Race Not An Issue

Mayor Hahn uses cojones for selection of new LAPD police chief

By Gil Contreras
Published on LatinoLA: October 4, 2002

Race Not An Issue

Just when we thought "little Jimmy" Hahn had no ?cojones,? he proves us all wrong! First, against the advice of political advisors, Mayor James Hahn denies former LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks, a second five-year term. The African-American community (wherever that is) grumbles (read: First AME & friends) and threatens recall, and proclaims the willingness to hold a grudge until reelection time! Then, when the Los Angeles Police Commission sends Hahn the ?short list,? he passes on the only candidate with LAPD experience and the only Latino on the list, Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez (former LAPD deputy chief).

Candidates such as Mark Kroeker, former LAPD deputy chief, who lost the last go round for the LAPD top spot to Bernie Parks, Assistant Chief David Gascon, Deputy Chief?s David Kalish and Margaret York, all got the pass by the police commission, sending a clear message that most police observers believe the reform necessary at the LAPD cannot be achieved from any manager who has been raised, trained, and promoted within LAPD culture.

When the short list appeared and had only one LAPD insider, Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez, the opportunity for race baiting and political correctness could have crept into the process and the mayor?s final decision about which he would choose to take the reigns of the LAPD. However, to the mayor?s credit, race was not an issue.

Memories of the Willie Williams debacle still linger in the minds of most Angeleno?s, when the Los Angeles City Council and former Mayor Richard Riordan replaced former Chief Daryl Gates with an African-American candidate because some believed it was ?time for a black chief.? The only problem was most senior LAPD managers wouldn?t jump on Williams? band wagon, and most rank and file officers had no respect for Williams, as most believed he didn?t qualify to be a sergeant on the LAPD, let alone the chief!

And as William?s short tenure came to an end, race and political appeasement of the African-American community once again tainted the selection process of searching for William?s replacement. With candidates far more qualified and rank and file-friendly such as Mark Kroeker and Lee Baca (who later became Sheriff of Los Angeles County), the LAPD was handed over to Bernie Parks, who civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman called, ?Daryl Gates with a black face,? for his record on disciplining officers for minor infractions of department policy, while defending officers in questionable officer involved shootings such as that of homeless woman Margaret Mitchell.

Former Mayor Richard Riordan, not wanting to have local African-American ?leadership? accuse him of being racist, facilitated the appointment of Bernie Parks as LAPD chief, and in exchange received no flak or public outcries of, ?no justice, no peace!? Kroeker, who was assured the job was his, promptly retired from the LAPD and went to Bosnia, and would later become the chief of the Portland, Oregon, police department.

And now, ten years later, the LAPD is still one of the most troubled law enforcement agencies in the country. Once the vanguard of cop agencies, the LAPD continues to suffer from low morale, cynicism at the rank and file level, higher crime rates, and a field force which is made up of newer less experienced officers, as many LAPD veterans have moved on to other law enforcement agencies.

So, while it may have been tempting to, again, play the race card by selecting Art Lopez as the new LAPD chief in exchange for future Latino votes, Hahn opted not to make the mistake of his predecessor, and to his credit, put the needs of the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles ahead of his own political desires.

While some political strategists may have believed that the selection of a Latino chief might gain political favor with the largest minority group in the city, and translate into votes in 2005 for Hahn, especially in view of the African-American community?s calls for his ouster post Bernie Parks, Hahn smartly realized that Latino political clout is still largely a myth. Hahn must have, rightly, figured that, although Hispanic?s make up roughly 40% of the city?s population, only 60% are eligible to vote (read: illegal immigrants can?t vote), and only the more educated and affluent Latinos go to the polls on Election Day (U.S. Census Bureau). Hardly political clout at all.

Since Hahn?s political future seems to be riding on the success or failure of the next LAPD chief, his decision became all the more critical. He had to ask himself: who has the track record to reduce crime, build relationships with so called community leaders, and much more importantly, who can foster the support of the LAPD rank and file, raise morale, and, at least, try to have a working relationship with the police union?

This is where Mayor Hahn made a Mayor Giuliani-type political move. Hahn selected former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton as his choice to lead the LAPD into the 21st century. And although city council approval is still necessary, most believe Bratton will be appointed. Bratton?s use of crime statistics and trends, and his COMPSTAT computer tracking system he and his NYPD managers developed, helped the NYPD to deploy police enforcement in a more effective manner based on those stats, and significantly reduced crime in New York during his tenure as police commissioner.

Rank and file LAPD officers should be happy to learn that Bratton is a leader who is not afraid to replace top brass ?dead weight? in order to get results. The LAPD has long been an organization which penalizes managers who try to think outside the LAPD box, promotes those who don?t, applies discipline in an unfair and random manner at the rank and file level while protecting top managers from discipline, and has become an organization where an officer?s ?friends in high places? are more important than his law enforcement abilities.

The LAPD union and the rank and file should also welcome Bratton?s willingness to make all officers at every level accountable for their action or inaction. His record indicates that he will promote those who do their job and demote those who don?t. This is something the rank and file has dreamed of for years. Promotion based on merit, and discipline fairly and equally disseminated at all ranks, based on action or inaction not LAPD cronyism.

And on the political side, Hahn can?t lose, since in post 9/11 America, anything related to the NYPD comes with ?hero status? attached to it. However, if Bratton is as successful as most believe he will be, voters, both conservative and moderate (who do go to the polls on Election Day) will welcome the lower crime rate, a more focused and effective police department, and the eradication of those pesky ?quality of life crimes? which the City of Los Angeles has seemed to become more and more tolerant of in recent years.

And I?m sure that when it comes time for Angeleno?s to decide if Hahn gets a second term or not, we?ll see former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in Los Angeles, ?photo op?ing? with Mayor Hahn, Chief Bratton, and lower crime stats, which in the end, may prove to be more valuable to Hahn and his political future than playing the race card, trying to appease African-American, Latino, or any other special interest group.

About Gil Contreras:
Gil Contreras is a former police officer, award winning journalist (Golden Mike 1998), and freelance writer in Los Angeles. Email:

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