In a historic step designed to propel the Los Angeles Police Department on a course of sweeping reforms, the city Police Commission has selected Philadelphia Police Commissioner Willie L. Williams to succeed embattled Chief Daryl F. Gates as the department’s top official.
The decision, scheduled to be announced today by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Commission members, would make Williams the Police Department’s first black chief and the first outsider to assume command of the insular force in more than 40 years.
Williams’ selection was confirmed by Police Commission President Stanley Sheinbaum, Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell and numerous other officials. But neither Bradley nor Williams commented publicly Wednesday, saving their words for this morning’s press conference.
The appointment of Williams, 48, was promoted by city officials and community leaders eager to transform an 8,300-officer department that has become nationally tarnished with a reputation for systematic brutality in the wake of the Rodney G. King police beating.
Williams, who served as Philadelphia’s top police official for 3 1/2 years, is an advocate of internal departmental reforms and “community policing,” a police strategy aimed at forging a close working relationship between officers and residents.
He is credited by many Philadelphia community leaders with pursuing a series of internal changes that have helped alter the reputation of the Philadelphia Police Department, itself once branded with the stigma of brutality.
“He’s the best,” said commission President Stanley Sheinbaum. “We saw him, the people he worked with, the people below him. He’s very impressive. He’s very smart.”
The selection of the new chief is the first milestone reached by Los Angeles’ civic leadership in trying to repair damage to the city’s reputation caused by the King beating and to ease racial tensions left in its wake.
With Williams’ appointment, the attention shifts to the upcoming verdict in the trial of the four white officers accused of beating King and to a package of ballot measures designed to make the LAPD--and its future chiefs--more publicly accountable.
Gates, who had indicated Tuesday that he planned to step down from his post by July 1, told reporters Wednesday after a meeting with the City Council that he would help Williams in the transition period before his retirement and emphasized that “we have no differences whatsoever. . . . I like Willie, and have liked him ever since I met him.”
Gates, who was defended stoutly by many rank-and-file officers in the stormy days after the King beating in March, 1991, said that front-line cops “will learn to like him.”
“It will take some time,” Gates added, saying: “Naturally there is always this feeling that you come to this organization, and you hope one day that you can ascend to the very top, and it is kind of a bummer to learn that you can’t, that they are going to bring somebody in from the outside. When you’ve got 8,000 police officers, you would believe that within that 8,000, there ought to be somebody that is acceptable, and should be selected as chief of police. That has always been my opinion.”
Scoring highest among six finalists last month during interviews with a ratings panel headed by former state Atty. Gen. John K. Van De Kamp, Williams was the ultimate choice of the Police Commission because of his reformer’s stance and the fact that he was the only one among the finalists who had experience in running a police department.
“He has had ability to do things,” said another commissioner, who declined to be named. “The insiders have always had a tight rein on them. Williams had the advantage (of saying) ‘This is what I’ve done,’ as opposed to, ‘This is what I will do.’ ”
Police Commission members also were swayed by glowing reports on Williams gleaned by two colleagues--former LAPD Assistant Chief Jesse A. Brewer and Ann Reiss Lane--during a recent fact-finding mission to Philadelphia. The two commissioners came away impressed with Williams’ easy rapport with Philadelphia’s political and community leaders.
City Hall sources noted that a significant benefit of naming Williams this week is that it comes during the final stages of the King trial. Some minority community leaders have warned of the prospect of civil unrest if the officers are acquitted--an outcome that city officials believe could be muted by Williams’ selection before the end of trial, according to City Hall sources.
Williams was offered the job Tuesday night, the sources said, negotiating all but a final few details during several long-distance telephone calls with Los Angeles officials. Overnight, several Philadelphia television news crews staked out the three-bedroom house in Oak Lane where Williams lives with his wife, Evelina, and his daughter, Lisa, one of three children.
By Wednesday morning, Williams’ decision was an open secret. Driving to Philadelphia International Airport, he was pursued by news crews. On board the jetliner was another television reporter who filed broadcasts over an in-flight telephone once the plane took off.
While Williams was airborne, Philadelphia Mayor Rendell confirmed rumors sweeping City Hall that Williams had accepted the Los Angeles post.
“Commissioner Williams called me around 9:35 p.m. (Tuesday) night to tell me that he was offered the job and he had accepted it,” Rendell said in a telephone interview. “I wished him good luck.”
Rendell added that Williams would provide Los Angeles with “tremendous presence and an air of authority. He would bring tremendous stability and . . . is a solid administrator who, by and large, has the respect of our police force and our community.”
Rendell said that Williams told him Tuesday night that he was being lured to Los Angeles by the opportunity to heal the damage caused by the King beating and by the “tremendous differential” in salaries.
