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THE WILLIAMS DECISION

Two Deputy Chiefs Top the List of Possible Successors

Personnel: Mayor touts Parks as interim leader, but some observers say he favors Kroeker for permanent post. An LAPD insider is thought likely to get job.

March 11, 1997|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Included on the short list of those who are taken seriously as potential successors to Police Chief Willie L. Williams is one deputy chief who got a timely public stroking Monday.

"I've had great respect for Bernie Parks for a number of years," Mayor Richard Riordan said. "He's been a strong leader. He is a tough, hard-working manager and leader, and I believe he can do an excellent job as interim chief."

Although Riordan stressed that he would urge the Police Commission to tap Parks for the interim chief job--but not necessarily the permanent position--his comments drew quick attention to what many believe is a two-man race. In recent months, many organizations and city leaders quietly have mused about who they would like to see succeed Williams. Many names are mentioned, but most attention has focused on Parks and Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker.

Both are LAPD veterans with more than 30 years on the job. Friendly rivals, they have patched up past differences in recent years and now speak highly of each other. Parks is black, Kroeker white. And oddly, though Parks got Riordan's praise Monday, many observers believe Kroeker is the mayor's first choice.

"You hear all kinds of names," said one City Hall insider, "but the talk starts and ends with Kroeker and Parks."

There are a handful of other contenders. Among them: Deputy Chief David J. Gascon; former New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton; former LAPD Deputy Chief William Rathburn, who supervised security at the 1996 Summer Olympics; and former Deputy Chief Lawrence Fetters, who helped draft the LAPD expansion plan before retiring to go to work for Rathburn at the Olympics.

Most observers predict that the city leadership will look inside the LAPD for its pick this time, partly out of concern that Williams' inexperience with the department hampered his ability to run it, especially in the early years of his administration.

"The next chief of police probably should come from inside this department," Williams said Monday. "I think there are a lot of strong men and women in this organization."

That argues against Bratton and could hurt Rathburn, who has been gone since 1991, or Fetters, who left in 1994. But not everyone subscribes to the notion that an insider should be picked. The ACLU on Monday wrote to Riordan urging him to conduct a nationwide search and to "accord a strong preference for candidates from outside the existing top command structure of the LAPD."

Of the inside candidates, Gascon is considered a longshot, but he has a strong background in field operations, and his appeal is amplified by the fact that he would be the first Latino chief in the department's history.

Kroeker, meanwhile, is thought by many insiders to be Riordan's first choice. A long-standing proponent of community policing, he is thoughtful and eloquent. He heads the department's difficult-to-police South Bureau and is well-liked by the rank and file.

As for Parks, the unfolding chief selection process casts a new spotlight on one of the LAPD's toughest, most admired and most feared managers. Parks finished second to Williams in 1992; Williams then named him assistant chief and head of operations. He held that position until 1994, when Williams demoted him to deputy chief in charge of the bureau of special investigations.

"I'm appreciative that the mayor has shown that kind of confidence in me," Parks said Monday. "It's an awesome responsibility, but until the personnel issues with Chief Williams are resolved, there is no interim chief job to fill."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

On the Inside Track

Here are six leading candidates to replace Willie L. Williams if the Police Commission's decision stands:

Front-Runners

BERNARD C. PARKS

* Who Is He? Deputy chief; oversees special investigations; president of Peace Officers Assn.

* Factors in His Favor: A disciplinarian revered for his encyclopedic knowledge of policing and the LAPD; reportedly well-liked by the mayor, police commissioners and several on the City Council.

* Factors Working Against Him: Seen by some officials as courting the chief's job too openly.

MARK KROEKER

* Who Is He? Deputy chief; commanding officer of the department's South Bureau.

* Factors in His Favor: Admired for his deft community skills; has strong support in San Fernando Valley, South L.A.; leadership style has impressed Riordan and some commissioners.

* Factors Working Against Him: A few critics have raised questions about his toughness and his day-to-day managerial skills.

OTHER CONTENDERS

William Rathburn

Former deputy chief and South Bureau commander is known for his community skills; influential Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas has long been a friend and admirer; but Rathburn has been out of the LAPD since 1991.

David J. Gascon

Deputy chief overseeing LAPD expansion is accustomed to the spotlight--experience includes duties related to Rodney King and O.J. Simpson cases; would be first Latino to lead LAPD; but some wonder whether he is sufficiently seasoned.

William Bratton

Had enormous success as New York police commissioner--crime dropped to the lowest levels in a generation under his leadership; in light of Williams' tenure, many say it would be a mistake to go outside the LAPD this time.

Lawrence Fetters

The retired former deputy chief is regarded by admirers as a thinker; played a key role in drafting LAPD expansion plan, though some officials later became disenchanted with some aspects, such as expectations for lowering attrition.

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