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Willie Williams' Mark

He leaves an improved LAPD, but much reform still is needed

May 18, 1997

Willie L. Williams stepped down Saturday as head of the Los Angeles Police Department, the first chief held to term limits under Charter Amendment F, the 1992 police reform measure.

An outsider in a department resistant to outsiders at the top, and the city's first black chief, Williams took over an insular, change-resistant LAPD barely two months after the force's embarrassingly poor showing in the early hours of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and a little more than a year after the Rodney King beating, the pivotal moment for change in the department. More than half of all city residents had lost faith in the LAPD, according to polls.

Now, as he departs after nearly five years in the post, Williams can count among his accomplishments a restoration of public confidence in the force. He leaves the department in better shape than when he arrived in 1992 from Philadelphia, where he held the top law enforcement job.

Progress has been made, albeit too slowly, on implementing the Christopher Commission recommendations on police reform. Williams gave impetus to community-based policing, an approach with great promise that has yet to take firm hold. He calmed roiling racial tensions in the city and discouraged still-lingering bias against minorities and women inside the LAPD. His successor will have to pick up this unfinished business, and that will demand stronger management skills than Williams exhibited.

More gentleman than tough guy, and subject to political blunders, the nonetheless popular chief finally got the signal from the Police Commission that he was no longer wanted at Parker Center, that his first five-year term would be his last. He took a $375,000 golden handshake to leave office early, allowing an interim chief to take over and ending a divisive controversy.

The next chief will be appointed by Mayor Richard Riordan. Under Charter Amendment F, the mayor has the authority to choose from a list compiled by the Police Commission or from among any of the applicants. The nominee will then require City Council approval, a cumbersome and overtly political requirement.

Willie L. Williams learned the hard way about the politics of City Hall and Parker Center. He made his mark in Los Angeles and pointed the department in the right direction. As he moves on, the LAPD is still in need of major reform. That is the job for the next chief of police.

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