A View of Two Parks

It is fitting that Los Angeles’ current chief of police has a plural for a surname. For judging by the opinion of Jewish community leaders, at least two Bernard Parks have served the city for the past four years: Parks who dragged his feet on reform; Parks who implemented so much reform that the rank-and-file union wants him out; Parks who ignored concerns dear to the Jewish community; Parks who has been there for us in our hours of need.

As all of Los Angeles debates the merits and motives of Mayor James Hahn’s public lack of support for Parks, Jewish leaders are quietly searching for their place in the discussion. In an issue that has been framed in black and white — African American leaders versus the Police Protective League — the Jewish community looks to express its varied opinions without adding to an already tense situation.

Longtime Jewish community activist Carmen Warschaw has been a strong supporter of both Hahn and Parks. She sees the trouble with his reappointment coming from the police union: “I feel Parks has clamped down on discipline and the police don’t like it,” she said.

Warschaw, with former Anti-Defamation League Regional Director David Lehrer, has sent a letter to the Los Angeles Times advocating Parks’ reappointment. “As longtime activists in the Jewish community, we can attest to the quality of service provided by the LAPD under Chief Parks’ leadership during two of the tensest moments in recent Los Angeles history — the shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and the days after Sept. 11,” wrote Warschaw and Lehrer, adding, “Courage, commitment and concern emanate from the top.”

Some of Parks’ strongest supporters in the Jewish community are those who have worked most closely with him. Shomrim, an organization of Jewish police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel, will honor the police chief, along with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, at Congregation Beth Jacob in April.

“We think he should be reappointed,” said Todd Silver, Shomrim’s vice president and LAPD liaison. “Shomrim has quarterly meetings with Parks and his staff. He’s completely open and in my opinion completely sensitive. He’s done a good job and he’s a good guy.”

Silver credits Parks for implementing sensitivity training for officers working in religious Jewish neighborhoods. “I think if the Jewish community had a special request of [Parks], it would get done,” Silver said.

Yet the major issue of contention between the mayor and the chief, at least publicly, has been the pace and style of police reform, and on that issue the Jewish community has long sided with the mayor in support of swiftly implementing community policing programs. According to Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, former Police Commission president, “Hahn is correct that he hasn’t reformed the department enough. Parks is not a reformer.”

Barry Greenberg has served as chair of the Community Police Advisory Board summit, which, according to Greenberg, was “all but decimated by Parks.” A self-described “outspoken and vocal opponent of Chief Parks,” Greenberg refers to a column in the conservative National Review Online to make his point. The columnist, an LAPD officer writing under an assumed name, compares Parks to a corporate CEO and said, with Parks’ leadership in the private sector, “the shareholders will take up torches and pitchforks and run him out of town!”

Concerned about the impact on black-Jewish relations, Greenebaum said, “The irony here is that these issues and concerns used to be the chief concerns of the African American community. In the last 10 years [since the LAPD has had an African American police chief] we haven’t heard much about them.”

The Parks issue could have implications well beyond the Police Department. If the issue permanently separates Hahn from his base of support among African American voters, Hahn may need to rely on supporters for whom he was largely a second choice.

“The two most important constituencies in the next election are Latinos and the Valley,” said political consultant Joel Kotkin. In the 2001 primary election, Kotkin pointed out, “Steve Soboroff won the Valley; Antonio [Villaraigosa] came in second. Hahn won because Soboroff voters went for Hahn [in the runoff].”

Those Valley Jews who voted for Hahn were part of what political science professor Raphael Sonenshein called “a series of unstable coalitions.” Sonenshein, who has written extensively on black-Jewish relations, says a centrist Democrat like Hahn would have received significantly more support from Latino voters if not for his Latino opponent. And the African American voters who so fervently backed Hahn in the election traditionally agree on little with the conservative Valley voters who joined them. Although as Sonenshein said, “Other than the black community, [Jews] have been the most important constituency for police reform.” Their political leaders now find themselves on opposite sides of this issue, he said. Given the shifting nature of these political “coalitions” there is simply no telling how fallout from Parks’ reappointment question will affect the campaign when the mayor comes up for reelection in 2005.

Even the present political effects are in question, says Sonenshein “We don’t know yet that he’s alienated black voters. Parks’ reappointment hasn’t yet proven to be a mobilizing issue.”

The Police Commission, a five-member board appointed by Hahn, will make the ultimate decision by mid-May on whether to reappoint Parks. Until then, Warschaw worries that Jewish community support for Parks could alienate African American allies on the left.

“We should not take sides,” she said, “We should not attack the mayor, and especially we don’t want to create any race problems.”

Karen Wagener, president of the Los Angeles Police Foundation, a nonprofit nongovernmental police support organization founded by Parks and his wife Bobbie, advocates letting the Police Commission decide Parks’ fate. “Everybody has their job to do,” she said.

Perhaps the last word should go to someone who is both Jewish and at the upper echelon of the LAPD, Deputy Chief David Kalish. Promoted to commanding officer of the LAPD’s Operations-West Bureau during Parks’ tenure, Kalish remains loyal to the chief but questions whether the Jewish community ought to take sides on the issue of his reappointment.

“There are some interesting nuances here,” he told The Journal, “Probably for the first time since I’ve been a cop, there are no Jews on the Police Commission. Does the Jewish community want to expend that political capital when it may not have any effect?”