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Daryl F. Gates: Clear blue

PATT MORRISON ASKS

An interview with the former longtime LAPD chief.

May 23, 2009|Patt Morrison

One other thing: I used to go to these [law enforcement] memorials. I'd look at the sea of chiefs out there, and they all looked like admirals or generals, lots of gold braid going up their sleeves, and I'd think, "Jesus kee-riminy." When I became chief, I went to my locker and I brought my dress uniform out to Mary, my secretary, and I said, "Give this away. I'm a Los Angeles police officer. I love the uniform of the Los Angeles police officer."

If you look at chiefs now, in almost all the states and the nation, you'll see them wearing [plain] uniforms. I'm proud of many things I did and a lot of things I started, but that's one thing I'm really proud of that I've never gotten credit for.

You talk a lot about Chief Parker integrating the LAPD.

I knew his thoughts; I listened to him speak all the time. There wasn't a racist bone in his body; there really wasn't. If you go back and look at the LAPD, Parker's the one who integrated it. But more significantly, Parker's implementation of very, very tight discipline meant if you did something wrong, if there was a complaint, it was investigated. That wasn't true before. Before Parker, it was a department that had some significant racists in it. Parker's a guy who wanted to make sure policing [was] the same all over the city. He really believed that by the turn of the century, the country would be so integrated that there would be a black president. He believed that.

Did he think it'd be Tom Bradley?

Bradley was a very bright star in the Police Department, very bright. He made sergeant very quickly; he had great assignments. But he sold out the department in one of those assignments. He went to several meetings and really bad-mouthed the LAPD, bad-mouthed Parker. At that time, Parker had a pretty inclusive intelligence system, and so Parker knew exactly what Tom had said at those meetings. Instead of pointing out all the good things about the department, he emphasized the negative and [was] just undermining what Parker was doing.

How well do you think you did with integrating the department?

Everyone wanted to force the issue; [that was] the worst thing you could do in my judgment. The [1980] consent decree was terrible because [it] put a hat on everybody who's black, everybody who's Hispanic and every woman who comes in. They'd say, "The reason he got in [is] because of that consent decree. He didn't do it on his own." The consent decree was really a quota system. I'd tell everybody who got promoted, "The one thing I want you all to understand is that when you see somebody who's appointed a sergeant or a lieutenant or a captain, it's because they did it on their own. They made it because they were able to." You could just see the pride.

What do you think of the Christopher Commission reforms?

The Christopher Commission, in my judgment, is perhaps the biggest fraud that's ever been perpetrated on this city. [The reforms] were designed for a specific purpose and that was to get rid of me. Almost every recommendation that they made, I'd implemented most of them, and those I couldn't implement cost money or required a meet-and-confer by the union.

How do you think the LAPD has changed since you were there?

I see some of these guys, they keep saying, "Oh, Chief, good to see you." They keep saying, "You're still the chief," and I say, "How long have you been on this department?" and they say, "Five years." I say, "You don't even know me." They say, "Yeah, we know you, you're still the chief."

I'm impressed by the kids who come on and the things they do. I think they do a marvelous job. I think the city's blessed to have the kind of people who continue to come on the Los Angeles Police Department. I've stayed away from criticizing things in the department -- once in a while I get rankled and maybe say something, but I really have tried hard.

Do you think because you were so outspoken and, as you say, a target, that you were indirectly responsible for the re-politicizing of the chief's office?

When you do away with the [civil service] system for the selection of a chief of police, you immediately bring politics into the Police Department. And that's exactly what you don't want -- that's what the city spent years getting rid of. Bratton was selected through politics; he's joined at the hip to the mayor.

As long as the job's already been politicized again, should the police chief be elected like the sheriff?

On the one hand, no -- the chief needs to represent all [the city]. On the other hand, maybe yes -- that is the evil of the system today.

I see almost nothing in your office about your years in public life except a "Gates for Governor" button.

[He laughs] Well, there's that little flirtation with politics, and I backed off. I didn't want to run for office.

What should they name new police headquarters?

[Laughs] My prediction is it'll never be named Parker Center, which is a shame. Parker did more to professionalize law enforcement, not only here but throughout the country, than any other single guy. He deserves to have the building named after him.

patt.morrison@latimes.com.

This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interviews is online at latimes.com/pattasks.

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