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Ed Davis Recalled as Police Innovator

Former L.A. chief introduced elements of community-based strategy. He was also known for his humor and independence.

May 05, 2006|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

They came mostly from the two worlds where Ed Davis left his mark -- law enforcement and politics -- to pay their respects Thursday to the former Los Angeles police chief and state senator known for his dry wit, plain speaking and innovative ideas that are now standard in police departments nationwide.

Several hundred people sat in folding chairs on the manicured lawn of the Los Angeles Police Academy as former and present police chiefs and politicians told their stories about Davis, who died at 89 on April 22 in San Luis Obispo.

Davis, who was police chief from 1969 to 1978, never seemed fazed by the moniker of "Crazy Ed" hung on him by detractors. And those who memorialized him Thursday said that beneath the humor was an ability to think of such breakthrough concepts as Neighborhood Watch.

"Back then everyone called him Crazy Ed," said state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), an aide to Davis during his tenure as a state senator. "Now there are Neighborhood Watch signs in every city in America."

There were other reasons Davis was known by that name, primarily his propensity to pop off with a droll remark that often made headlines, sometimes to the consternation of fellow Republicans. One of his most famous quips was when he said airline hijackers should be given a trial, then "hang 'em at the airport."

Former Gov. Pete Wilson recalled another incident in which Davis, puffing on his ever-present pipe, walked into a legislative committee session where an anti-smoking bill was being debated.

"Where the hell is the ACLU when you need them?" quipped Davis, then a state senator, when he was asked to tamp out the pipe.

Wilson also recalled a headline-making incident in which former Gov. Jerry Brown accused Davis of investigating singer Linda Ronstadt when she and Brown were dating.

Wilson said Davis, in a letter, allowed that Ronstadt "was not his type" but was "delighted to know that Jerry had a girlfriend and was certain his parents would be thrilled."

But over the course of his nine years as police chief, Davis also proved himself an innovator whose ideas included what became known as the Basic Car Plan, in which police officers were assigned small geographical areas and told to learn what most concerned the residents there. Between Neighborhood Watch and the Basic Car Plan, Davis created what was considered the most extensive community-based policing program in the U.S.

He also started the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, to help the families of officers killed in the line of duty.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who took police science classes from Davis years ago at Cal State L.A., described the former police chief as someone "you could not ignore, even if you thought you could."

"He knew how to stay true to himself," Baca said. "When I think of Ed Davis, I think of someone I couldn't help but be fond of. He could take you places in conversation that you've never been."

Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who also did a stint as the city's police chief, recalled Davis as someone who insisted on clear, concise language from his deputies.

"He'd say, 'Write it in country boy English,' " Parks said, recalling an incident in which Davis underscored what he meant with a scatological remark that left no room for interpretation.

"So we picked up our paperwork, went back to the office and started all over again," Parks said.

McClintock said Davis marched to his own conscience, which included speaking out against the religious right and voting for a gay protection bill while in the state Senate.

McClintock said the pro-gay stance was in keeping with Davis' belief in tolerance.

"He could not tolerate intolerance," McClintock said, adding that Davis found it easy to explain what some considered a changed attitude toward such issues as gay rights.

"He said, 'I haven't changed,' " said McClintock. " 'They're just seeing me from a different perspective.' "

Many of those gathered at the Police Academy were uniformed officers sporting graying hair.

Pianist and family friend Roger Williams played "Unforgettable" to close out the ceremony. "I want you all to think of the last time you saw a twinkle in Ed's eye," he said before unbuttoning his jacket and sitting down at the piano.

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