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Interim Chief Plans to Keep Firm Hand on Department Reins During Transition

LAPD: Bayan Lewis says he'll follow through on stern 'pep talk' to commanders before his appointment, when he bristled at complaints of leadership vacuum.

May 03, 1997|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day before he was tapped this week to be the Los Angeles Police Department's interim chief, Bayan Lewis called a mandatory meeting of his top command officers to put an end to what he believed was their public bellyaching over the lack of leadership at the department.

Management called it a pep talk. But to the cops, it was a meeting "to chew some butts," said one officer who attended.

Leadership, Assistant Chief Bayan Lewis style.

"Things needed to be put in place and said," Lewis said Friday about his 7 a.m. get-together earlier this week. "To tread water and say 'Oh my God, there's no leadership' is wrong. I think we were selling ourselves short."

He said Chief Willie L. Williams' departure--which is scheduled to occur May 18--is no excuse to let the department crumble.

"When things are in transition, true leadership should come forward," he said. "People need to step to the plate today."

As interim chief, Lewis said his job over the next few months will be to make sure that his commanders are commanding, his police are policing and the department is moving forward and ready for Williams' permanent replacement.

"I'm not going to be just a caretaker," said Lewis, who is not a candidate for the permanent job.

"I will do those things that need to be done to keep this organization moving smoothly. . . . I have my work cut out for me."

Lewis, 55, a 34-year member of the force, was named the interim chief on Wednesday by a 3-2 vote of the Police Commission. While commissioners expressed confidence that Lewis will do a good job facilitating the transition between Williams and his successor, he was selected largely because he does not want it on a full-time basis.

A majority of commissioners said they didn't think it would be fair to appoint an interim chief who was interested in the permanent job because it might give that candidate an unfair advantage in the process.

Regardless of why he was chosen, Lewis said he was "terrifically honored" to have the job.

When the new chief is selected--sometime this summer--Lewis said he plans to retire from the LAPD and move to Nevada, where he owns property and is currently a finalist for the chief's job in Reno. He said Reno officials have told him that if they select him they will hold the position open until his duty with the LAPD is over.

The transition from assistant chief to interim chief may not be such a big leap for Lewis, who has been overseeing 85% of the department's resources as the director of the Office of Operations. He had been responsible for all patrol-related functions and most detective details. He was instrumental in creating a mobile field force, a widely praised effort in which all officers are trained to quell disturbances in the city, such as the North Hollywood bank robbery shootout in February.

"His workload is increasing 15%," said a high-ranking officer. "That's not a big deal. He can handle that."

But with the increased work comes increased visibility. On Friday, Lewis was in and out of meetings with commissioners and other public officials and held an afternoon news conference.

Lewis said his top priorities include addressing the departmental budget, reviewing proposals for a compressed work schedule for police, restructuring the disciplinary system and "creating solutions over the next few months so the new chief can come in here and press forward with his or her vision for the department."

He added that pursuing the philosophy of community policing will remain the department's goal.

"I need to convince the public that community policing is a way of life," Lewis said. "We are not stepping back, and I hope we'll see further progress over the next couple of months."

Although he has the authority to promote and demote officers, Lewis said he plans to let the new chief make decisions on the staffing at the deputy chief level and above.

A graduate of Pepperdine University and a retired lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, Lewis is well regarded by the rank and file and his command officers, even though he calls them in for the occasional "pep talk."

Former Deputy Chief Ron Frankel, who retired from the LAPD last February, said Lewis makes pragmatic decisions, respects all points of view and is considerate.

"He's a straight arrow," Frankel said.

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