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chief bernard parks

After 32 years in the department, Parks became Chief of the L.A.P.D. in 1997. Publicly, he has called for vigorous prosecution of officers accused of criminal misconduct, and, internally, pushed the Department's ongoing disciplinary proceedings, positions that have made him unpopular among the rank and file. Parks first five year term as chief ends in August 2002; reappointment is uncertain. FRONTLINE interviewed Parks on February 26, 2001.
Rodney King

As a cop, you saw the Rodney King beating video tape. What was your reaction?

The first time I saw it, I thought it was bad. There was nothing that you could justify it or explain it. Even when I went to roll calls, and officers wanted to talk about what happened, that was not on the film. And you had to explain to them, no matter what happened that we didn't have a visual on, could we justify what we saw on the tape? Because there were enough officers present to subdue that situation early on without the significant number of baton strokes. And you could see from the body language of many of the officers, there was not a tense altercation going on there. Most of the officers were somewhat relaxed. There were a large number of them there. . . .

Was it racial?

I don't know, and I don't think we've seen anything in the sense that it is, per se, racial. I can't get in the heads of the officers [involved]. I think it was a breakdown in leadership and supervision, and I think it [the officers involved] lost track of what they were there for. They got more involved and engaged in swinging the baton than bringing this to a conclusion, and I think that's where the downside is.

People, in essence, justify that arrest, that scene, from a variety of perspectives, including, "Well, you have to look at the whole tape." Why is there that insistence on providing a rationale?

I think you find a lot of officers that, no matter what, want to be able to be supportive of other officers. And I think, unfortunately, they're not objective, often. But I don't believe, in the sense of our own credibility to the community, that you can sit there and look at that tape, just as the community looks at it, and find rationales that could justify what occurred. . . .

We certainly were not in a deadly force situation. With the number of officers there, it was time for someone to make a decision that the baton strikes weren't working. He was not being any more cooperative. Just sheer body weight would have taken him into control in the sense of the number of officers that were present. . . .

And you felt this way, presumably, more or less at the time? You didn't have to study the tape 42 times to come to that conclusion?

No, I think it was pretty obvious. And I think that's where, from the perspective of the community, that we lost credibility; when they sensed that there were comments being made that there was some justification for that. . . .

[After the riots in response to the acquittal of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating], Chief Gates's exit was prompted, and the Los Angeles Police Department gets a new chief, and then another one, both of them black. What does it mean to this city to have a black chief of police?

Although it may mean a lot to the black community, I basically don't think in general this city, because it's such a diverse city, takes it as it relates to being black is anything more significant than being white. They just want a productive chief of police. . . . They want a chief of police that they feel is going to be fair and provide service, and they don't much care what height, weight, or color they are. And I think it's a very narrow perspective. The meaningfulness of it is very localized to maybe a community.

. . . Is it fair to say that, on some level, Willie Williams first, and then you, got the job because of your race?

You know, I don't believe so. You don't get this job for one single purpose. The issue is that you have to have some skills that you bring to the table. The powers that be are looking at this issue much broader than a black person is going to solve it.

Do you think your race was irrelevant?

It's too obvious to be irrelevant. I think the issue is that it certainly. . . may be value-added, but it's not something that is a situation that says you get the job, versus you don't get the job. . . .

A New Breed of Cops

You're moving up in the command structure. You were, I think, fixing to be chief; not quite yet chief. But at that time, a series of bad things [happened] that are different for the L.A.P.D. One is a fellow driving down the street being abusive to another driver, getting into sort of a road rage thing--pulling out a gun and threatening the guy. The guy he's threatening turns out to be a cop. There is a shootout, and the perpetrator gets killed. And the perpetrator turns out to be an L.A.P.D. officer.

That's right.

Kevin Gaines.

Gaines.

Did that incident by itself raise flags to you?

I think it raised flags to us, and me personally, when we realized, in looking at his background, that he had some very interesting relationships with what we consider some of the criminal element in our city. He also appeared to have generated other contacts with the police, and a personnel complaint that was going on at the time. And he appeared to also have some very difficult relationship problems on the department. All of these things seemed to be generating around the same time.

