Predicting major changes for the beleaguered Los Angeles Police Department and the city it serves, newly named Chief Willie L. Williams vowed Thursday to push more officers out of their "soft jobs" behind desks and put them into patrol cars in an effort to reduce violent crime.
In his first interview just an hour after being presented as the next police chief, Williams said that although many officers deserve the elevated desk jobs they hold, the time has come to increase police visibility by getting them back on the streets.
"I did it before in Philadelphia. And it wasn't popular," Williams told reporters and editors at The Times. "To most of the people who have the 9-to-5 jobs or soft jobs or plainclothes jobs, they've earned it."
"But street patrol is No. 1."
Williams, the city's first black chief and first outsider to command the force in more than 40 years, also pledged to heal the divisions in the community and the sagging police morale that swept Los Angeles after the beating of Rodney G. King. He will do this, he said, by promoting more minorities through the ranks of the Police Department and by making routine visits to minority and white neighborhoods citywide.
"People don't care if you (the chief) are male, female, black, white, Latino or Asian, as long as they know they have access to the system," he said. "And a lot of people, legitimately or not legitimately, don't feel like they have access to the system right now."
Appearing relaxed after several days of intense activity surrounding his appointment, the soft-spoken Williams touched on a wide range of issues during the hour-long luncheon interview. He said:
* He supports the June ballot measure, recommended by the Christopher Commission, that would give City Hall more power over the police force and limit the term of its chiefs, including his own.
* He and retiring Chief Daryl F. Gates have a cordial agreement to smooth his transition into office. With two assistant chief vacancies, Williams said he will carefully evaluate the five candidates within the Police Department who were passed over for the top job, along with others, before making any appointments.
* He realizes that no matter what verdict is handed down against four LAPD officers on trial in the King beating, the result could be tumultuous and seriously hurt his efforts to ease community divisiveness and improve officer morale.
* He believes that the Police Department, once viewed as an "honest, non-corrupt, sharp, aggressive, modern Police Department," has been unable to adapt to changing times and its reputation was badly tarnished by the King beating. "It has opened a wide crack in the veneer," he said.
Speaking of his plans to shake up the department, molded by Gates over the last 14 years, Williams said: "I am the one who will have to take the heat. I don't have a problem with that. But I also am the one who will carry the healing salve."
Williams said that increasing the number of uniformed officers, coupled with renewed efforts at community-based policing, will go a long way to restore public trust in the Police Department.
According to a recent study by The Times, of 8,200 officers on the force, an average of only 315 police officers in patrol cars were available each shift to respond to calls.
"We may have to modify some programs to get the officers back into marked vehicles as soon as possible," Williams said. "And I stress those words, \o7 marked vehicles.\f7 The idea of seeing an officer in uniform in a marked vehicle or on a foot patrol is reassuring."
"It's OK to have unmarked cars and people waiting for crimes to occur to make arrests," he added. "But it's a lot better to have uniformed people to prevent crime and to have the people in the city see us make the arrests."
Williams said he recognizes Los Angeles' growing gang problems and noted that several new law enforcement efforts are under way, including joint operations with the FBI and other federal agencies. But he offered no specific program for curbing the violence. "I may not come up with the solution," he said. "But you have to keep trying something different."
Despite a major budget shortfall and little prospect of more money for police in the near future, Williams said he will carry out the Christopher Commission's recommendation to fully involve the citizenry in community-based policing--which Gates has slowly begun to implement.
"I want to sit down with the staff and say: 'How would you do things a little differently now that you have a new executive management at the top?' " he said. "If you always make the excuse that you need more money and more people to make change, then you're going to be a failure before you start."