Finally it is starting to be over. The long agony that began with the March videotape that lit up television sets around the world--of LAPD officers pummeling a black suspect after an adrenaline-pumping car chase--looks to be coming to a close. Daryl F. Gates--after 42 years in the Los Angeles Police Department, 13 years as its chief and months of bitter maneuvering--says he will step down. Sometime next April, Gates says, he will retire.
In his letter to City Council President John Ferraro on Monday, the chief did not condition his retirement on passage of any Charter amendment. He included no grounds for his change of direction, saying only that he would stay longer if the city failed to settle on a permanent successor by April.
Even that option was enough to alarm those who fear that Gates will change his mind. But taking the chief at his word--holding him to the letter of his letter to Ferraro--the ball is now in the city's court. And eight months is certainly enough time to initiate a search and to settle on a successor. Indeed, that task has been made immeasurably easier by Gates' written assurance that by spring a vacancy will actually exist.
In his letter, the chief pointedly noted that the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, which issued a report the week before last calling for major reforms in the department, had recommended that "the commencement of a transition in that office is now appropriate." But the Christopher Commission also said that in the interim "we hope that Chief Gates will remain in office while his successor is being chosen." Wrote Gates: "It is apparently the judgment of the independent commission, in which I concur, that an interim chief would not be in the best interests of the department or the people we serve."
But an interim chief might be a very good idea, indeed, if during the next eight months Gates fails to dedicate himself to the task of beginning to implement the many excellent reforms proposed by the commission and continues to punish those whose testimony enabled the commission to reach its responsible recommendations. There are already too many reports of retaliation against officers who spoke out against the chief. This is no way to "commence the transition." On the contrary, it violates the spirit and intention of the superb work done by the Christopher Commission and runs counter to the image of the LAPD as a professional agency that is above petty politics.
That image--of a department above the fray--is one Chief Gates cares about deeply, so we take at face value his stated sincerity. It is therefore in his interest, from this moment onward until that day in April when he steps down, to act in a way that looks only to the future improvement of his department and to put much of the bitterness he feels behind him. No doubt in every bone of his body he feels he was made the fall guy for all that went wrong in a department 8,300 members strong; no doubt he looks skeptically at some of his critics and questions the sincerity of their motives. And doubtless others who support the chief share his sourness and detest the unfolding outcome.
Be that as it may, the time for change--the time for the chief to go--had come. Now, after a very unpleasant and enervating period of fighting reality, Daryl Gates has decided to take the high road. For that he is to be congratulated, commended and supported.
Let the city now move forward and begin the hard work of helping to improve a police force that the chief described in his retirement letter as "the most effective, the most committed and the most honorable group of police officers and civilian personnel to be found in any police department in the world." Let him, in all his actions over these final months, add more glory to that honorable tradition.