LAPD's Brass Push Gates to Quit, Make Room at Top

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a failed political bid and missed appointments to top federal law enforcement jobs, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates is a man caught between his own ambition and the desires of his top brass to advance in the department.

Gates is concluding his 12th year as chief even as serious crimes have reached an all-time high in Los Angeles and a major expansion and upgrading of police facilities and manpower is under way. But he is surrounded by lieutenants, commanders and deputy chiefs in the 8,000-officer force whose future with the department depends on his stepping aside.

"It's a continuing dilemma," Gates said of the would-be chiefs who are nipping at his heels. "I am not going to stay forever. I don't have a specific (departure) date in mind, but clearly these concerns are in my head. I'm not blind to them."

Critics, many of whom spoke only on condition that their names not be used, said Gates' uncertainty about his own future has damaged morale and stifled innovation in the department at a time when street crime is foremost among problems facing the city. Department officials jockeying for the top position said there is a new reluctance to take law enforcement risks that, if they fail, might jeopardize their standing.

"There is a feeling among progressive, ambitious people in the department that Gates should step aside," said one lieutenant, expressing a commonly held view in the department. "There are people at lower levels who could do a great job and may not get the opportunity unless he leaves."

A police commander added: "Certainly, if the chief left it would mean major movement at the upper ranks, which would mean a lot of other (new) positions (would become available). Career advancement? We certainly don't have much of that."

Gates' reluctance to either move on or firmly declare his intent to stay has created a "brewing frustration in the department," said one prominent city official who asked that his name not be used. "What you are witnessing here is promotional gridlock."

Others, outside the department, were more blunt in their appraisal of Gates' status.

"Gates left the Police Department a year ago, only his physical presence remains," said Barbara Schlei, a former police commissioner who has frequently locked horns with the chief over policy. Although Schlei insisted that she admires Gates' personal charm, intelligence and concern for his officers, she added: "It is time for the issues to be addressed by a full-time chief whose heart and soul and total attention is on the day-to-day workings of LAPD."

The problem for Gates--a vigorous man who looks much younger than his 62 years--is that there are few jobs to which he can aspire.

"What do you do after you've been marshal of Dodge City?" asked Eric Rose, spokesman for Gates during the chief's abortive campaign for governor last year. "It's tough and it's a question that only Daryl Gates can answer."

In an interview with The Times, Gates said he will stay in the department another "five years at the outer limits" and asserted that he is being encouraged by "some of the top people in the community" to explore a possible run for mayor "if something happens" to embattled Mayor Tom Bradley.

"I haven't written it off," Gates said, "but I told them it would really take a real strong outpouring of strength in the city for me to do it."

Gates was waiting for the same sort of outpouring of support last year when he dismantled his exploratory campaign for governor. Meanwhile, speculation that he would be offered an appointment in the Bush Administration as drug czar or chief of the FBI remained just that.

"I heard it from top supporters of Bush, some people who I know are involved in making decisions on some of those positions," Gates said. "When I would hear those stories, I told my wife, 'You know? I'm scared to death because I can't turn the President down.' "

Gates now says the only Washington jobs he would have considered under the Bush Administration were "drug czar and head of the CIA." Yet, the 40-year police veteran said he is keeping his options open.

Asked if he would consider leaving the department for a job with a major corporation, Gates said: "Yeah, I could if it were the right kind of job, the right kind of paycheck, that's a possibility. Somebody must offer me a job."

Gates' inability to chart a course and stick with it has frustrated current and former allies. When he became chief in 1978, Gates said he told the Police Commission that he would not stay longer than "three to four years." Four years later, Gates told colleagues he was interested in running for mayor.

In 1984, Gates said he would consider leaving the force after the Los Angeles Summer Olympics. In 1987, he suggested that he would leave after Pope John Paul II's visit to Los Angeles. In 1988, he reversed himself and talked of breaking former Chief William H. Parker's tenure of 16 years. Early last year, he began his brief flirtation with gubernatorial politics, saying he would consider a spot on the Republican ticket.

"I really did think very seriously about retiring after the Olympics," Gates said. "I sat back and sat on the beach, thought about it, got cold chills, said, 'Do I really want to leave?' and came back full of vigor."

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis, now a Republican state senator representing the San Fernando Valley, said of his one-time protege: "If Daryl has made a mistake it was saying 'I'll stay until the end of the (1984) Olympics,' then say he would stay on for a few years."

"If you are the leader of 10 people or 10,000 people," Davis said, "there shouldn't be any ambiguity about whether or not you will be the boss."

By way of comparison, Davis said William H. Parker, who died in 1966 after 16 years as chief, "never gave any indication that he would do anything other than be chief of police."

"Parker was a formidable presence and we thought he would be chief forever, literally," Davis said. "When he died, I went over to City Hall and looked to see whether the plexiglass (over his portrait) was fogging up."

In contrast to Parker, when Davis became chief in 1969, he told the Police Commission, "I wouldn't stay longer than eight years. . . . After eight years, I would be (creating) a museum to Ed Davis." Davis missed his prediction only slightly, remaining chief for a total of nine years. As for Gates as a mayoral contender, Davis said: "He's a good administrator and he's honest. But he first must assess whether (voters) are willing to elect a conservative Republican, Anglo, Mormon ex-cop. If they are, great, go for it."

