Police Chief Daryl F. Gates went on the air and on the offensive Wednesday, blasting his underlings for their testimony to the Christopher Commission, while suggesting that "black humor" was to blame for many inflammatory racist and sexist messages discovered in police computers.
Gates also appeared to address more specifically the commission's recommendation that he step down as chief, saying that while he eventually plans to retire, it won't be "today, or tomorrow or within the next month."
However, Gates acknowledged feeling increasing stress as a result of the commission's report, which depicted the 8,300-member Police Department as plagued by brutality and tacitly condoning racism.
"You know, a human being can only take so much of this stuff," the 64-year-old chief told KABC radio talk show host Michael Jackson. ". . . My friends say, 'My God, you're built of iron.' I am tough, but no one likes this, no one enjoys this. . . . "
As the controversy swirled around him, Gates spent the bulk of his day quietly ensconced in his office at Parker Center, handling what Lt. Fred Nixon, a department spokesman, described as routine administrative matters. "Holed up?--he's not holed up," Nixon laughed.
Nonetheless, Gates made no public appearances Wednesday and declined requests to be interviewed. He agreed to speak via telephone with Jackson, an old friend, before coming to work.
Much of Gates' remarks for broadcast addressed the commission's findings that officers have used the mobile computer terminals in their patrol cars to send racist and sexist messages to each other.
In reviewing computer transcripts, commissioners found such missives as, "Well . . . I'm back over here in the projects, pissing off the natives" and, "Don't cry Buckwheat, or is it Willie Lunch Meat."
Gates conceded Tuesday that many of the messages are "terrible, intolerable . . . but what they show, and I think only a police officer understands this, is a very dark-sided humor.
"It's very, very black humor," Gates said. "I think you're going to find--and we already have found--that some of the most racist comments are being made by black officers to other black officers in that same kind of dark police humor. Hispanic officers, women officers--you're going to find that that's going to be the case, self-deprecating in many cases."
Gates suggested that the Police Department has been remiss in allowing such messages to be transmitted. He added, however, that with such a massive computer system--virtually every patrol car has a mobile terminal--it would be "highly labor intensive" to weed out offending messages and those who send them.
Gates disclosed that while the commission's report provided him few surprises, his "greatest disappointment" was in the critical statements made by assistant and deputy chiefs.
Meeting behind closed doors with the commission, Gates subordinates--particularly Deputy Chief David D. Dotson and recently retired Asst. Chief Jesse A. Brewer--pointed out one administrative laxity after another. "We have failed miserably," Dotson told commissioners when asked whether he felt the department adequately policed itself.
"You would think that I would hear that statement from their mouths," Gates complained. "Here's a man (Dotson) who's been in charge of discipline for the last two years. We meet on a regular basis. You'd think he would speak out . . . I've never heard him say any of those things. It's very disappointing, thoroughly disappointing. . . . "
As for Brewer, Gates said, "I can't understand why Jesse Brewer wouldn't have said something while he was here. He was in charge of personnel and training for two years. I would have thought if there was something wrong in the way we were training, that Jesse would have stepped in and made those changes.
"It's kind of tough," Gates said, "to appoint these individuals--you bring them along, you nurture them, when they have problems you deal with them, you try very hard to be fair with them and then, behind closed doors, they have all these comments that are brand new. You just kind of wonder why we didn't hear about them before."
Dotson disputed Gates' claim.
"If the chief does not believe I raised these issues before, then we do not agree on that issue," he said Wednesday night. "I've always prided myself on being candid with the chief."
Dotson said he met with Gates on Wednesday and had a "fairly lengthy conversation." He declined to elaborate other than to describe the meeting as less than "amenable."
"The statements I made to the commission have been construed by some people and the media as being disloyal, disruptive and derisive to the department," Dotson said. "That's was the furthest thing from my mind. It was my intent to express my opinions on issues that needed to be addressed and that is what I did."
Brewer could not be reached Wednesday.