and the unambiguous programs and leadership they've
craved, have come about only fitfully.
The keepers of the city's ethics, moreover, have pronounced themselves
appalled by revelations of Williams accepting free hotel rooms in Las
Vegas, then allegedly lying about it to the Police Commission.
And reform-minded police commissioners and politicians have continued
to complain of their problems in getting Williams to work with them in an
open, trusting manner as they struggle toward their long-range goal of a
cohesive transformation of the LAPD.
Judging by the polls, however, the public has a far different *opinion*
of Williams. They seem to have been looking at the forest, not the trees,
to have longer memories and to have intuitively grasped what Williams'
detractors have not: After decades of agonizing traumas revolving around
the LAPD, Williams has, at last, given the city a normal police
department. He could have presented Los Angeles with no greater gift.
For no longer is the LAPD an agency swaggeringly proclaiming itself
the best in the world; or demanding that it be at the heart of our civic
life, the hub around which everything else in city government revolves.
No longer is it necessary for journalists, politicians and civilian
police commissioners to check their rear-view mirrors after writing a
critical article or publicly criticizing the chief or his department.
Perhaps it never was, but an atmosphere was created by the chiefs
proceeding Williams that caused large numbers of reporters and public
officials to believe that was indeed the case. Nor are there any rampant
rumors, as Daryl F. Gates used to encourage, of secret dossiers being
kept on critics. Nor are the people or the leaders of South Central or
Pico Union automatically assuming that every officer-involved shooting
will routinely be whitewashed--as was the situation before Williams
became chief. Nor is there a belief that a flagrant disregard for the
civil liberties of black and brown people will be tolerated under
Williams, as it was by chiefs who passionately believed that that was the
way you were supposed to police.
Gates, who admired George S. Patton and compared himself to Douglas
MacArthur, saw himself as a combat general and the LAPD as an elite,
hard-charging street army. Williams knows he heads a civilian agency, and
that truly effective law enforcement is never measured by arrest numbers
Ed Davis once famously said that he didn't want to be mayor of Los
Angeles, because, as chief of police, he already had more power than the
mayor. Often, Gates unabashedly expressed contempt for Mayor Tom Bradley.
Williams, on the other hand, understands his position as a department
head and public servant within the city's political fabric.
But memories are short. It seems that with Williams' announcement of
his intention to seek another five years, the three decades before he
arrived have been forgotten. But they need to be remembered. Leaders of
Los Angeles should recall the Watts riots, the SLA shootout, the LAPD's
widespread spying on critics and on lawful organizations, the killings of
Eulia Love and of scores of unarmed civilians, the 15 chokehold victims
dead within one seven-year period, the raid on Dalton Avenue, the
indiscriminate gang sweeps in South Central, the beating of Rodney G.
King and the riots of 1992. Then, they should note that under Williams'
leadership, we have had no comparable scandals and controversies.
Much has been made, on the other hand, of Williams going to Las Vegas
and allegedly lying to the Police Commission about his trips. Well, he
shouldn't have lied. If he did, that fact should be taken into
consideration when the Police Commission decides whether or not to rehire
him. But only as part of a bigger picture of service. And only when
remembering what we have not seen from Williams: the pattern of
dishonesty--the ethos of defending rogue cops accused of brutality and
the unwarranted use of deadly force--that was a reflex action under
We also hear that morale under Williams is down. But the chief did not
create the crisis in morale. That began when the video of the King
beating was beamed around the world, and gained momentum during the '92
riots, when officers drove aimlessly around--six to a patrol car--while
parts of the city were going up in flames and the top LAPD command staff
was nowhere to be found. The LAPD is now an organization with a true
riot-control plan, one in which every officer has been trained under
Unquestionably, implementation of the Christopher Commission reforms
has been slow, and Williams may not have cleanly sliced the old LAPD off
at the root. But he has also not replaced it with a different gung-ho
version. Instead, the old department is withering slowly, but inexorably,
on the vine. While its emerging replacement might not be a model for the
nation, it is a department with which average people are feeling far more
Williams has turned out to be more a transitional figure than either
the ardent reformer or the cops' cop who many would have liked. But the
LAPD is a tradition-bound, unionized bureaucracy, an oil tanker of a ship
that will take a generation to turn around. In the end, the department
will be transformed not because Williams zealously changed it, but
because he has permitted it to change.
As the hard-nosed, white old guard slowly heads off to retirement in
Canyon Country, they have been replaced by minorities and women brought
into the department since 1980 by a consent decree forced on the city by
the federal government. Many of these officers are now in middle
management. It is they who will continue the department's transformation.
Meantime, crime is down, complaints of police use of excessive force are
down and, crucially, the LAPD is no longer warring with vast segments of
the city's population. That alone merits five more years for Williams.*
PHOTO: Willie Williams
GRAPHIC-DRAWING: (...), PETER BENNET / for The Times