Williams, who earns about $85,000 a year in Philadelphia, would make a minimum of $131,000 per year in Los Angeles, according to Phil Henning, assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Personnel Department. The Police Commission, Henning said, is likely to request that the City Council set his pay at $157,000 annually. Additionally, Williams would get an annual pension from his 30 years of service in Philadelphia.
Landing at LAX shortly before 11 a.m., Williams was whisked off the Tarmac by airport security officers--out of the reach of reporters. He was driven to a private meeting Wednesday afternoon with several police commissioners at the Brentwood home of commission President Sheinbaum to iron out final details of the arrangements discussed Tuesday night.
Williams, known in Philadelphia for his readiness to maintain lines of communication with community leaders, was scheduled to meet this morning with key City Hall officials. Other meetings were already being arranged with community and religious leaders in East Los Angeles and South-Central Los Angeles, as well as with editors and reporters at The Times.
“We hope to establish liaison to further sensitize (Williams) to our immediate needs,” said Rev. Chip Murray, a prominent African-American minister who was organizing a gathering for the new chief at his First AME Church. “We want to alert (him) there is a positive element of support here, and capsulize our hopes for the future.”
As word of Williams’ appointment spread, reaction immediately divided along the traditional lines that have long polarized the city between police reformers and hard-liners, community activists and department boosters, civil libertarians and law-and-order advocates.
John W. Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, hailed Williams’ selection as a “cause for celebration” that “sends a powerful message that this is a new day for the Los Angeles Police Department.”
Mack said the move “offers hope to African-Americans and to other minorities . . . that means there will be leadership at the top who will recognize the tremendous diversity in our city and the need for the Police Department on the one hand to be tough on crime, but by the same token, be sensitive to the diversity within our city and not fight the crime battle at the expense of civil rights.”
At City Hall, several council members praised Williams’ appointment, including Mark Ridley-Thomas, a civil rights activist and Gates critic who was elected in the wake of the King beating. He called Williams’ selection “a new era of police-community relations.”
While Councilman Nate Holden hailed Williams as “someone to bring us together,” he cautioned that “it is not the best of all worlds here in L.A. for any incoming police chief” because of the city’s high crime rate and budget problems.
As news of the decision worked its way through the corridors and offices of Parker Center, the rectangular monolith in downtown Los Angeles that serves as police headquarters, many officers predisposed against the selection of an outsider reacted with predictable dismay.
Many officers have clamored for a chief selected from inside the department, the traditional method for succession that has been unchanged since 1949, when retired Marine Corps Gen. William A. Worton was brought in as an interim appointment after the department was rocked by a corruption scandal. Worton lasted only a year, succeeded by Chief William H. Parker, who transformed the force into the military-style organization it is today.
For awhile, there was no official reaction Wednesday from the sixth floor of Parker Center, where Gates and many of his top command work. Sgt. Al Ruvalcaba, an Internal Affairs detective, quipped that “I parked my car away from Parker Center today because I knew there would be a few people jumping off the sixth floor.”
Williams reportedly moved quickly to reassure the five finalists from within the department--Assistant Chief David D. Dotson and Deputy Chiefs Bernard C. Parks, Matthew V. Hunt, Glenn A. Levant and Mark A. Kroeker. Williams asked all five to meet with him today. All have agreed to do so, sources said.
Late Wednesday, another spurned candidate for the top job, Assistant Chief Robert A. Vernon, suddenly announced his retirement after 37 1/2 years with the force.
Los Angeles Police Capt. Charles Labrow, the head of the LAPD Command Officers Assn., said his members were “wounded” and “disappointed obviously” by the selection of an outsider. He said LAPD critics “talk about holding the department accountable. We want to make sure that applies to the commission as well, that they are accountable for the selection since they’ve gone outside.”
Although some of the five finalists were reportedly left angered by the Police Commission’s decision to go with an outsider, there were some indications that even within the LAPD’s upper ranks, Williams may find some open minds.
One executive with the department’s influential 8,100-member police union welcomed his selection, suggesting that it marks the beginning of a healing process. Cliff Ruff, legal director for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, suggested that Williams will spark “refreshing changes in the cloning that had gone on in management under Gates.”
“One of Gates’ main flaws was surrounding himself with yes men,” Ruff said. “I would think Williams, because he is from the outside, will be more receptive to ideas and input from all sectors of the law enforcement community.”
Ruff’s statements came as something of a surprise considering Williams’ reputation in Philadelphia as a reformer who moved quickly to discipline officers accused of misconduct and repeatedly sparred in court with officials from Philadelphia’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police.
In an interview in March with The Times, Williams spoke of his willingness to push for reforms if he took over the LAPD, identifying himself as an “agent of change.”
“Working with the community is the first thing you have to do to get support for internal and external changes,” he said. “If the community leaders, the media, the businesses and all the other stake-holders say your ideas make common sense and support the chief and his changes, then the officers on the inside will give their support too.”
