Parker talked a lot as Gates drove around the city, and Gates listened, soon earning a reputation as the chief's fair-haired boy. "What I received during my 15 months with him turned out to be more than a primer on policing," Gates wrote. "It became a tutorial on how to be chief."
In the spring of 1965 he rose to inspector, a position now called commander. He was overseeing patrol officers in the Watts area when long-festering racial tensions surfaced that summer.
The were sparked by the drunk-driving arrest of a black man named Marquette Frye. When his mother attempted to intervene, a crowd gathered. After several unsuccessful attempts by officers to disperse the crowd, rocks and bottles began to fly and the officers pulled out. Angry mobs began to spring up throughout the area. "We had no idea how to deal with this," Gates later said. Six days of violence left 34 people dead, more than 1,000 injured and 600 buildings damaged or destroyed.
Parker died in 1966. Under Parker's successor, Tom Reddin, Gates was promoted to deputy chief in 1968. The following year, under Chief Ed Davis, Gates became assistant chief.
In 1970, five years after his first marriage ended, he married Sima Lalich, a United Air Lines flight attendant. She filed for divorce in 1994.
Amid the turmoil of the late 1960s, Gates had, at Reddin's request, begun to develop a special unit to respond to crises. Gates recruited 60 of the department's top marksmen and called the team SWAT. He originally meant the acronym to stand for Special Weapons Attack Team, but then-Deputy Chief Davis thought "attack" was impolitic, so Gates changed the name to Special Weapons and Tactics.
SWAT's first test came in a shootout at a Black Panther stronghold on Central Avenue on Dec. 8, 1969. "We were roundly criticized for our brutal activity," Gates noted later, but the SWAT team weathered the controversy and went on to prove its value by resolving other crises without bloodshed.
When Davis resigned to enter politics, Gates applied for the job, coming in second behind an outside candidate on the Civil Service exam. When credited for his years of experience, the 29-year LAPD veteran moved into first place and was approved by the Police Commission despite concerns that he would flout civilian oversight. He was sworn in as the LAPD's 49th chief on March 28, 1978.
His troubles began almost immediately.
About a month after his swearing-in, Gates addressed a Latino civil rights group, where he shared an observation that black officers sought promotions more aggressively than Latinos. Describing a conversation with a Mexican American lieutenant who had failed the captain's written exam, Gates said he told the officer that the reason he failed was that he hadn't studied hard enough. "You're lazy," the chief scolded.
The next day's headlines blared that Gates had disparaged Latinos. The controversy raged for weeks.
A few months later, a black woman named Eulia Love reportedly struck a gas company employee with a shovel in a dispute over an overdue bill for $69. When two patrol officers escorted another gas company worker to her house in South Los Angeles, she threw a knife at them. The officers shot her eight times, killing her.
"Any way you viewed it, it was a bad shooting," Gates said years later. Nonetheless, he decided at the time that the shooting was within department policy.
Then came a rash of LAPD scandals in which officers were accused of cavorting sexually with teenage Explorer Scouts, getting drunk in police station parking lots, consorting with prostitutes and stopping motorists to rob them of their wallets. Two members of a special LAPD burglary unit pleaded guilty to stealing electronic equipment from a shop in Hollywood.
Gates got much of the blame from the media, citizens and politicians, including Bradley. Several high-ranking officers even suggested privately that Gates should step down.
City Hall trimmed his budget requests and required him to hire more women, minorities and civilians. He struggled to police the nation's second-largest city with a force that was too small for its size, compared to other major cities: At the end of his tenure, Gates said, Los Angeles had two officers per thousand residents, in contrast with New York's and Chicago's four per thousand.
Critics considered him incapable of adapting to changing attitudes. He was forced to disband his special unit, the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, which conducted surveillance on "subversives,"political figures and LAPD bashers such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
"All these people don't know what the hell they're doing, telling me how to run my organization," Gates bristled.