Two former Los Angeles police chiefs Friday joined the chorus of citizens and public officials criticizing the Police Department for a slow response to last week's rioting, blaming the department's top leadership and calling for structural changes.
"Last week, the performance of the department was below par," state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa Clarita) said at a Van Nuys rally in support of Prop. F, the police reform initiative. "The Los Angeles Police Department has never before been known to retreat," said Davis, who headed the department from 1969 to 1978.
Tom Reddin, who was chief from 1967 through 1969, said that Chief Daryl F. Gates' place when the riots broke out "was in command of the Los Angeles Police Department" not at the campaign fund raiser against Proposition F that Gates was attending.
Proposition F would amend the City Charter to grant City Hall more authority over the Police Department. The rally at the Van Nuys police station featured representatives of normally conservative San Fernando Valley business and homeowner organizations.
"The budget of the Los Angeles Police Department is $990 million," said Richard Close of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. "Did we get our money's worth last week? No. Residents of the San Fernando Valley are calling for a reorganization of the Police Department."
Valley business leaders have previously gone on record as supporting the measure, saying the image of Los Angeles as a crime-ridden city with a brutal police force is hurting efforts at attracting new business and preventing local businesses from moving away.
Davis and Reddin, who had previously announced their support for the charter amendment, both indicated they feel the department's showing in the riot, as well as the riot itself, proves the need for reform.
"We have lost to a great extent the confidence of the public," said Davis. "The citizen-police partnership has to be rebuilt."
Davis said that in the past, "there was only one thing the police knew. That was 'Char"
Reddin agreed: "When something happens, you have to get there as fast as you can and use what you have."
The news conference drew an audience of about 30, matching the number of homeowners, business executives and politicians who showed up to speak.
Rank-and-file officers providing security nearby refused to discuss the proposition, saying they were not allowed to state their views while on duty.
The campaign against Proposition F is being led by the 8,100-member Police Protective League, which opposes a 10-year term limit on the chief and grants the mayor and city council new powers to hire and fire the chief.
In an interview, League President Bill Violante accused the former chiefs of misleading the voters. "It's ironic to us that two men who are former chiefs of police never spoke out in support of term limits or the removal of Civil Service protections from the chief of police when they served."
Gates has argued that passage of the amendment would open the door to corruption by making the police chief a functionary of the political Establishment. Underscoring his belief that police should remain independent of City Hall, he has said the hesitant response by police to the rioting was partly a result of the political battering the department has taken over the past months as a result of the Rodney G. King case.