L.A. Police Chief Willie L. Williams finally has the power to hire and promote the officers he commands. That new authority allows him to choose his own management team and puts him more firmly in charge of the 7,900-member department. This is a most welcome change.
Williams inherited a talented but beleaguered police force--one demoralized by the Rodney King case and the revelations of the Christopher Commission report, embarrassed by the department's checkered performance during the first part of the riots and hampered by having insufficient funds and too few officers to adequately patrol the city.
Williams also inherited some officers who remained loyal to former Chief Daryl F. Gates and the old way of doing things.
These challenges did not dampen the new chief's commitment to change the LAPD, but Williams lacked the authority to handpick his own team. Unlike other big-city police chiefs, he was forced to go hat in hand to the City Council for approval of personnel changes. That gave the council an opening to micro-manage the department. It also allowed Williams' opponents to take their cases directly to council members and undermine the chief. It was a ridiculous situation.
Now the council has, though reluctantly, given up its police personnel authority, which in fact had been a sometimes useful safeguard during the controversial latter years of Gates' tenure. The defiant former chief's administration was often marred by confrontation and personality disputes. Gates openly feuded with then-Mayor Tom Bradley, and their stubborn refusal to speak to each other undermined public safety.
Williams has been at the helm in Parker Center for more than a year. Step by step, he is putting his mark on the LAPD. He persuaded the council to lift the hiring freeze it had imposed. Now he has persuaded it to leave the hiring and promoting to him. That transfer of authority is just the beginning of what Williams really needs to manage effectively. The chief also needs the money to embrace more of the Christopher Commission reforms and put more cops on the streets. But these days more money is even harder to get than more authority.