Riordan on Criminal Justice and the LAPD

Last week, I interviewed Richard Riordan about his views on criminal justice, civil liberties and the Los Angeles Police Department.

I was interested because if he’s elected mayor, he will be deeply involved in the criminal justice system. The mayor names the Police Commission, which sets Police Department policy, and--with the approval of the City Council--appoints the police chief.

The record of Riordan’s opponent, Councilman Michael Woo, is well known in the area of criminal justice matters. As a councilman for eight years, he has voted on Police Department policies and appropriations, as well as on other matters dealing with crime.

Riordan, on the other hand, is an attorney and businessman. His extensive legal, business and charitable activities have taken place, for the most part, behind the scenes. Given the importance of the crime issue and the Police Department, I was curious how he felt about criminal justice matters.


We talked for about a half hour and these were, I thought, Riordan’s main points.


I started out by asking him about his rare appearances on the public political stage. In 1986 and again in 1990, he was a leader and financial angel for campaigns that may have been among the most important in the history of the California criminal justice system. The 1986 election resulted in voters throwing out State Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird. The other, a 1990 initiative, was a massive toughening of criminal laws called “The Victim’s Bill of Rights.”

While these campaigns had diverse leadership, a driving force behind both were highly conservative law enforcement elements, including prosecutors and cops. I asked if Riordan’s participation meant he would favor ultraconservative elements of the LAPD.

Riordan explained that while many people opposed Bird for her anti-death penalty stand, he joined the campaign because “she was a positive detriment to the economy of the state” through anti-business decisions. “She is one reason why some businesses would not come into the state,” he said. It was, he said, “the best thing I ever did.”

“The people who led that with me were not way-out right-wingers. There were certainly elements of that. There were Democrats too. In politics, to get things done you have to bring different people together, you just don’t bring people who agree with you ideologically 100%.

“If I am going to be a good mayor, or if Mr. Woo is going to be a good mayor, you can’t throw your ideology, if you have one, down the throats of the people of L.A. It ain’t going to work.

“But I think my main point is that I am essentially not an ideologist. I don’t have any political ideologies.”



I asked him about the conservative law enforcement elements in the LAPD that he would have to deal with as mayor.

“I think police departments, in general, tend to be more conservative,” he said. “I think when you are out fighting crime, it either attracts conservatives or makes somebody more conservative. And that’s where you really need strong leadership at the top.

“There’s a tendency when things go wrong to blame minority groups and everything and you need a strong leader at the top to say we’re not going to tolerate that. . . . Take the Rodney King incident. . . . There were 300 bad people in the Police Department, of whom 50 were super-bad and everybody knew who they were. But the Police Commission never did a damn thing about it and the mayor appointed the Police Commission.”


“I think if you had strong leadership at the top, what you describe as ultra-right activities would have been stopped. . . . I have never been considered a far-right Republican. I have always been considered moderate to liberal. . . . “

He said he supported the Christopher Commission report and the Proposition H reform campaign it inspired. He gave $25,000 and said “Mayor (Tom) Bradley and I made a number of calls and raised about $100,000 together.” Riordan, like Woo, also favors the addition of more police officers.

“What went wrong with Daryl Gates?” I asked.

“I think he became too close to the men on the street,” Riordan said. “The good points about Daryl were his bad points. . . . He loved the men on the street but he couldn’t come to grips with the fact that a bunch of them were bad apples. He couldn’t make the tough decisions to get rid of them.”


Did Gates change over the years? “Year after year, (when you) become more of a celebrity, more sought-after . . . it takes your eye off it all. I suppose he succumbed a bit to that. But I still think he was a very inspirational person at the end.”

Will you fully support the new chief? “Absolutely, as long as he is chief, he is going to have my 100% support. You don’t undercut the person who has the job.”

Do you like him personally? “Yes, very much,” Riordan said. “I find him very easy.”