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No More Mr. Nice Chief

November 01, 1995

Chief Willie L. Williams is finally talking tough, demanding greater progress from the top management of the Los Angeles Police Department. As Times staff writer Jim Newton reported Tuesday, the normally easy-going chief no longer seems to be that. He dressed down the top brass in calling for support, teamwork and commitment to the reforms the department so badly needs. For the good of the city, everybody in the LAPD must get the message.

Williams, who came here from Philadelphia's police force in 1992, has never enjoyed the departmental support received by his predecessors, who came up through the LAPD ranks. He can't make everybody embrace him, but he can set the tone and issue marching orders. Ultimately, he must lead and inspire others to follow. Leadership begets leadership.

The LAPD needs reform now. Public confidence plummeted yet again when Mark Fuhrman's racist comments were disclosed in court. Whether the now-retired LAPD detective, who bragged about beating up suspects and harassing minorities, was merely a rogue needs to be determined.

A Justice Department investigation prompted by Fuhrman's tape-recorded comments may provide the reassurances that Angelenos need. Four years after the release of the 1991 Christopher Commission recommendations for change, the public is losing patience with the reform effort.

Los Angeles may also be losing patience with Williams. He has been here since shortly after the riots. So why hasn't the department made greater progress on community policing, which he endorses, or the Christopher reforms? The chief must take a major share of responsibility.

In defending himself Williams certainly could cite huge obstacles, such as police brass and officers who undermine him and a mayor who has been less than supportive, but he must accept the accountability that comes with the job.

After months of criticism of his management style from inside the department and City Hall, Williams now appears to be saying "enough." Get with the program, he insists, or go. His take-charge attitude is encouraging. Now he and his top aides must put the force of action behind his words.

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