This is how Daryl Gates, who says he is "the father of SWAT," and who also helped give you a pretty good riot, sees himself when he is in bed:
"At four o'clock the phone rang. I have a unique ability to wake up from a very sound sleep, almost on the first ring. And I can get all the details and fall right back to sleep."
When he is up for good, he is leaping into his car, ready to drive screaming to a run and then, so many times in his years, somebody starts playing with matches around the dynamite.
"No sooner was I in my car," he says of starting one run, listening to his radio, "than the thing blew up."
He was talking about his SWAT boys, Team Number One on this run. He says that they were armed with tear gas guns, 12-gauge shotguns, four AR-180 semiautomatic weapons, one AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, one .283-caliber long rifle and a slew of .45-caliber sidearms. Also, "SWAT was calling for fragmentation grenades."
He then concludes that fragmentation grenades, which explode into body-piercing shards, are not funny. "They are meant to seriously injure people."
He was telling about the raid on the Symbionese Liberation Army house, which burned down and killed everybody in it. At first, I was a little uncertain as to whether I was reading about city police, who give traffic tickets, or the combat history of the 3rd Marines. I also remembered watching Daryl Gates' SWAT team attack on television. The police had a house on the block surrounded. Inside was a man who had killed a couple of people and now held a little girl as hostage. The police sat outside for 48 hours. You can tell a cop he is on overtime and he is deliriously happy to sit there. Finally, with the house silent, a couple of them slipped in, held out lollipops and lured the little girl out of the room. When the armed nut found he had no hostage, he gave up.
Always, the rule in New York has been, "You got all the time in the world." Which doesn't seem quite glamorous enough for the Daryl Gates who appears in this book.
On another run, against the worst of them all, the Black Panthers, he hears SWAT call for a grenade launcher. "SWAT hoped the first blast would scare the Panthers out. If it didn't, two or three more blasts would surely kill everyone inside."
So Chief Gates calls the Marines and then asks Mayor Yorty to call Washington for permission to get a grenade launcher. Granted. A grenade launcher arrives from Camp Pendleton. Ready to go! At this moment, the Panthers surrender.
Then here is Gates with another weapon, a Department of Defense vehicle that SWAT had fixed up as a battering ram. They practiced with that battering ram so that they could whack-bang a hole in a house and the SWAT boys could hurdle through and in eight seconds have everybody subdued, hogtied on the floor. Great! Let's go! The battering ram, with Chief Gates riding with it, is aiming right for this drug house and that battering ram sure punches a hole in the house and here go the SWAT boys inside, where two women and two children are having ice cream.
I guess Daryl Gates, living where he does, knows a lot about movies. Because he sure did steal this scene straight from "Big Deal on Modanna Street."
And then suddenly the book changes and becomes vastly interesting as Police Chief Daryl Gates tells of sitting across from Tom Bradley, who asks him to resign, and Gates answers the Mayor of Los Angeles by saying:
"In that case, Mister Mayor, this meeting is over. I will tell you that my answer is, I will not, absolutely will not resign. I won't retire."
He then recalls saying, " . . . and I am going to stay because eighty-three hundred police officers want me to stay, plus a whole bunch of people out there who you aren't paying any attention to and never have in all your years as Mayor.
"But most important are the police officers. They follow me, Mister Mayor, and I guarantee they won't follow you. And they won't follow your police commission either. So you're going to have a leaderless group if I should leave. The best thing for the city is for me to stay, let the inquiries go forward, and then we'll see who's been derelict and who has not."
Gates says that Bradley stared at him coldly and in silence. "I turned and walked out," Gates says.
We had in our time in the City of New York a police commissioner named Cawley, and when he was told that his time was up, he decided that he liked the job too much to leave.
"I'm staying on," he informed little Abe Beame, the mayor.
Beame had his head down, writing something. "This concerns you," he said.
"What's that?" Cawley said.
"My order making Mike Codd the commissioner starting now."
And Cawley went out and Codd went in and that was the end of that. The people elect the mayor and the mayor chooses a commissioner and he can throw him out in a minute.
Gates says this sort of thing is exactly why the Los Angeles system is superior. No pure, dedicated police chief is under the direct hand of a dirty politician who was merely elected by the people to take charge of public safety.
But then in the book you find that after telling Bradley off, Gates does this: "I alerted my attorneys, Jay Grodin and Harry Melkonian, of the law firm White & Case, and at 11 a.m. the three of us walked into an office next door to the Commission's."
So he went into a legal fight, just like some cheap political hack who had been thrown off the ballot. He wound up before a judge who found himself "staring down at nine attorneys, all rattling separate sets of papers."
"I returned to Parker Center feeling like General MacArthur."
He loves the name, but doesn't know the story. MacArthur was fired from his job by a responsible politician. And Gates, in a city of madness, was allowed to keep his.
In this book, Daryl Gates spends many pages on the Watts riots. He was a police commander at the time, and he tells of the feelings that agitated him as he tried so desperately to lead his men against these people he saw as looters in a carnival atmosphere. He felt he was badly defeated.
Then over the years, he had all this damn trouble because there was no responsible black leadership. Here he had this "carotid" chokehold, in which you cut off the flow of blood to a man's brain and he goes limp. Damn, but doesn't a black die. Gates seemed to think that the trouble was in your basic black neck. "There is a sudden death syndrome, which is far greater in blacks than in other groups," Gates writes. He does not mention that this does appear to be a true fact when a black gets shot, which happens to them far more often than to other groups.
There were so many furious people from the Urban League and the great enemy, the ACLU, and black activists and "a few white liberals trying to curry favor with the blacks."
He was not fired, because he was the police chief of Los Angeles, and he was doing exactly what the people who run the city wanted, give them a nice small police force, the less cost the better, and go out there and control the town with a tight operation.
Then he had the Rodney King beating. In a prologue to the book, Gates says, "To see them beat a man with their batons fifty-six times, to see a sergeant on scene who did nothing to seize control, was something I never dreamed I would witness." I would be interested in his reaction if he did not have to put out a book.
And now, after all these years of giving the city exactly what it wanted, he now found the whole place against him. They made jokes about him, and nobody is supposed to laugh at a legend. As this book was being printed when the King court decision came in, it has nothing on the riot. However, anybody who ever had cops in the family learned of an old emotion at the kitchen table. Daryl Gates is a cop who tried to moonlight as a politician and it ran out. He gave the whole town exactly what it paid for and then they betray him and say that he alone was a horrible failure.
And at the end, an old cop in any city in the world--and they surely are alike wherever they are--knows exactly what to do: Let it happen. If that's what they want, then let them have it. I'm taking a walk.
When the riot started, Daryl Gates, the father of SWAT, was off making a speech someplace and his LAPD left the scene and allowed one side of Los Angeles to become history.