April 11, 2002
Speaking Out for Reform
The Los Angeles Police Commission's 4-1 decision to reject Chief Bernard C. Parks' bid for a second five-year term presents the organized Jewish community with an important opportunity to speak out forcefully in support of its historic agenda promoting police reform.
The leaders of Los Angeles-area Jewish organizations (including the Progressive Jewish Alliance) remained quiet amid the political firestorm that broke out when our city's top elected officials and prominent leaders within the African American community precipitously weighed in on the chief's fate. Though that silence reflected appropriate deference to the Police Commission's role in the reappointment process under our city's charter, the time has now come for the organized Jewish community to join this momentous civic debate in order to again demonstrate its long-standing understanding of, and concern for, issues of LAPD governance.
Over the course of many decades, prominent Los Angeles Jews have served with distinction as chairs or members of the city's Police Commission. In the months immediately following the March 1991 beating of African American motorist Rodney King, a number of Jewish attorneys volunteered countless hours serving as members of, and counsel to, the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, the so-called Christopher Commission.
Following issuance of the Christopher Commission's landmark report and its devastating critique of the LAPD -- and especially after the wave of violence and unrest that accompanied the April 1992 state court acquittal of the four police officers charged in the King beating -- the organized Jewish community played a prominent role in removing then-Chief Daryl Gates.
Of even greater long-term importance, many Jewish groups worked tirelessly to support, and Jewish voters resoundingly approved, the City Charter amendment necessary to implement many of the Christopher Commission's recommendations. Following Parks' selection as chief, prominent members of the Jewish community have continued to play an active role in monitoring the pace and adequacy of police reform, including those post-Christopher reforms that will now be needed to prevent any possible recurrence of the kinds of conduct revealed by the Rampart scandal.
In many of these endeavors, and much to its credit, the Jewish community of Los Angeles has worked closely with its African American communal counterparts. The close historic and current relationship between these two communities is a vitally important link that must be treasured and preserved. It is an alliance that can, must and will survive the current conflagration over Parks' reappointment.
In the wake of the Police Commission's decision and Parks' announced intent to continue fighting for his job, the political furor is unlikely to end any time soon. But as Parks' supporters and opponents now lobby the City Council, it is up to the Jewish community to be encouraging the identification and selection of a new chief who is willing to take on the kinds of fundamental changes that the LAPD so desperately needs.
Whether because of his vaunted inflexibility or because he has lost the confidence of rank and file police officers, Parks will not break down the code of silence. He has not demonstrated the willingness or ability to alter the internal LAPD culture that stands as an impediment to fulfilling the voters' mandate for the Christopher Commission's systemic reforms and which threatens the recurrence of more Rampart-type scandals. The kinds of comprehensive changes that are needed go far beyond the improvements in day-to-day police misconduct investigations touted by many of the chief's black supporters.
Unfortunately, the Police Commission's closed-door deliberations and the announced rationale for its decision have failed to focus sufficient attention upon these core issues. Those of us in the Jewish community who have so far remained on the sidelines must now seize this opportunity to move the debate away from Parks and toward implementation of the full range of reforms for which we have waited for more than a decade. As we do so, we must work closely with our long-time partners in the African American community in order to ensure that they understand that we share a common agenda for the future of the LAPD and for our city.