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There’s No Way Williams Can Stay

Barry M. Greenberg served as co-chair of the 1995 Citywide Community Police Advisory Board summit

For the record, I like Willie Williams. I have been a vocal supporter and will continue to back his reforms for as long as he is LAPD chief. If Williams were running in an election for chief today, he probably would win. But there is no such election, and given that, Williams will not be chief beyond July. No way. Not a snowball’s chance. It’s over.

More important, he must know that it’s over, which makes his recent exercises in stimulating public support so distressing. This campaign of his, this alignment of citizen-supporters, his calling in a high-powered attorney, what purpose does it serve? Does he think the Police Commission will be swayed by his recent public show of support? Does he think the City Council will?

It is not his desire for a second term that should concern Angelenos, but the manner in which he appears to be making each of us pawns in his inevitable departure. I want Williams to leave both our city government and his department in better shape than they were when he arrived. By working within the framework established to oversee his job, he can do just that. Or he can just as easily destroy his legacy.

Here is the process: The chief has told the Police Commission that he wants to stay. The five-member commission assuredly will say, “Thanks, Willie, but we prefer to make a change; we are not going to renew your contract.” Then any City Council member could take the issue to the council, where 10 votes (out of a possible 15) would be needed to consider taking the issue under advisement. If that happens, a second ballot would need a 10-vote margin to overturn the commission’s decision. Simple math: Williams doesn’t have the votes in the commission. He doesn’t have the votes in the council. As I said, it’s over.

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We also must factor in that, like it or not, Proposition 5, which allows the council to nullify commission decisions, was written solely for the override of any flagrant or criminal abuse of the commission system--corruption and really nasty stuff like that.

In fact, the Christopher Commission said that the Police Commission should be exempted from operating under Proposition 5. Clearly, using it in the Williams situation would be an abuse of the spirit of that law. The decision on Williams should remain an issue between him and the commissioners.

Just for argument’s sake, in the astronomically unlikely event that he should get the 10 votes on both ballots, it’s over for the rest of us. For in “winning,” Williams will have remained chief, but at what cost? Certainly the Police Commission will be unable to work effectively with him. Worse, we will see either significant commission resignations, as we did after the City Council failed to uphold his reprimand or a departure en masse, for the commissioners clearly will be unable to affect critical LAPD decisions if they are powerless even to put their own CEO into place. Mayor Richard Riordan will feel even more alienated from Williams. Rank and file officers will continue to see this chief as “the one who got away with something,” reversing whatever slight morale improvements we have seen over the past two years. It would be a disaster.

His personal reasons for doing all this to us are certainly legitimate. Posturing for a better buyout. Preparing for a possible lawsuit. But a serious run at redemption? Nonexistent. The scenario serves Williams and makes for great press, but it’s lousy for the department, its morale and ours.

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His campaign already has cost the department, for in gearing up his personal PR machinery and appearing to plan for his future, he has proposed a deluge of programs and plans that have Parker Center and the department scrambling to keep up.

There actually are two distinct issues at play here. The first deals with the controversy over those issues surrounding Williams’ desire for a second term: you know, nonsense like qualifications, competence, officer morale, Las Vegas, implementation of Christopher Commission recommendations, personnel and gender discrimination, use of force, use of cellular phones.

The second issue boils down to process. It has to do with how we as citizens feel about our city government, which has a process in place to deal with whether the police chief serves one term or two. The five commissioners selected by Riordan to oversee the department have its best interests at heart, have outstanding credentials, balance one another and have volunteered the time necessary to understand the myriad problems facing the LAPD.

There are those who say that Williams’ departure will be based on politics. That is true, if you accept that his overseers are political appointees and that the council is made up of elected politicians. But to believe that his departure will be based on minor partisan bickering or race would be plain wrong.

We had our say when we elected our mayor and he appointed his commission. Allow them the opportunity to exercise due process.

As the drama unfolds, it will pay for us, as a city, to be generous to this chief; to see Willie Williams remembered as the chief who made a difference, the man who put communities in touch with the LAPD; who was here as we obtained new officers, new cars, new radios, a new academy. I would not want him to be remembered as the man who sued the city.


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