A newly formed group, led by one of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates’ strongest supporters, said Friday that it will “raise all the dust” it can in a campaign against proposed changes in the City Charter governing the selection, removal and tenure of future police chiefs.
Calling itself Citizens for Integrity and Viability in the City Charter, or CIVIC, the group was founded by Peggy Rowe Estrada, who also helped establish an organization that held a series of highly publicized rallies for Gates after the March 3 beating of Rodney G. King.
Estrada, who is the ex-wife of actor Erik Estrada, said that this time “the issue isn’t Daryl Gates. The issue is good government.” She argued that the proposed changes could “open the floodgates to politicize not only the Police Department but all city departments.”
The new group, which so far has 65 members, is vowing to fight recommendations advanced by the Christopher Commission that would allow the mayor to appoint the police chief to a maximum term of 10 years and give the mayorally appointed Police Commission authority to fire a chief with the concurrence of the City Council.
Despite Gates’ objections to the changes, the City Council voted in September to place the measure before voters, saying the structural reforms would bring greater accountability to a department whose reputation has been severely damaged. A date for the election has not been set.
Now, the chief is protected by Civil Service rules and can be removed only for “cause,” meaning that it must be shown that a serious breach of office has occurred. Additionally, there have been no limits placed on the number of years served by chiefs, who have been selected by the Police Commission.
Gates has served since 1978.
“The charter is still good the way it is,” said CIVIC chairman Don Clinton. “There have been good checks and balances.”
Clinton, 64, heads Clifton’s Cafeterias and is the son of the late restaurateur Clifford E. Clinton, a 1930s reformer who fought against the corruption that led to the charter provisions now in place.
In 1937, Clifford Clinton formed a CIVIC of his own, the Citizens’ Independent Vice Investigating Committee, which gathered evidence on corrupt police officers and politicians.
“As a kid I watched the corruption and the gambling and the gangsters we had through the early 1930s,” his son said. “In those days the mayor that appointed the chief of police was corrupt, and most of the officials were.”
The new group’s members are people “who feel like I do, who remember the past” and do not want a mayor to pick the chief, Clinton said. Among them are former Mayor Sam Yorty, former City Atty. Roger Arnebergh and former City Administrative Officer C. Erwin Piper.
As for term limits, Clinton said it “seems unfair to me to limit the terms of the chief of police and not limit the terms of people in similar jobs, or the mayor or the City Council.”