As former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks gears up for a City Council race, the campaign for his old job went into high gear last week with 47 candidates vying for the post.
Ethnic and community politics have added a level of complexity to the already difficult job of selecting one of the city's most powerful unelected leaders.
The job of choosing three candidates to recommend to the mayor from among the 47 seeking the post falls to the five-member Police Commission. A 15-member blue-ribbon committee has been appointed to assist the commission by developing criteria for the selection. Mayor James Hahn will choose --and the City Council must confirm -- the next chief. The blue-ribbon committee expects to develop a set of criteria by the end of August.
Since Parks' ouster-retirement-political campaign started in May, the Police Commission has held seven town hall-style meetings across the city, seeking input on the qualifications for the next police chief. At the same time, a job search firm sought potential candidates from throughout the country.
Joe Gunn, Police Commission executive director, says race and community affiliations play, at most, a limited role in the selection. "We had town hall meetings all over L.A. -- people want the best candidate," Gunn says. "People want someone who can reduce crime, establish community policing, increase morale and recruitment for the department. The commission is looking to pick the best candidate."
However, the anger of the African American community after Hahn refused to support Parks for a second term is just the latest in a series of LAPD issues where race has played a significant role. The riots following the 1992 acquittals of officers in the beating of Rodney King and the harassment of Latino immigrants uncovered in the Rampart Division scandal have helped make the community affiliations of the police chief an issue.
Creation of the blue-ribbon advisory committee appears to have taken these problems into consideration. An LAPD press release on the blue-ribbon committee carefully describes the community affiliations of many of its members. No less a voice of the local Jewish community than Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, serves on the committee. Cooper describes the panel as "a very representative group across the board, a very dedicated group of people giving their time for the city."
Also serving on the committee is Jeff Donfeld, an attorney and former staff assistant to President Richard M. Nixon. Donfeld helped write the legislation creating the office of the federal drug czar. The LAPD press release describes Donfeld as "a founding member of Chabad of Pacific Palisades."
Attorney Patricia Glaser, who serves on the board of American Friends of Hebrew University, also is on the committee. "I was asked to help on this committee by a man I respect very much, Jim Hahn," Glaser told The Journal, "I'm not sure how much good it will do. I'm not a big fan of committees. I'm not sure that it's worthless, but I'm not sure it's worthwhile, either."
Other committee members include the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the chair of Women Against Gun Violence and former presidents of the Korean American, Asian Pacific American and Mexican American Bar associations.
The competition for the police chief job is stiff, even among those few who have publicly acknowledged their interest. These public candidates include four current LAPD deputy chiefs and four commanders, a former New York City police commissioner and three former LAPD deputy chiefs who have gone on to lead other police departments (Mark Kroeker, Portland, Ore.; Rick Dinse, Salt Lake City; and Art Lopez, Oxnard). Kroeker, Lopez, and Deputy Chief David Gascon were each considered top candidates for the job in 1997, when then-Mayor Richard Riordan appointed Parks.
Police Commissioner Bert Boeckmann, the only remaining member of the 1997 board that recommended Parks, was also the only one at the time to vote for Kroeker over Parks.
Also in contention for the chief's job is the LAPD officer perhaps best known to the Jewish community -- Deputy Chief David Kalish. He was profiled in The Journal in August 1999, when he served as LAPD spokesman after the North Valley Jewish Community Center shootings.
On the ethnic politics involved in choosing a chief, Kalish told The Journal, "Clearly those will be issues of discussion, but at the end of the day, I believe the mayor will choose the best candidate."
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the anti-missionary group, Jews for Judaism, and a chaplain for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, says of Kalish, "In every instance where there have been threats to the Jewish community, he's been right there, and he hasn't sent people under him. He's very active. He's very proud of who he is as a Jew. That's why I like him."
Barry M. Greenberg, former chairman of the Community Police Advisory Board, sent an unsolicited e-mail to The Jewish Journal, saying Kalish "deserves our encouragement, our consideration and, I believe, our support." Greenberg, who described himself as a "friend and supporter" of Kalish, said, "He won't engage in politics. Won't challenge the mayor for city power. Won't attempt to serve as some sort of super-City Council member. He'll just lead. Won't that be a welcome change?"