We had some people on this department that were, in a coordinated effort, involved in some very serious criminal misconduct.The last thing you'd expect as a police officer would be to pull a gun on a person because of some road rage, particularly when you investigate the incident and find out the other principal was really trying to get away from that person, and [that] officer Gaines was actually the aggressor throughout the entire incident.

So all those things begin to reflect on his off-duty associations, how he's conducted himself. And the variety of complaints that were going on around him at the time began to give some concern about who he associated with, who were some of his friends, what was going on.

And we finally began to realize that some of our officers, in working off-duty, were heavily involved in the whole hip-hop culture, providing security for many of the rappers that were involved with other kinds of crimes. These things began to reflect a completely different view of some of our personnel than we had before.

A completely rhetorical question: what's wrong with that?

Well, what's wrong with it [is] that any time you deal with a criminal element and you're being part of a security force, you become part of that criminal element, because it's difficult to separate yourself.

We hold our people accountable for their off-duty and on-duty behavior. And it's very difficult to have a life outside of L.A.P.D. that deals in the criminal element, and then come back to work, and put on your badge and your uniform and say, "I'm now protecting the community and enforcing the law."

Some time after the Kevin Gaines/Frank Lyga incident, there is another uncharacteristic event, which is a bank robbery. [It] was investigated and resolved, [and] produces a suspect, David Anthony Mack, another L.A.P.D. officer.

And they just happened to be friends. Gaines and Mack were friends. And the other issue that concerned us is Mack, in looking at his career, was nothing but success. Here is a kid that came out of the community, allegedly in a gang atmosphere. He becomes an international track star. I believe, if he didn't go to the Olympics, he was at that level that he could have gone. He comes on the department and really distinguishes himself as an athlete. There is nothing in his package to give any indication that he would decide one day to go and rob a bank.

But yet, when you go back and look at his relationships with gangs, and the same criminal element of the rap culture and hip-hop culture and some of the criminal activities that were pretty well identified, you begin to see that he obviously did not lose all of those ties from his previous existence before becoming a police officer.

Then, when we monitor what's happened to him while he's in federal prison, it appears he has completely divested himself of all relationships of his life as a police officer, and he is basically a gang member. He basically has taken on the role of being a gang member in jail. And recently, I understand from information, he may have had a confrontation and been stabbed in prison.

But what does this begin to tell you? . . .

I think what you find is that the department is constantly evolving. . . . People from my era view things completely different, of service to the public. We're here to provide, protect and serve. The younger officers have a different view. They're looking at primarily, "What can the department do for me? If another department pays $50 more a month, I just might transfer over there." It's a completely different view of what society expects of them. These are things that are constantly in flux in the department, and it continually evolves.

And unfortunately, we're not able to breed police officers. We are only able to hire them out of the community, and they bring the same values and principles in the community. Sometimes there is a blurred line between their perception of right and wrong. . . . Some of our younger officers believe that their off-duty behavior and their off-duty conduct is their personal business. The department has no right to know about it, nor to take any action about it, yet we view that totally differently. So there is a lot of evolution that's going on. . . .

I don't think we can ever take the human nature out of this job, and I don't think we'll ever be able to overcome a situation where a person chooses to be personally dishonest. That's something in which people always will have to make their own judgment. It's our role to eliminate, to the best of our ability, the opportunity for people to believe they can do it with the same flair that occurred in Rampart. . . .

. . . The third major event in this series of disasters that led to ultimately this investigation, that led to Rampart, was it turned out that there was cocaine gone missing from the evidence room. It's being sold on the street, and evidence is being stolen by an L.A.P.D. officer named Rafael Perez. With the discovery of Perez on top of these other two things, is a picture beginning at that point to come together? And what do you decide to do about it?

Well, I think the picture comes that, again, Perez is a good friend of David Mack's. Both were good friends of Gaines. And I think the picture reflected that we had some people on this department that were, in a coordinated effort, involved in some very serious criminal misconduct. . . .

We found out in about August 1998 that Perez was the person that was involved. We tried to prosecute him, and he came out with a hung jury, initially. But the part of the story that doesn't get nearly the publicity it should is that our officers never stopped investigating Perez. They found several other cases that he switched narcotics. And only when Perez was getting ready for his second trial, and the potential of going to prison for 14 to 15 years became evident, was he willing, at the latter part of 1999, to sit down and begin to discuss what he wanted to tell us about his operation. . . .

