The New York Mets made their National League debut in 1962. Over the course of that season they had a team batting average of .240 and a team ERA of 5.04, and they committed 210 errors en route to a 40-120 record, finishing 60½ games behind the pennant winners, the San Francisco Giants. Though they would win their first World Series only seven years later, that inaugural season was and remains the benchmark for a level of ineptitude seldom rivaled in the history of professional sports. On observing his team’s misadventures one day, Mets manager Casey Stengel famously asked, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
If he were alive today, Casey might ask the same question about the Los Angeles city council.
Consider: over the last five years the city of Los Angeles has seen a remarkable decrease in all types of crime. Total Part I (i.e. serious) crime is down 31.6 percent from five years ago, with homicides down an astounding 38.9 percent over that period. Even in South-Central L.A., long known as the city’s killing fields, homicides are occurring at about half the rate they were in 2002. Remember, these are not just numbers on a spreadsheet; there are hundreds of people walking the streets today who would have been killed had the Los Angeles Police Department remained on the disastrous course it was on prior to 2002. Incredibly, there are those who would have us return to those bad old days.
It was in 2002 that then-Mayor James Hahn wisely chose not to retain Bernard Parks as chief of the LAPD, ousting him in favor of hiring current chief William Bratton. (Bratton was recently reappointed to a second five-year term in the post.) I advocated hiring Bratton at the time, and though we who toil at the lower levels of the LAPD have had our differences with him over these five years, differences chronicled many times in these columns, the drop in crime seen since his arrival simply would have been unthinkable had Parks remained in the job.
Unfortunately, after being cashiered as police chief, Parks did not go quietly into the night to enjoy his golden years. He ran for and won a seat on the Los Angeles city council, and he remains in that seat today, finding what seems to be inordinate, even unseemly, satisfaction in making things difficult for his successor.
Today Parks is chairman of the city council’s Budget and Finance Committee, and it is to him that Bratton and the LAPD must now come begging for the necessary funds to keep the crime numbers falling. So bitter is Parks at having been let go from the LAPD, so resentful is he of Bratton’s achievements, that he is willing to cut the department’s budget, even if it comes at the price of rising crime. And there are those on the city council who seem only too willing to acquiesce to Park’s petulance.
At issue is police overtime, which Parks suddenly and without apparent cause considers excessive. Since 1994, the LAPD has been budgeted for about 1.2 million hours of overtime each year, a figure whose origins remain shrouded in mystery. But in any event the budgeted figure is irrelevant in that the department annually uses several hundred thousand hours more in overtime than is allotted for. The great majority of that overtime is engendered from two causes, both of which are essential in the fight against crime: officers working late after making arrests, and officers going to court while off duty. It happens every year, and every year they somehow figure out how to keep cutting the checks.
Now Parks insists on tightening the purse strings, ostensibly in the name of fiscal responsibility, but in reality for no other reason than to exert his authority over the police department that celebrated his removal, and more importantly over Bratton, the chief who found success where he, Parks, found nothing but failure.
As is his wont, Parks has placed himself in a showdown with Bratton and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over the city’s budget. Last year, Villaraigosa won approval in the city council for an increase in the city’s trash-collection fees, with the money to be used to bring the LAPD to a strength of 10,000 officers. The measure passed in the council with the understanding that the added revenues would be strictly committed to the LAPD. Now Parks has suggested that the trash-fee windfall be used to offset deficits in other city departments.