Council District 15: Buscaino and the council cop bloc
If he's elected to the Los Angeles City Council on Jan. 17, Joe Buscaino would expand the current cop bloc to four members. On a council of 15, that's a surprising number of reserve and retired LAPD officers, especially in a liberal city with a long love/hate relationship with its police.
But not all council cops are the same politically, and Buscaino might be even more pro-police than the rest. His campaign spent a lot on mailers in the Nov. 8 primary, but a big Buscaino mail campaign was conducted by the police officers union -– the Los Angeles Police Protective League. Independently of the candidate, the league spent $72,285 on seven campaign mailers and another $75,000 on a cable TV spot.
The league differs from department brass on a number of issues; for example, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has ordered officers to no longer impound the cars of unlicensed drivers, a move supported by illegal immigrants and others ineligible to get licenses. The league is running a petition campaign to "keep dangerous drivers off the road." The league also has sent mixed messages on Beck's and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plans, currently on hold, to increase the number of officers.
The Times has endorsed Buscaino over state Assemblyman Warren Furutani.
We can't necessarily assume that Buscaino would back Beck's every budget request. And there's no doubt something heady about being able to openly question your ex-boss on policy and budget decisions.
The first member of the current LAPD contingent was Dennis Zine, a retired sergeant and motorcycle officer who was defeated in his first run for the council, then was elected to the city's charter reform commission, and finally was elected to the council in 2001. A former board member for the league, Zine has been supportive of law enforcement but is sometimes skeptical of the LAPD's budget demands.
More than merely skeptical was Greig Smith, who retired from the council in June after serving two terms. Smith routinely and vocally criticized the LAPD for its budget management. As a reserve officer, Smith was uniformed and accredited, but unpaid. He was succeeded in office by his former chief of staff, Mitchell Englander, who took office on July 1. Englander became a reserve officer in 2005. He just got to the council, so it remains to be seen how his law enforcement perspective will manifest itself at budget time.
The department's biggest City Council critic is Bernard C. Parks, the former Los Angeles chief of police and 38-year department veteran. Parks was elected to the council after being denied a second term as chief by then-Mayor James Hahn's Board of Police Commissioners. As chairman of the council's budget committee, Parks has been a hawk on all city spending -– and especially on budget requests and reports from the LAPD.
So would Buscaino be a Parks-type critic, a Zine-style supporter of the rank and file against the brass, or something else entirely? Would the officers come first, the LAPD managers, or residents? Would the goal be to keep the current ranks content by spending scarce city money on pay raises, or to devote that money instead to adding more officers? He won't say what city services and programs he'd be prepared to cut or what taxes he would try to raise in order to "put public safety first."
Of course, the most famous police officer ever to serve on the Los Angeles City Council was Tom Bradley, who was elected in 1963. He served 10 years on the council before going on to be L.A.'s mayor for two full decades.
To see the Police Protective League's Buscaino mailers from the Nov. 8 primary (plus other independent mailers and the league's cable TV script), click here to get to the appropriate Los Angeles City Ethics Commission page, then click on each item under "Communications."
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-- Robert Greene
Photo: Two members of the council's current cop bloc, Dennis Zine and Bernard C. Parks, with a photo of former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates on April 16, 2010, after hearing of Gates' death. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.