A historic City Charter amendment to dramatically change the Los Angeles Police Department’s power structure and make it more accountable to the community won a decisive victory Tuesday.
Voters also passed a “buy American” measure to give California and Los Angeles County firms bidding preference on city contracts, and set a minimum U.S. content requirement for city purchases.
Charter Amendment F, which will give City Hall more power over the police chief and provide more civilian review of officer misconduct, was leading by a margin of more than 2 to 1--an apparent rejection of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, his management style and department operations.
The results were seen as a triumph for residents and civic leaders who believe that the department should be more responsive to the diverse minority communities of Los Angeles.
“This victory signifies the overwhelming desire of our people for an accountable Police Department that fights crime instead of being held hostage to the whims of an arrogant, divisive chief of police,” Mayor Tom Bradley, who is in Washington, said in a prepared statement. Passage of the measure, he said, “shows that the city is coming together again.”
Warren Christopher, chairman of the blue-ribbon panel that investigated the LAPD in the aftermath of the Rodney G. King beating, called the measure “a very good beginning for the rebuilding of the city. The next hurdle is to translate all these reforms into actions you can see on the street.”
John Mack, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Urban League, said the vote will bring “a new climate” to the Police Department. “It sends out the message to officers on the street that says, ‘Hey, this is a new day, you can’t brutalize people anymore,’ ” Mack said.
Gates, an active opponent of the measure, said “this is a power play--it will politicize the Police Department right down to the man on the street.”
Police Protective League President Bill Violante, another leading opponent, called the measure “a sham, a bunch of garbage” that fails to provide the equipment, training or additional manpower the department needs.
Also approved by voters were two ballot measures authorizing the city to enter into long-term concessions with merchants on historic Olvera Street, and to allow the city to reduce the number of ballots available at polling places in city elections to 75% of the total number of registered voters.
The election caps 15 months of divisive debate over proposals to bring sweeping changes to the Police Department. The reform recommendations were first made by the Christopher Commission, the civilian panel convened to investigate the LAPD after the videotaped police beating of King on March 3, 1991.
After hearings before the City Council, the panel’s proposals were incorporated into a single ballot measure placed before voters Tuesday.
Essentially, Charter Amendment F limits a police chief to two five-year terms, allows the mayor to select a chief with the approval of the City Council and provides civilian review of officer misconduct by adding a civilian to disciplinary panels.
At first, the campaign shaped up to be a clash between two men. One was former Deputy Secretary of State Christopher, chairman of the civilian review panel and leader of the movement to give City Hall more control over the department. The other was Gates, defender of the department status quo and representative of a conservative constituency wary of political meddling in police operations.
But the campaign dynamics changed in mid-April when the Police Protective League entered the fray, claiming a campaign fund of $500,000, hundreds of off-duty officers prepared to canvass on its behalf and the services of the New York-based consulting firm of Jerry Austin and Hank Sheinkopf, which handled Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign.
An even greater transformation in the campaign came after the riots that followed not guilty verdicts in the King case. Both sides scrambled to drop pictures of the King beating from their political advertisements and replace them with images of looting and burning buildings.
Opponents of the amendment charged that the Police Department’s slow response to the rioting was the result of interference from politicians who urged officers to use restraint in the aftermath of the verdicts.
Proponents said the riots reinforced the need for police reforms, blaming the LAPD’s delayed response on a failure of management. They argued that the same department managers had failed to deal with racism and the use of excessive force by officers.
“The riots were a crystallizing event in the campaign,” said Steven Glazer, a political strategist for the Yes on F forces. “Management incompetence became so glaring during the riots.”
Immediately after the civil disturbance, a Los Angeles Times poll found widespread disillusionment with Gates and a broad cross-section of the electorate inclined to support the charter amendment.
The riots also deprived the police union of legions of off-duty officers who were too tired from riot duty to spend their off hours working for the No on F effort.
As the campaign wore on, the police union tried hard to distance itself from Gates, whose contentious style and plummeting popularity were viewed by many as liabilities to the No on F campaign.
On the other side, Citizens for Law Enforcement and Reform (CLEAR) relied heavily on contributions from major corporations and high-powered law firms. As of Monday, the campaign had received $684,208 in contributions since March 18--with nearly one-fourth of the total coming in over the past two weeks. Last-minute donations included $56,500 from Walt Disney Co. President Frank G. Wells, and $55,147 worth of free advertising space provided by the Times Mirror Co., The Times’ parent firm.
Most of CLEAR’s money was spent on radio commercials, phone bank operations, door-to-door efforts in the San Fernando Valley, South Los Angeles and East Los Angeles and Democratic and Republican slate mailers.
CLEAR officials decided not to produce a television commercial, which would have cost up to $300,000 a week to broadcast in a market already crowded with the political advertisements of county, state and federal campaigns.
The No on F campaign raised $467,306 between March 18 and Monday--about three-fourths of it borrowed from the police union and used to pay for phone bank operations and radio and television commercials, according to its financial report.
Times staff writers Scott Harris and James Rainey contributed to this article
The following contributed to Times election coverage: Christina Chaplin, Edgar Duarte, Mike Faneuff, Kevin Fox, John Hernandez, Anthony Kelker, Roshawn Mathias, Scott Masko, Kerry Murphy, Carlos Santana and Onna Young.