You all do press forward and your investigators do make a case. And, in fact, they're quite ready to nail him to the wall.

That's right.

Perez's Confessions

And the decision is made to try to flip him and to make a deal, which you supported, did you not?

[I] supported that, because number one, it was pretty clear that, in the sense of the case that he was involved with, that he knew and we knew that he had done these things. Again, we were not a party to what the final outcome of how many years was offered. But we did think it was important enough to find out what he had to say.

We wanted to know who else was involved, what was the extent of his criminal behavior. I did not have sufficient enough feeling that just having him go to prison was enough. And then to realize that all of these other connections--the possibility of the bank robbery, the Kevin Gaines, other narcotic issues--what was he willing to tell us about?

That's where the 4,000 pages of transcript came forward. But that was strictly on the shoulders of L.A.P.D. finding enough information that got his attention. When we first talked to him after the hung jury, he actually laughed at us, and said he was going to beat the second trial and that he had no concerns about it. When we periodically went back to the grand jury and indicted him on successive charges of switching narcotics, then he came back and he told us that he wanted to work a deal, because he couldn't figure out how we figured out what he had done.

When he saw those indictments, he knew that he pretty well had come to an end. Then he was into his own self-motivation to protect himself, and that's when the deal came about. . . .

When was the Rampart task force formed in this chronology?

We were working on a small task force as early as 1998 to begin to look at how the narcotics came up missing. . . . As we moved forward in talking to people in the community, they began to give us little hints about what he may have been involved with on-duty and off-duty. But it wasn't until we interviewed him in the latter part of 1999 that we got a real scope of what he was involved with.

[What information did you think you might get from him when he started talking?]

We thought our number one issue was looking at the narcotics, what occurred, and to determine was he responsible for the initial six pounds, and later the two pounds. And we found out that he was responsible in both cases. We also found out he had switched a variety of other cases, amounting to several more pounds.

There is no one in this department that had any idea what Perez was going to come forward with when we began the interviews. We could speculate that he was going to talk about how they disposed of the drugs, other officers that may be involved, things of that nature. No one had any idea that he was going to talk about the Ovando case, that that was a fraudulent incident. . . [or] the number of officers that he began to implicate.

What's important is that even when we evaluate what Perez told us early on in his interviews--he was very graphic and worldly--that everyone that worked within certain units all did something. But as we continued to interview him, he began to narrow that down on his own. He became very specific as to what he knew officers had done, what he speculated they had done, and when those were in the loop or out of the loop.

As he continued to talk, you'll see that he's far more concise and the numbers of people begin to be smaller, and smaller, as opposed to the worldwide view that he took early on about every CRASH officer does this, or everyone that works in special units does these kinds of activities. He became more specific as, I think, he realized the importance of being accurate, and giving good information had a real impact on his future. He began to get very concise as to what he saw, what he thought he saw. He would very clearly go through and say, "I didn't see this, but I heard this." He was very clear.

Then when we went out early in 1999, or I guess early 2000, and begin to find some of these people who had been arrested. And without telling them what Perez said, they reported back to us how the circumstances occurred, and it matched what he told us. It was pretty clear that, on most of those 1999 false arrests, he was being very accurate, at least at how he had participated in illegal activity.

There was at least enough of the truth that you were able to test.

That's right.

Back up just half a step. Before you know that stuff, before he turns inward on CRASH, arrests, the arrests of others, and all of that stuff, when you know that he's going to deal now, and you're expecting what he might tell you. You're expecting and hoping that he might tell you what other officers, if any, are involved in the cocaine stuff. Are you also expecting he might be able to shed some light on the Mack bank robbery?

We were hopeful, because we knew that they were, number one, friends. We also knew that they had socialized together in Vegas within a day or two after the robbery. And we knew that, during that period of time in Las Vegas, they had spent a significant amount of money. So we thought that that would be something he would be willing to talk about. Unfortunately, he never gave up any information regarding that, and Mack has chosen not to cooperate at all. So that's somewhat a part of the mystery that we haven't unraveled.

