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Williams Buoyed by L.A.'s Calm : LAPD: Chief grows more relaxed as reactions to verdicts pour in. He says extra officers reduced crime and cites statistics to urge passage of tax to pay for more forces.


After verdicts were announced Saturday in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial, television news reporters were gathered outside police headquarters in the hope that Chief Willie L. Williams would answer the question: Would there be trouble?

But from his sixth-floor office, Williams could not know whether there would be trouble. He was watching local TV news broadcasts in an effort to find out.

All he could see from his window was the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building across the street, where the trial had been held. A handful of onlookers gathered in the courtyard there, and news helicopters circled overhead. Williams did what he could to get information: he dispatched an aide to report on what the onlookers were doing.

But as the morning went on, Williams' access to information improved dramatically. He received reports from police supervisors across the city that all was quiet. Three hours after the verdicts, he was able to assure a meeting of the city's Emergency Management Board, convened in a bombproof subbasement of City Hall East: "Basically there is no trouble."

Still later in the day, the chief's outward calm turned to buoyancy.

He flashed a broad smile and extended a hand and chitchat to at least a score of merchants, shoppers and security guards in Koreatown, hard hit in the riots a year ago, and to dozens of officers and civilian workers at the city's 911 nerve center and at neighborhood police stations in the Wilshire and Hollywood areas.

He asked the same thing of everyone--"How're you doing?" And he seemed to listen with interest.

A heavyset man with a graceful gait and a genial way, Williams even took time to pose with subordinates for photographs and to sign an autograph. He laughed with an 8-year-old boy who mistook him for Martin Luther King Jr. and with a veteran officer at Wilshire who, in an apparent practical joke, spread his drab, department-issue sack lunch on the hood of the chief's plush Ford Crown Victoria and munched away.

It was increasingly clear that Williams had become a goodwill ambassador who had survived a crisis that never bloomed. "I believe the rebuilding of L.A. has begun," he said.

Ever-present aides were taking care of details such as driving and staying available to headquarters by portable telephones, beepers and radios. Williams, between stops, could relax by listening to jazz on the radio.

Crime statistics, particularly for homicides, were way down and Williams was telling everyone who would listen that the decline was attributable to the heightened police presence that had started a week ago Saturday and gone into high gear on the day of the verdicts.

The chief took to using these crime statistics to make a case for passage of Proposition 1, the measure on Tuesday's city ballot that would raise property taxes to put 1,000 more police officers on the streets.

"I'm waging a two-day campaign," he said.

Williams acknowledged that he had been "a little nervous a few weeks ago," but was cheered by orderly preparations for the possibility of a second riot and by the commitment of peacekeepers in the community to avoid it.

He arrived at work at 5 a.m. on the day of the verdicts and immediately flipped on a TV. Finding nothing that could help him, he flipped it off again.

All over the city, about 6,500 LAPD officers were reporting to begin 12-hour shifts.

By a few minutes before 7 a.m., the console TV in the chief's office was on again, and Williams sat in his desk chair, occasionally clasping and unclasping his hands in a prayerful, expectant posture.

His face gave away nothing.

Then the announcer intoned the first verdict. LAPD Sgt. Stacey Koon had been found guilty of violating King's civil rights.

The chief raised his left eyebrow for just a second. It was the only indication of surprise.

As the verdicts were read, Williams used his Mont Blanc ballpoint pen to record them in his white legal pad, his face a blank mask. Then he called his second in command to ask for hourly updates on conditions in the city from his four geographic bureau commanders.

He settled back down in front of the TV. He seemed particularly interested in the thoughts of the minister at Lynwood Missionary Baptist Church who was being asked on live television to give his reaction. Citing the two guilty, and two not guilty verdicts, the minister said he had not gotten all he had hoped for, but that basically his prayers had been answered.

Williams seemed relieved. This one man was a sample of the city whose reactions the chief wanted so badly to know.

The chief stood and mused to a reporter that about a year ago, "I was announced as chief of police. This is a heckuva way to start my second year."

Then he went downstairs to a Police Commission meeting room where four commissioners, hungry for information, were gathered around another set.

Later still, he was interviewed live on CNN in the afternoon and broadcast an upbeat message of hope.

He ran into Jesse Jackson in the CNN hall. Clasping hands with the chief and some associates, Jackson offered a prayer that seemed to sum up the peaceful reaction to Saturday's verdicts.

"Thank you for just enough justice now and then to inspire us to move on," the minister said.

"Amen," came the response.

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