Gates insisted that his own polls indicated that he would have been a formidable candidate in the last mayoral election. "I could beat (City Councilman Zev) Yaroslavsky, I could beat everybody. I couldn't beat the mayor," he said.

"Had we known the facts of the unfolding Bradley drama I think they would have voted me in overwhelmingly just to have integrity in government," Gates said, calling attention to the controversy that has erupted over the mayor's financial dealings.

Political insiders familiar with Gates said that a conservative Republican would have a very tough time being elected mayor of Los Angeles because of the city's ethnic diversity and liberal electorate, which includes large blocs of Jewish, black and Latino voters.

These observers said, however, that Gates' name recognition and statewide popularity would make him a potentially viable candidate for governor. But publicly he has expressed little interest lately in revitalizing his dismantled gubernatorial campaign.

Gates, who earns $145,846 a year and has been chief longer than any other major city police chief still on the job, lately has curbed what was widely viewed as his confrontational, shoot-from-the-lip style.

Once at loggerheads with the mayor and city officials over dwindling budgets for police operations and with community activists over his sometimes provocative words and actions, Gates has managed to mend fences with many of his adversaries. The more cordial atmosphere has helped him win increased support from the City Council. That, combined with the passage a year ago of local Proposition 2, which provided $176 million to upgrade Police Department facilities, has enabled Gates to make much-needed--albeit belated--improvements in the department's manpower and equipment.

"For 10 years as chief of this department we didn't move anywhere because, in my judgment, the political leadership of this city was in a non-movement mode--and that clearly impacted the Police Department," Gates said. "Budgets got to be so routine, I hardly looked at the budgets. There was no enthusiasm for doing anything."

Now, Gates said, "I'm excited about some of the things happening in the department."

Now, the Police Department is anticipating construction of a new academy, expansion of existing stations, renovation of department computer systems and the introduction of new forensic technologies such as DNA genetic printing. Experts predict that this technology may someday supplant finger-printing as a method of making positive identifications.

Among Gates' most important accomplishments in recent years, according to Deputy Chief Glen Levant, was the creation of a gang-suppression program that targets gang members for narcotics prosecutions. "That program has resulted in a 98% filing rate and a 94% conviction rate," Levant said.

Under the same program, more than 24,000 people have been arrested for sales of drugs since January, 1988, and "over 8,000 people identified as gang members have had criminal cases built on them for narcotics violations, which takes them off the streets for a long time," Levant said.

Gates' primary legacy, however, may be the creation of the Special Weapons and Tactics unit (SWAT) and the widely hailed Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which uses police officers to instruct Los Angeles grade school students about the perils of narcotics.

But Gates also has drawn criticism for efforts such as his use of a huge battering ram to smash through suspected drug houses and "Operation Hammer," which places hundreds of officers on the streets of crime-heavy neighborhoods to exert pressure on gangs.

Critics say police sweeps do not really solve the problem and amount to a waste of time and manpower. Gates said they let decent people get at least one night of peace.

Even within the department the value of such operations is debated.

"Gang sweeps are a hokey publicity deal," said one high-ranking official in the department. "Inevitably, they will create martyrs--they'll pick up an Eagle Scout on his way to a Rhodes scholarship tryout."

Despite all these efforts, statistics indicate that Gates may be losing the war on crime.

The department's summary of crimes committed last year shows that 324,486 major crimes were committed in the city, compared to 299,910 in 1988--an increase of 8.2% spurred by narcotics trafficking, authorities said.

An unprecedented 303 people were slain in gang-related killings in the city in 1989, nearly an 18% increase over the record 257 slayings recorded in 1988.

Despite those dismal statistics, Gates remains optimistic that his programs, along with increased public concern, heavier enforcement and stiffer sentences for criminals eventually will turn the tide.

These days, in fact, Gates is talking about ambitious plans to dramatically reduce crime across the United States by cutting down on drug and alcohol abuse.

"We're always going to have crime, but I'm confident this country could reduce its crime load by 60% to 70% to 80%--I truly believe that," Gates said. "I think the first step is to create a drug-free America. All you have to do is look at the interlacing of alcohol and crime.

"Just look at that, and you can see that if you can raise a generation that's drug free and abuse-free from alcohol, you'll reduce crime by 40% to 50% right there."

Achieving that goal would require an unprecedented "partnership between the private sector, communities and governments to realistically look at these kinds of problems and come in with the organizational and entrepreneurial expertise that we have in America."

Unless such a partnership is realized, Gates predicted a violent "pulling apart as a nation of haves and have nots."

"And I think sometimes those have-nots are going to say enough is enough," Gates said. "And an awful lot of them have Uzis and AK-47s (assault rifles). It's scary."

It was Gates' call for outlawing these kinds of assault rifles, registration of existing weapons, and his denunciation of the tactics of anti-abortionist protesters, that was blamed for eroding his natural base of support among conservatives in the 1988 exploratory campaign for governor.

"That took a lot of guts," City Councilman Nate Holden, one of the chief's strongest supporters, said of Gates' stand on assault rifles. "He said they were weapons of war and went up for legislation to ban those things. He didn't think about support from conservatives."

Now, with so many waiting and watching for clues about his future, Gates seems to enjoy the guessing game.

"I have pretty (well) fixed in my mind what it would take to get me out of here, and some sense of when I will probably go," Gates said. "But no one will know when that is until I decide."

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