That's interesting to me. Because while the other Rampart stuff obviously is hugely important--and that has certainly had its place in the sun--let's cut back to another piece of police business, which is you all are supposed to solve bank robberies, for example, and cocaine thefts, for example. Death Row Records, as you were saying, is not exactly where you want your officers hanging out, and sleeping in those particular beds. That stuff is still mysterious. Why isn't the bank robbery solved yet? Why don't you all know where the money is? What happened to that part of the investigation?

Well, the thing is, the bank robbery is solved. We know who committed the bank robbery. One person is in prison, and certainly the bank employee came forth and was more than cooperative to assist us. We don't know where the money is, because David Mack--and we believe through other sources--has hidden it sufficiently. He's willing, as he has told investigators, to accept his time, and to serve his time without ever providing us information. Hopefully, at some point--and that investigation is continuing--that money will be coming forth, and we'll be able to locate it.

But again, with the prosecution of Death Row Records' president Suge Knight, that empire is somewhat diminished, and we have certainly put a great deal more restriction on people's work permits. That message certainly has gone out about those relationships, so we think that those issues have been resolved. . . .

When you first heard that, when you first hear Perez talking about a victim serving time for a crime he didn't commit--who is also paralyzed from a [police shooting]--and then all of the other things: planting dope; laying down guns; laying cases on these people. What was your response when you first heard that?

The first thing is disbelief. I had thought that the worst part of anything I was briefed on is that we'd have a Los Angeles police officer that would participate in shooting someone for no reason. That was bad. But what I thought was the worst part [was that] they could go to court and testify, and sit there while the judge admonished the defendant, as to the judge's belief that the defendant had put the officer's life in jeopardy. And then see that person get sentenced to 20 some years in prison, and walk out of that court, and not even look back at it being a concern. That was the worst part for me--that we'd have people that callous, who have such a limited value for life. . . .

And your personal response, in one or two words, could be characterized as what? Outrage?

Well, I don't ever get outraged. But the issue is that we clearly put the resources in and said that we're going to get to the bottom of it. There will be no stone unturned. The number one issue is that we will be the ones that will bring this forward. As we went through our administrative and our criminal investigation, we then decided to look internally at all the systems that may have fallen apart. And that's when we published our own board of inquiry [report].

As of this day, we are still the only criminal justice agency that's been involved in the entire Rampart incident that looked internally, and has published anything to say how we think things should have been done better. This is something that, no matter how much we're criticized for that, we believe it's the right thing to do. . . .

No one has published anything, including the public defender who handled most of these cases, not the DA, the judges, the courts, Probation, Corrections. No one has published anything other than L.A.P.D.

Legal Outcome

You also were pushing for some filings, and, "Let's get some officers to court who have been accused of these things. We've made a case, get them to court and put them on trial."

That's true. . . . Even if the jury rejected it, it was worth the whole exercise of sitting those people through a criminal process, because they had violated their oath to that degree. . . .

The police department, the chief of police, had to lead it for the officers in this department to know that it was not going to accept, or it was intolerable to allow officers to participate in this activity. It was important that the community saw that the police department was willing to do its job. . . .

Let me talk about the nature of the cases that were filed and brought. Here we have bad cops doing bad things, the original bad cops. I'm talking about Mack, Kevin Gaines, and of course, it seems to me the worst of them, Rafael Perez, doing these discernibly bad things, including putting away a guy; including going on the stand and testifying falsely, letting a guy, without remorse, sit in jail for something he didn't do.

It's brought to light. There is outrage. There is appropriate response. There is an investigation. The wheels of justice begin to turn in their creaky old ways. And you have the result of a group of white officers hauled into court over such issues as, in the case of Brian Liddy, a Medal of Valor winner, whether or not he exaggerated as to the degree of injury he suffered when a gang member, who indisputably had a gun in his car, fled the scene at the sight of the officers. How do you get me from here-- bad cops robbing banks and stealing cocaine--to Brian Liddy being on the stand?

I think number one, what was unfortunate about the initial phase of the case is that the media tried to make this the crime of the century. They began to talk about this is the worst corruption scandal in the history of L.A.P.D.. When it's all resolved, we'll have one-tenth of 1 percent of our officers involved in this issue.

