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Jesse A. Brewer, Ex-Assistant Police Chief, Dies : LAPD: The highest-ranking African American when he retired, he was force for reform while on Police Commission.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jesse A. Brewer, a Los Angeles Police Department assistant chief who became a force for reform of the embattled LAPD in the wake of the beating of Rodney G. King, died Sunday. He was 74.

Brewer died of heart failure at 5 a.m. at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan, an LAPD spokesman said.

When he retired in 1991 after 39 years of service, Brewer was the highest-ranking African American in the history of the LAPD. He was then appointed to the Police Commission and helped lead the civilian watchdog agency through the department’s stressful transition from Chief Daryl F. Gates to Chief Willie L. Williams.

Brewer was widely respected as a man who knew the department inside and out, its strengths and vulnerabilities. He was also known as a personable leader and for an even-tempered, gentlemanly demeanor.

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“Jesse Brewer was an extraordinarily competent man,” said Stanley Sheinbaum, who served with Brewer on the Police Commission. “He commanded respect. He was competent. He knew policing. He was always reliable.”

“We were very, very proud in the African American community of his achievements,” City Councilwoman Rita Walters said Sunday. “He was a wonderful man in every respect.”

Brewer joined the LAPD as a patrolman in 1952, eventually working every assignment from traffic to homicide. He retired after rising to its No. 2 post, serving in that job under Gates for three years.

For all his subsequent longevity in the department, Brewer needed help to land his first LAPD job. He got it from an influential patron--Tom Bradley, then an LAPD sergeant, later the mayor of Los Angeles. Their friendship lasted a lifetime.

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Although he had already been a patrolman in Chicago for five years after serving as an Army officer, Brewer initially had been rejected by the LAPD.

Convinced he was being discriminated against because of his race, Brewer turned to his uncle--a minister who counted then-Sgt. Bradley among his parishioners--for assistance. Bradley helped him to reapply, and Brewer was accepted.

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Over the years, Brewer held any number of assignments, including vice, traffic, homicide, burglary, community relations and training activities. He was promoted to deputy chief in 1981 and remained in that position until 1987, when he was appointed assistant chief.

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In announcing the 1987 promotion, Gates said of Brewer: “I have come to admire him as a man who is always there when you need him.”

Brewer, who had attended college at Tuskegee Institute and Shaw University, earned a master’s degree in public administration in 1977 from USC.

He frequently drew praise for his various law enforcement innovations, including new ways developed during the 1980s for deploying officers to combat gangs. He served on a presidential commission on organized crime and was a technical adviser to the television show “Hill Street Blues.”

When he was named deputy chief in 1981, Brewer recalled in a 1991 interview, he “worked real hard and prepared” for the possibility of succeeding Gates. Eventually, however, he realized that his age and the odds were against him. “My timing wasn’t right,” he said.

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Brewer retired March 1, 1991. Two days later, the now-infamous King beating took place.

It was Brewer who provided the Christopher Commission with some of its most damaging testimony about brutality, racism and sloppy management in the LAPD. The commission--headed by Warren Christopher, a Los Angeles lawyer who is now U.S. secretary of state--was convened immediately after the King beating to investigate the LAPD.

Brewer told the panel that a lack of management attention was “the essence of the excessive-force problem” in the LAPD and said that officers’ rudeness and disrespect toward residents had been “out of control” for several years. Asked to assess the job Gates did in disciplining wayward officers, Brewer gave his former boss a grade of “D.”

Those comments altered the relationship between the two men considerably. For the remainder of Gates’ tenure, their relationship was cool.

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Adding to the chill, a few days after the Christopher Commission report was published, Bradley--one of Gates’ most vocal critics--named Brewer to the Police Commission, the five-member civilian agency charged with oversight of the LAPD. Ostensibly, that made Brewer boss over his old chief.

Brewer immediately called for Gates to resign--but denied that his appointment was part of any plan by Bradley to pressure Gates to step down.

Instead, Brewer said his focus was on reforming the department. He wanted “the maximum number of people possible in the field.” And he stressed the benefits of community-oriented policing, encouraging officers to “interact with the public.”

Brewer’s appointment to the panel was widely seen as a deft political move, giving the panel legitimacy and providing it with insider information it needed to exert its will over a recalcitrant LAPD.

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In 1992, Gates did step down. Williams took over as the department’s first African American chief.

The same year, Brewer was named president of the Police Commission. In 1993, he and the other four police commissioners were replaced by appointees of the newly elected--and current--mayor, Richard Riordan.

Brewer is survived by his wife, Odessa; three sons, Jesse III, Jonathan and Kenneth; and three grandchildren.

Services are pending.

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