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Gates Says He May Delay Departure From LAPD Police: 'I'll retire when I want to retire,' chief says. Transition to Willie Williams could be postponed.

June 06, 1992|James Rainey | This article was reported by Times staff writers Rich Connell, James Rainey and Ted Rohrlich. It was written by Rainey

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates has once again told city officials he will delay his departure from duty--complicating and potentially delaying the planned transition to his successor and leading the Police Commission to consider disciplining him.

"I said I was going to retire at the end of June and my feeling is now, 'Screw you, I'll retire when I want to retire,' " Gates said in a telephone interview late Friday.

The Police Commission responded to Gates' latest change of plans by scheduling a special session Sunday to discuss the possibility of disciplining the chief. The panel also is seeking to hire a private attorney to represent its interests in the dispute with Gates.

Gates' outburst came after city officials refused to go along with his request that they make a technical adjustment to a civil service list of captains seeking promotion to the rank of commander.

Police Commission President Stanley K. Sheinbaum said that Gates told him that threatening to stay on the job was his "only weapon" to win his point. Gates denied making such a comment, but acknowledged: "I played a little hardball with them. I know how to use power."

The renewed uncertainty over leadership of the beleaguered LAPD comes at a crucial time--just weeks after the city erupted in the nation's worst urban rioting and as tensions in the community continue to run high.

Previously, Gates repeatedly said he would leave by the end of June, clearing the way for his designated successor, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Willie L. Williams, to take over July 1.

But city Personnel Department General Manager John J. Driscoll said Gates told him Friday he will not leave until July 15. By then, Driscoll said, Charter Amendment F--the new chief selection rules approved by voters this week--are likely to be in effect.

If Gates is still in office when the new rules are made official, the city attorney has advised, the selection of Williams would be nullified. Authority to choose the new chief, which now rests with the Police Commission, would shift to Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council.

The chief's decision "obviously delays and disrupts the entire appointment process," Driscoll said. However, city officials said Williams, the top-ranked candidate under the old rules, would be likely to emerge the winner under the new procedures as well .

Driscoll said Gates understood the significance of delaying his departure. "He said (the city) can start a new (police chief) selection process," Driscoll said.

"I took that very seriously," Driscoll said. "What I understood him to mean was he was going to stay."

Gates, in an interview with The Times on Friday, declined to comment on his conversation with Driscoll.

Instead, he tried to place the emphasis in the controversy on the actions of city officials, particularly Bradley, whom he accuses of trying to meddle in the affairs of the Police Department.

At the heart of the dispute is a two-year promotion list set to expire Sunday. Gates sought to extend the life of the list for another month, but was rebuffed by the Police Commission, the Personnel Department and the City Council.

Gates wanted to preserve the list in order to retain the promotional opportunities for certain captains.

He said city officials' refusal to approve the promotional list--a standard practice--is proof that the mayor's office wants to control selections at the commander level within the Police Department. The chief said this amounted to exactly the kind of political tampering that he predicted in campaigning against City Charter Amendment F.

"The real story here is the involvement of the mayor's office, just as I said it would happen," he said. Gates predicted that the mayor's office would be able to meddle in future promotions within the department--particularly under Williams, who does not know department personnel and would turn to the mayor's office for guidance.

But Gates insisted that he is not trying to block Williams' authority to make the promotions. He said in fact that the new chief will benefit by having a list of candidates readily available when he takes office. If the current list is not approved, he said it will take several months for a new Civil Service test to be given and a new promotional list to be created--a delay the department cannot afford.

Gates said he has promised to let his successor, Williams, make the promotions to commander from the list.

Gates' remarks threw the city government into turmoil Friday afternoon. Sheinbaum said Gates had threatened in a telephone conversation with him Thursday not to leave office until mid-July, 15 days later than he previously promised.

Sheinbaum agreed with Driscoll that the delay might invalidate the selection of Williams.

"You have a Police Department and a city that have gone through 15 months of destabilization," Sheinbaum said. "All of this could be very costly and damaging to the city."

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