A blue-ribbon panel pivotal to the highly charged selection of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates' successor was announced Thursday, reflecting a mix of law enforcement experience, cultural diversity and political activism.
The committee will conduct interviews and produce a final list of six candidates to lead the embattled Police Department through a critical period of change after the Rodney G. King controversy. The panel's importance looms large because, for the first time, finalists for police chief will be ranked entirely on the basis of one- to two-hour interview sessions with the seven panelists.
* Former Democratic state Atty. Gen. John K. Van De Kamp, now an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles. As Los Angeles County district attorney from 1975 to 1983, Van De Kamp worked closely with the Police Department, but also clashed with the department when the district attorney set up a team to investigate officer-involved shootings.
* Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a leading national Latino civil rights group. MALDEF has been in the forefront of legal battles to increase Latino representation in the upper ranks of the Police Department. Hernandez was among the civil rights activists who pressed for a full investigation and Gates' resignation after the King beating.
* Hubert Williams, former chief of the Newark, N.J., Police Department and president of the Police Foundation, a major Washington-based law enforcement research center. A Rutgers University law school graduate, Williams is founding president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and was once mentioned as a candidate to succeed Gates. He provided lengthy testimony to the Christopher Commission, which investigated the department after the King incident and recommended a change of leadership and a term limit for future chiefs.
* Waldo H. Burnside, former president and chief operating officer of Carter Hawley Hale, the parent firm of the Broadway department store chain. Still a director of Carter Hawley, he has been a prominent figure in Los Angeles' downtown business community and active in charitable groups.
* Laura Balverde-Sanchez, a Los Angeles native and head of Vernon-based El Rey Sausage Co. Considered one of the leading minority entrepreneurs in the country, she was the first Latina to serve on the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce board of directors and has been active in women's political affairs.
* Bishop Charles E. Blake, a black religious leader who heads a council of 250 Churches of God in Christ in Southern California.
* Betty Tom Chu, chief executive officer of Trust Savings Bank, who is active in the area's Chinese community, youth organizations and community activities in Monterey Park.
With two Anglos, two blacks, two Latinos and one Asian-American among its three women and four men, the panel is the "most diverse and balanced group of raters we've put together," said Casimiro Tolentino, president of the city Civil Service Commission, which approved the list of panelists prepared by the city's Personnel Department.
Nominations came from a variety of city officials and community leaders.
The naming of the interview panel comes after an earlier committee was selected by the Civil Service Commission to pick 13 semifinalists from a pool of 32 applicants. That process was based entirely on essays and a statement of qualifications. The new panel will further narrow the field to six finalists, from which the Police Commission will select the new chief. Tolentino said this is the first time a rating panel for a major appointment has been publicly disclosed in advance to make the process as open as possible.
The identification of the panelists and the emphasis on ethnic and gender balance were prompted by the intense public interest surrounding the appointment of Gates' successor and recommendations made during public hearings last year on the chief selection process, he said.
A top aide to Mayor Tom Bradley, who has pressed for Police Department reforms and Gates' departure, praised the panel's makeup. "They fairly represent the diversity of the city, said Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani. "That's the most important thing."
But questions came from some quarters in the Police Department and among Gates supporters. "It doesn't appear like there's a lot of law enforcement officials on that committee," said Capt. Bud Lewallen, director of the Los Angeles Police Command Officers Assn. He said he did not know most of the panelists and had no reason to criticize them. But, he added: "Law enforcement people would probably have a better understanding on what is required (to run) a big police department in the city of Los Angeles."
Gates has been highly critical of the entire selection process. He was unavailable for comment Thursday, but he has complained that a first-round screening panel lacked adequate representation from major public or private corporation executives.
"We're talking about a manager of a $1-billion corporation here," Gates told The Times on Wednesday.
Jay Grodin, Gates' attorney and a leader of a committee opposing a series of LAPD reform proposals on the June ballot, expressed similar concerns about the interview panel. "In the end, you can all have great ideas of community relations and community-based policing," he said. "But you have to judge (the candidates) in terms of being a leader in running a large institution," he said.
Tolentino noted that Van de Kamp has headed large public agencies and others have run businesses. "I think that kind of concern is covered," he said.
Grodin and others were also critical of giving so much weight to the face-to-face interviews with the panel. He said scores from written exams, as well as interviews, should have been blended to choose the finalists, as was done in past chief selections.
But city personnel officials say the new procedure, which has been used for years to select other top city general managers, is a common practice and has worked well.
One panelist, Chu, defended gauging candidates on the basis of oral presentations and questions and answers. "I've done it before (in business) and I've been very successful in choosing fine people. Maybe not a chief of police, but if it is done properly, you can make some very fine choices."