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POLITICS BEHIND SLO PROGRAM'S DEMISE.

Byline: Joe Shea

THE deployment pattern of senior lead officers is a bone of contention between Chief Bernard Parks and many Los Angeles community leaders these days, and recently all five mayoral candidates took the community's side of the debate. That's not necessarily good news.

I support the broad community relations outreach program of the past, but I know that political unanimity on the issue is a lot more likely to spring from political motivations than from any substantive vision of how to fight crime in our communities.

There were things wrong with the former deployment, which involved SLOs spending a lot of their time meeting with individual community leaders or doing significant amounts of paperwork - mostly to provide justification for their deployment.

But the entire SLO debate is not about deployment, in fact; it's about constituencies. And therein lies a tale.

When Chief Willie Williams, on recommendation of the Christopher Commission, wrote Order No. 10 creating Community-Police Advisory Boards in 1994, he ordered that elected officials not be included on the boards, which are named by the captains in each of the LAPD's 18 divisions. Many activists rejoiced, because political interference was seen as a key reason the LAPD had failed to act effectively against an overwhelming tide of crime tied to America's crack epidemic.

In particular, it meant CPAB activists could push to get convicted drug dealers who are illegal aliens deported directly from their jail cells, and have an independent voice on issues like illegal gay nightclubs and could shut down then-illegal street-side needle distribution centers that enjoyed the protection of politically powerful gay people downtown.

These actions clashed with political correctness, and activists felt relieved because they could work with police without political interference. Indeed, activists who wanted to address those issues were not restrained by their new relationship with the police when many of them were named to the CPABs in early 1994.

Working together on hot-button issues - like against a liquor license conditional use permit that has a council member's approval - and fighting more ordinary crime, a strong bond developed between citizen activists, SLOs and the department that deployed them into our homes, meeting halls and streets. The result: a substantial police constituency that threatened the established political order, and gave police-related charter amendments, propositions and pay raises an extra boost.

Police constituencies pose a special problem for elected officials. They provide nonelected civil servants a profile enhanced by association with Neighborhood Watch or homeowner groups that together touch many lives in Los Angeles. Those voter-rich interest groups are not easily resisted by politicians intent on the next election.

Thus, it was no surprise when council offices began to join the CPABs after Chief Parks - the creature of a hybrid appointment system that is heavily dependent on mayoral and council approval - rewrote Order No. 10 to remove any ``misunderstanding'' about allowing City Council representatives (but not candidates running against council members) to sit on CPABs.

Soon, the CPABs were tamed, moving on to safer, more politically correct agendas. Now they offer no resistance to new liquor permits or ``safe sex'' clubs unless council members oppose them - and do little to fight crime. They have completed their transformation into political constituencies; council aides mediate many CPAB issues and play greater roles in naming members. Behind the scenes, they have neutered their critics and changed the CPABs into council advisory boards with no impact on police operations.

The SLOs were the last detail of this transformation, and the most resistant. For most officers, it was attractive duty that generated lots of nice letters and won the best ones a level of influence among community leaders unmatched by any politician's.

They managed to clean up many abandoned buildings and transform streets full of drug dealers into streets full of strollers and moms, creating a new and congenial relationship between ordinary citizens and the police. It's my guess those efforts brought crime down pretty quickly.

One activist told Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski's public safety committee recently that some 7,000 Neighborhood Watch members were involved in one district at the height of the former SLO deployment, and that now the number is close to zero. That's the sad reality of Chief Parks' council-inspired retreat from independent CPABs.

My own organization, the Ivar Hawks and Ivar Hill Community Association, marched to National Night Out celebrations with more than 40 sign-carrying kids and parents for several years until, for political reasons, I was removed from the board with three other activists and invitations to National Night Out quit coming. We suffered, the unity of our community suffered and, eventually, our crime rate grew worse.

When a building manager complained recently of a group of violent tenants he could not control or readily evict, our SLO hadn't returned phone calls for months. We felt powerless to reach the police except through the captain or the press. Two stabbings occurred as we waited for help, and there's been more trouble since.

Today, the old SLO deployment is probably doomed by the same politicians now rallying to build a safe political constituency around it at the expense of the independent police constituency that existed before.

Chief Parks is now aligned against that constituency, and sadly - because he is an extremely competent man - it is turning against him. Parks has the final say on the deployment; politicians can only make hay from unhappiness until his five-year renewal is due.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 27, 2000
Words:904
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