After all the hemming and hawing, the sparring with those "crummy little politicians" and the shadowboxing with reporters, Daryl Francis Gates leaves his job as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department today the way he always vowed he would: with his head defiantly held high.
For 14 often tumultuous, always interesting years, the name Gates has been synonymous with the LAPD.
The chief has shepherded his beloved department--"the finest in the world," he likes to say--through good times and bad. He has been at the helm through visits from presidents and a Pope and the golden moments of the 1984 Olympics, through the police shooting of a black woman named Eulia Love and the beating of a black man named Rodney G. King and the darkest hours of the Los Angeles riots, when his officers watched, helpless and embarrassed, as city blocks went up in flames.
He leaves revered by most--although not all--of his troops, and reviled by his critics. The man once hailed by President Bush as an "all-American hero" was besieged by autograph-seekers and admirers as he prepared to depart. At the same time, one city official branded him "megalomaniacal," and another chastised him for playing "cheap games" as he toyed with changing his retirement date.
Mayor Tom Bradley, his longtime nemesis, issued a blistering statement saying Gates had "brought Los Angeles to the brink of disaster just to satisfy his own ego" and is leaving "a sad and bitter legacy."
Perhaps no police chief in the nation inspired such extreme feelings of loyalty and disdain. And perhaps none has provided as much controversy and entertainment. Attorney Melanie Lomax, a Gates critic who resigned from the Police Commission last year, said: "Whatever you can say about Daryl Gates, he is not dull."
Yet as the Gates era in Los Angeles drew to a close, the city's attention-grabbing top cop--whose musings about retirement sometimes pushed international news off the front page--seemed eager to leave the spotlight behind. Still, he could not resist a Friday appearance on "Good Morning America," for which he had to get out of bed before 3 a.m., and one last hallway press conference--vintage Gates--as he left his office for the final time.
Technically on vacation, during his final days he took the liberty of skipping his last meeting with his bosses, the civilian Police Commission, with whom he did not get along. He cleared plaques from his office walls, had a birthday dinner with his longtime secretary, tended to routine police matters, such as the review of officer-involved shootings, and videotaped a sentimental, upbeat farewell message to his troops.
"Serve Willie Williams well," he told them, referring to the former Philadelphia police commissioner, about to become the department's 50th chief at 12:01 a.m. today. Williams will be formally sworn in on Tuesday.
He visited an injured Explorer Scout at a hospital in West Covina, signed so many copies of his newly published autobiography that his arm grew tired, and was feted at an emotional retirement barbecue attended by 5,000 of his closest friends, the people he calls the "LAPD family." There were no speeches, except the one he made, and few outsiders were allowed in.
He ordered his staff to turn down all requests for interviews from the local press, saying he has been interviewed so much he sees no point in talking anymore. But, summoning up his finest gentlemanly manner, he could not bring himself to turn a Times reporter away from his Montecito Heights condominium on Wednesday, despite his well-known dislike for the paper.
The previous day, caught off guard and bristling at the unexpected intrusion into his private life, he had said no, he would not talk. "It was a mistake," he declared curtly, emerging from his two-car garage at 7 a.m. dressed for his usual morning jog. "You shouldn't have come here. This is my home."
Then he jumped in his red Acura Legend and drove off. "I have people waiting for me," he said as he shut the car door.
Yet Wednesday, he relented. The 66-year-old chief looked tanned and fit, clad in red nylon jogging shorts and an LAPD T-shirt and white socks with no shoes. He offered his visitor a cup of coffee and perched himself on a cinder-block wall looking out at the San Gabriel Mountains.
And there, in the peaceful quiet of the early morning hour, punctuated only by the occasional barking of a neighbor's dog, America's best-known police chief reflected on his departure from the job that made him famous.
Gone was his cantankerous public persona--the "shoot-from-the-lip" style that has gotten him into trouble over the years for, among other remarks, referring to Latinos as "lazy" and saying that some blacks do not respond to the carotid chokehold the way "normal people" do. Such explosive utterances gave way, in that setting, to rare and private moments of introspection.