And the serious nature of it is that Rafael Perez [and] Nino Durden almost exclusively were involved in almost all of the false arrests. Also, Rafael Perez and Nino Durden were almost exclusively involved in the theft of the narcotics, and the eventual resale of the narcotics. Brian Liddy and others were involved in many incidents stretching their probable cause and stretching the truth, in order to put what they thought were gang members in jail for the right reasons. Unfortunately, they did it the wrong way. . . .

This is again a rhetorical question. But why is a little hyping of probable cause such a bad thing?

It's illegal. That's why it's a bad thing. . . . We must follow the rules for this department to have any integrity, and to have any long-term acceptance in the community. We cannot take on the whole involvement of the criminal justice system and become the judge, the probation, the corrections, and make decisions in that regard.

We enforce the law, whether we like it or not. We have no ability for street justice, or to start making determinations on who should get what penalty, who should go to jail or not go to jail, or who should be mistreated, and not mistreated. . . .

. . . [Here's] the sort of question people ask about this. So, yes, we understand the subtle points of law, and yes, police officers have to be honest, of course, of course, of course. Meanwhile, you have created, this was all created, what one member of the bench has called an instant class of criminal millionaires.

That's right.

Guys that your people have put their lives on the line, in some cases, to send into jail, some of whom presumably will be back in jail again someday. As a police officer, how does that result make you feel?

Well, I think number one, we have to be responsible when we violate people's rights. And I think the message, if any message comes out of Rampart, it's that they began to treat people as less than human beings because they were gang members, dope dealers. They abused them physically, verbally, and through the system, and that's not tolerable. So if a gang member or a criminal gets some reward because they were mistreated, that's because they were mistreated--not anything they brought on themselves.

And yes, some of them are criminals. And yes, some of them went to jail, and they probably will be back in jail. But those are issues that are beyond us. The issue is that the city and the officers that worked here created some litigation and liability that they shouldn't have created. And it shouldn't be our judgment to start deciding whether you can justify that liability because you're a gang member, but if you were a schoolteacher, you should get it. The issue is, they were put in jail. They shouldn't have been put in jail. Their rights were violated. They shouldn't have been violated.

We can quibble about how much, and that's generally the game people go through: should they get this amount? . . . I don't know what they should get. But the key is that, if their rights were violated, the liability falls on the city and the employees that work for the city. And that's the way the system works, and it's justified. And again, how much is a separate issue. . . .

Community Reaction

This was portrayed as the biggest scandal in the history of the L.A.P.D.. Eventually it became known as the biggest scandal in the history of all police forces ever. . . . What is the effect on the department, and how do you deal with it?

I think it has many times a very negative effect. . . . As people are generating the story and trying to cause that story to have legs and go through the community, the only people that I've seen that really get it are the people who live in the community. If you go out and listen to them, they say if you have bad police officers, get rid of them and get back to work. The largest demonstration we've had in the city of L.A. about Rampart has been 200 to 300 people showed up to Rampart and said, "We love you."

That offended the local newspaper to the point that they wrote an article saying, "Why aren't more people offended?" Well, I think in a general sense, the people who lived in Rampart understood that many of them have the ability to continue to live in Rampart because the police are there. They don't condone the criminal behavior. But yet they also remember that, a short ten years ago, in a small ten-square-mile area of the city called Rampart, we had 178 murders. . . . Many of them realized the only reason that there is safety in the community is that Rampart officers, in the last ten years, put themselves on the line, and went out and made tons of arrests, and took people into custody--all legitimately. They weren't willing to reduce, or to ignore that effort because Rafael Perez did business poorly.

The general public that you talk to on a daily basis is tired of Rampart, and believe that it's time to move on. And they believe that it was exactly as it turned out to be--a small number of officers that went astray. Get rid of them, and get back to work. . . .

I think the media and some of our politicians viewed this as another step of "reform." Unfortunately, some people don't believe you can ever have enough reform. The issue, at some point, is that we have to have a department where we believe that, if something goes on, it does the right thing. We haven't gotten there, because many people call for outside review. Many of our politicians push for the federal government to come in, because in their mind, it wouldn't be resolved without this "outside involvement."

