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Archive: Once synonymous, Gates, LAPD go separate ways

He leaves office after 14 turbulent years. Perhaps no chief has inspired such loyalty and disdain.

June 28, 1992|By Sheryl Stolberg

One of the most notorious episodes in his tenure involved the now-defunct Public Disorder Intelligence Division, which was abolished in 1983 after revelations that police had spied on political figures, revolutionary communists and LAPD detractors such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

He pushed "proactive" policing--the idea that police officers should not just sit around in doughnut shops, but should be an aggressive presence on the streets, looking to prevent crime before it happens.

"There was a time," said U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who served on the Police Commission that hired Gates as chief, "when that might have been what the city needed. It certainly isn't what it needs now."

As the department shifts toward the more community-oriented style of policing recommended by the Christopher Commission, some say Gates failed to recognize that his time had passed.

"The fact that he hung on did great damage to his own reputation," said Councilman Yaroslavsky. "He wasn't attuned to the changes that were taking place under his nose."

Only time will tell how history will judge Daryl Gates. His foes say that his accomplishments--and most acknowledge that there are many--will forever be eclipsed by the dark shadows cast by the King beating, the Christopher Commission report and the LAPD's performance during the riots, including Gates' decision to attend a fund-raiser in Brentwood as the violence broke out.

They complain that he built a department based on an attitude of "Us vs. Them," in which citizens--particularly minorities--have been mistreated for years, as evidenced by the March 3, 1991, King beating and the shooting of Love that took place 12 years earlier. They point as well to the millions of dollars the city has paid in legal awards to victims of police brutality.

"He failed to communicate with the African-American community, the civil liberties community," said Ramona Ripston, who heads the Southern California ACLU. "There were things that we could have done together that wouldn't have solved the problems but may have made them less. Instead we ended up as warriors."

Gates' supporters counter that time has a way of evening things out, that 5, 10 or 20 years from now, Daryl Gates will once again be the fair-haired boy of the LAPD.

"He's got big shoes to fill and don't forget that," said City Council President John Ferraro.

"Truman keeps occurring to me," said retired LAPD Deputy Chief William Booth, who served as Gates' chief spokesman for 13 years. "At the time that Truman was President, a lot of people didn't appreciate the things that he did. I think now, as we look back, history is treating Harry Truman in a more realistic context."

In the morning calm outside his home, Gates refuses to make any such predictions. "I think," he said, "history will take care of itself." And then the telephone rings, and the larger-than-life chief of the Los Angeles Police Department--a hero to some, a villain to others--pads off in his stocking feet to answer it.

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