A career Philadelphia cop who started 30 years ago as a guard in Philadelphia’s sprawling Fairmount Park, Williams typically works 14-hour days, overseeing a $300-million administrative budget, attending community meetings and keeping tabs on his 6,300-officer force.
A heavy-set, affable figure who has tried to cultivate an informal style with rank-and-file officers in Philadelphia, Williams has never been able to win over the generation of hard-line cops who were partisans of Frank Rizzo, the barrel-chested professional tough guy who served stormy tenures as the city’s police commissioner and mayor. Rizzo died of a heart attack last year while campaigning to return to City Hall.
A succession of reform police commissioners had tried to transform Philadelphia’s Police Department since the Rizzo era, enjoying only limited success. The force was sued by the U.S. Justice Department for systematic police brutality in the 1970s and jolted by a series of corruption scandals in the 1980s.
Its darkest days came in May, 1985, when an airborne unit dropped an incendiary bomb on a hide-out bristling with members of MOVE, an urban radical cult. Eleven MOVE members perished in the ensuing blaze and 61 row houses were seared, leaving scores of families homeless. Williams played no role in the bombing.
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Here is a look at the post of Los Angeles chief of police.
SALARY/BENEFITS: $131,231 to $196,857 annually. Benefits include merit pay, retirement plans, paid vacation, leave allowances, health and dental plans. Travel expenses and business meals paid for by the city. An automobile provided for use in city business.
APPOINTED: By the Los Angeles Police Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor. (If voters approve a June ballot measure on charter changes, however, the process would be altered. The Police Commission would give a list of candidates to the mayor, who would make the appointment with the concurrence of the City Council.) LENGTH OF TERM: Unrestricted. (If voters approve the June ballot measure, a limit of two five-year terms would be established.)
REMOVAL FROM OFFICE: Currently, the police chief has Civil Service protections that prevent his removal except when there is a finding of serious misconduct or dereliction of duty. (Under the proposed charter changes, those protections would be removed. The mayor or the City Council could initiate the removal of the chief, and proceed with the concurrence of City Council.)
SUPERVISES: More than 8,000 officers in 18 patrol divisions, plus about 2,600 civilian personnel over a 467-square-mile area.
HEADQUARTERS: Parker Center, 150 N. Los Angeles St., 6th floor.
QUALIFICATIONS/PREREQUISITES: Outside candidates must have two years’ experience either:
* As the head or assistant head of a law enforcement agency with a major city, county or other large organization, such as a state or federal government agency;
* Or in a position comparable to that of LAPD police commander.
* Candidates from within the LAPD must have reached the rank of commander. (It takes about 20 to 25 years of service with the LAPD to reach that rank.)
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS: Candidates may be required to meet medical and physical standards prescribed by the Board of Civil Service Commissioners.
DUTIES INCLUDE: Establishing priorities, providing overall leadership and allocating resources to accomplish departmental goals; implementing enforcement of local, state and federal laws through policing concepts that are sensitive to the cultural diversity of the Los Angeles community; selecting, assigning and disciplining civilian personnel and police officers; implementing department training programs and procedures; representing the department before the public and governmental groups to discuss law enforcement problems and to promote cooperation; directing preparation of the department’s annual budget, annual report and other departmental reports.
SOURCE: City of L.A. Personnel Department
Compiled by researcher Tracy Thomas
Police Commission Under the Spotlight
A quick look at the five-member panel that selected the new police chief:
Stanley K. Sheinbaum: Age 71, former economics professor, past chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and past member of the UC Board of Regents; close ally and financial supporter of Mayor Tom Bradley; joined the commission on April 3, 1991. As its president, he is its most outspoken member.
Ann Reiss Lane: Age 62, served on the city Fire Commission for 13 years and won praise for her efforts in hiring and promotion of female firefighters. Lane is also involved in issues affecting housing and the homeless. She was appointed to the police panel Aug. 2, 1991.
Jesse A. Brewer: Age 70, a 38-year LAPD veteran and the highest-ranking black officer in the history of the department; served as the No. 2 official under Gates for three years, overseeing the department’s Office of Administrative Services before his retirement March 1, 1991. Brewer joined the commission July 31, 1991, and is its vice president.
Anthony de los Reyes: Age 49, served for more than eight years as vice chairman for the city’s Civil Service Commission; currently a partner in the law firm Thon & Beck, specializing in personal injury, medical malpractice, products liability and wrongful death. Reyes was appointed to the police panel July 2, 1991.
Michael R. Yamaki: Age 44, a criminal defense attorney, past president of the Japanese-American Bar Assn. and former chairman of the LAPD Asian-American advisory council. On May 22, 1991, he became the first Asian-American appointed to the commission.
Compiled by Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen