PERSPECTIVE ON POLICE : Who Says They Can’t Fire the Chief?

The following is from a statement made on behalf of the John M. Langston Bar Assn., which represents about 900 African-American attorneys in the Los Angeles area, at Thursday’s Los Angeles Police Commission hearing.

We believe that the law of this city clearly states that Chief Gates does not enjoy civil-service protection with respect to the commission’s ability to discipline him or remove him from office, but instead that Chief Gates is subject to basically the same disciplinary process as a rank-and-file officer. Moreover, we believe that the commission may reasonably take such action.

The authority for our belief is in the Los Angeles City Charter and Administrative Code and in the 1991 official Police Department Manual.


Section 199 of the City Charter states that the police chief is subject in appointment to the charter’s Civil Service provisions, but that the separate provisions regarding police officer discipline “shall apply to the chief of police with respect to his right to office . . . and the proceedings for his removal, suspension and discharge.”

Section 22.216 of the administrative code sets forth specific grounds for the discipline of the chief of police and provides that the commission has sole power to determine those grounds. “Failure on (the chief’s) part to comply with (the commission’s) instructions or incompetence, dishonesty, discourtesy or neglect of duty, as determined by the commission, shall constitute adequate grounds for (the chief’s removal) . . . .”

Members of the commission, we ask: Can you not reasonably find that Daryl Gates has been discourteous to the citizens of Los Angeles?

Allow us, then, to argue to the commission that if you so choose, you may reasonably discipline--remove, suspend or otherwise punish--Chief Gates for violation of the specific laws of this city.

We were pleased to share this information with a few community leaders Wednesday and we are pleased to share it with the entire city of Los Angeles today. This, members of the commission, is the case against Daryl Gates.

First, the commission may reasonably determine that Chief Gates has failed to follow its instructions. In 1982, this commission officially reprimanded Chief Gates for remarking that “some blacks” may be more susceptible to chokeholds than “normal people.” A reprimand is also an instruction to avoid repeating the censured behavior. Chief Gates has made so many similar statements since 1982 that we will not bother to recite all of them here. He has therefore clearly failed to follow the commission’s instructions.

Second, the commission may reasonably determine that Chief Gates has demonstrated incompetence in the management of the department. The taxpayers had to pay more than $8 million in claims against the Police Department last year. The State Department of Fair Employment and Housing found that the department discriminates against its Latino officers.

Chief Gates has created a climate in which brutality by a small minority of his department is tolerated, if not encouraged. The commission has the right to ask whether these facts are consistent with the competent management of the department.

Third, the commission may reasonably conclude that Chief Gates has demonstrated discourtesy to the citizens of Los Angeles, who he is sworn “to serve and to protect.” Chief Gates’ statement that a man arrested for the killing of Officer Tina Kerbrat “was an El Salvadoran drunk . . . a drunk who doesn’t belong here” clearly violates Section 240.15 of the police manual, which states that “discourtesy under any circumstance is indefensible.”

Fourth, the commission may reasonably conclude that Chief Gates has neglected his duty according to Section 270.25 of the police manual, to only make statements after using considered judgment. Representing the city of Los Angeles, Chief Gates testified before the U.S. Senate that casual drug users “should be taken out and shot.” He later insisted that he was not being facetious.

Finally, the commission has no choice but to conclude that Chief Gates has neglected his duty, according to Section 320 of the police manual, to respect the individual dignity of others. As this city and the nation reacted in shock to the brutal beating of Rodney G. King and Mr. King lay in grave condition, perhaps suffering permanent brain damage, this was Chief Gates’ apology to Mr. King: “He’s on parole. He’s a convicted robber. In spite of the fact that he’s on parole and a convicted robber, I’d be glad to apologize.”

This statement in itself, implying that the Police Department may attach a lesser value to the life of a citizen if he is a parolee, is so patently outrageous and so wholly inconsistent with the duties of a chief of police that the commission must take action against Chief Gates for no other reason than that he would think he could make the statement.

We believe that the commission does have the power to discipline Chief Gates and does have the grounds upon which to do so. We recognize that Chief Gates has the right to a hearing and the right to appeal in court any disciplinary action that the commission may take. But that is no reason to abdicate your responsibility to initiate such action if you believe as representatives of the people of Los Angeles that it is warranted.

Thank you.