Federal Oversight of the L.A.P.D.

L.A.P.D. in 2001 is fixing to have some fed basically come in here and oversee you.

That's what the political structure in this city has decided they want. The issue is that we will go through a five-year process of a monitor that works directly for the court, which will oversee and determine whether we implement the issues that are in this consent decree.

What is kind of interesting to me about the consent decree is that about 50 percent to 60 percent of it are L.A.P.D. policies and procedures that are already in place, that they're mandating that we continue to keep in place. About 30 percent of it deals with a computer that may run about $40 million, which mandates that we basically have an early warning system. But in reality, when you look at it, it's not an early warning system, because the people have to actually do the event to be put in the computer. So it's kind of like a late warning system. In reality, supervision and management should be looking at officers on a daily basis and determine whether they are doing something inappropriate or not.

So these are the kind of things that the political system has chosen that we be under this form of review. All we can do, as public servants, is to move forward and implement this at the least impact on the public and the crime picture. And that's what our job is. . . .

As a matter of fact, there was at least an earlier consent decree, wasn't there?

We have two consent decrees. We have one that started in 1980. . . that basically set goals for hiring officers. We must have, throughout a year's period, 22 percent females. The city has raised that to 40 percent. We are supposed to have 22 percent blacks. Because we've reached that goal, it's down to 15 percent, and 22 percent Hispanic. Because of the population explosion, we've moved to 30 percent. And then we've added a voluntary goal of about 10 percent for Asian-Americans. So that's our hiring goals.

Then we have a [later] lawsuit that dictates, to some degree, what our goals should be in the advancement of officers between the police officer rank, up to the lieutenant rank.

How do you feel about those agreements?

I think those agreements have served us well, in the fact that they've been voluntary goals. But it's forced us to be a department that basically looks like our community.

We now have almost 2,000 women. We have over 3,000 Hispanic officers. We have 1,200 black officers, and we have about 700 Asian officers. And when you look at our community and then begin to see how it reflects in the department, it's a very big positive. I don't know whether we would have gotten to this point this quickly had we not had the guidance and the goals that were dictated by some of that litigation.

Let me ask you an awful question. By the same token, might you not have gotten Rafael Perez and David Anthony Mack, had you not had those imperatives?

I don't believe those imperatives had anything to do with David Mack, just as we fired people for equally as serious crimes in my 36 years.

Poole's Allegations of Cover Up

I wanted to ask you about one fellow... Detective Poole. [He], as you know, was assigned to a narrow piece of a case, found some interesting stuff, and wanted to follow that thread. It was Death Row Records. [He has suggested] that that there was much more there, and that he tried to bring it to you, and that you shut him down.... Eventually, of course, he left the force. What is your response to this?

I think it's completely illogical. Why would we gone through what we've done to ignore credible information? I think what has been very clear throughout this case is that Officer Poole had some theories that couldn't be substantiated. And when he couldn't substantiate them, clearly his supervision gave him the right direction and said, "Until you substantiate them, they can't be a part of a case." . . . The thing that concerns me is that, if Detective Poole really thought seriously that he was being ignored and he had all of this information, then why didn't he bring it forth before he resigned, and before he was disciplined because of his own personal misconduct? Why didn't this come to light before then?

Well, he says that he did. He said he brought it to you at the famous meeting . . .

Russell Poole came to a meeting amongst other detectives, and basically had a very minimal role in that meeting. Again, why would I insist on moving forward and pushing the DA to file cases to bring a task force forward to investigate the case--be the lone voice in investigating this for two and a half years, and then listen to Russell Poole and say, "I'm not interested in what you say, because it might bring something negative towards the department?" It doesn't make any sense at all.

So it didn't happen?

It didn't happen. And the thing is, in my judgment, it's kind of interesting that he only brought it up when he left the department, and after he had been personally disciplined and removed from the task force. So those are things that cause me some concern.

What was he disciplined for?

I can't go into that, but . . . he was removed from the task force, disciplined, and then retired before he had vested his pension, which then would cause you concern to say, why would he do all of those things? It wasn't because we did anything to him. And certainly, why would we ignore information that was relevant?


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