The mayor’s nominations Wednesday of two civil libertarians to the Los Angeles Police Commission signal an inexorable commitment to the departmental reform process begun in the wake of Rodney King’s beating.
But the nominations also may signal something else.
Coming on the heels of the dismissal of a police commissioner who went against the mayor, the nominations appear to indicate a mayoral distaste for disloyalty.
Appointees who do not honor the mayor’s preferences on matters he considers of critical importance--such as selection of the next police chief--may be writing their own tickets out of City Hall.
The nominees, criminal defense attorney Gerald Chaleff and environmental lawyer Dean Hansell, were extremely guarded in interviews Wednesday, saying that the mayor had not asked them how they stood on who should be the department’s next chief and that they had formed no definite opinions.
Both acknowledged, nonetheless, that they believe the 1991 Christopher Commission’s suggested reforms have become part of the city’s immutable landscape. “The momentum [behind the reforms] has taken on a life of its own,” Hansell said.
He and Chaleff portrayed themselves as committed to the idea of community-based policing that was one focus of the Christopher Commission report. But each offered an important caveat, expressing uncertainty about the policy’s proper scope, since it requires heavy staffing by a department chronically short of officers.
Both said they saw the department moving in the direction of restored public confidence after a significant period of disconnection from the community. And both expressed a desire to encourage that trend. Chaleff, 56, said he hoped to promote “the old adage we were taught as kids: That the police are your friend.”
Mayor Richard Riordan sidestepped the question of what message he was trying to send to the department with the nomination of Chaleff and Hansell, both of whom have been active at various times in the American Civil Liberties Union. But police headquarters was abuzz with reaction--not all of it friendly.
Chaleff in particular came in for antagonism because of his 1980s defense of “Hillside Strangler” Angelo Buono, a serial killer who terrorized the city in the 1970s.
As one top LAPD official said: “How can [the mayor] be a law and order type and put a criminal defense attorney who represented one of the most heinous killers in the city’s history . . . on the panel?”
The same official also raised questions about the wisdom of giving Chaleff customary briefings on police intelligence matters involving white collar crime, since his current law practice concentrates on the defense of people accused of such offenses.
But the mayor insisted that--as an elected official for whom enhanced public safety has always been the top priority--he chose for this “awesome responsibility” two men who were not ideologues, but sophisticated, independent thinkers.
In addition to his work as a defense lawyer, Chaleff was a deputy district attorney early in his career. He also has served as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. and as deputy general counsel to the Webster Commission, which diagnosed management failures related to the police department’s dismal initial response to the 1992 riots.
Hansell, 45, has been a civil litigator and prosecutor, specializing in environmental and anti-trust matters, and has been active in gay community affairs, serving on the national board of an educational organization called the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Riordan, a moderate Republican, noted that appointing police commissioners with “very, very liberal” credentials was nothing new. He cited outgoing Police Commission President Raymond C. Fisher, who is resigning with one year left on his term to accept an appointment as the No. 3 attorney in the Clinton administration’s Justice Department.
“All I asked of Ray was, ‘I want you to be objective and not go in with a liberal agenda or any other agenda. Just do what’s right.’ And I think he did a tremendous job,” the mayor said.
Fisher, who was a deputy general counsel to the Christopher Commission, is credited with spearheading implementation of a reform agenda and leading the move not to renew Police Chief Willie L. Williams’ contract.
Riordan’s assertions that he wants independent commissioners were met with widespread skepticism in the wake of his decision not to reappoint Commissioner Art Mattox, an executive and gay activist who had defied the mayor by not voting for Riordan’s choice as interim chief.
Riordan wanted Asst. Chief Bernard Parks, a contender to succeed Williams. But Mattox was the successful swing vote behind Asst. Chief Bayan Lewis, who said he would serve only for a few months until a successor to Williams could be chosen.
One of Riordan’s own commissioners, who asked not to be named, said Wednesday: “Any commissioner ought to be aware that if they cross swords with the appointing authority there is going to be disappointment.”
Some department insiders are predicting that the selection of Chaleff and Hansell will increase the likelihood that Parks will come out as the five-member police commission’s top choice for the vacant chief’s job when the commission submits a list of three finalists--in order of preference--to the mayor.
“I think it’s pretty clear that these two people will carry out the mayor’s wishes,” said one top LAPD official. “I think everyone in town can see that [Chaleff and Hansell] better be prepared to give the mayor what he wants.”
Even the manner of their appointments suggests how the mayor becomes comfortable with his nominees. Chaleff, who has been tested by the mayor with service on the telecommunications and planning commissions, was named to a full five-year term to succeed Mattox.
Hansell, who has never before served the mayor, was named to fulfill the one year left on Fisher’s unexpired term.
However, whether the men will actually get a chance to participate in the next chief’s selection, or wait to have their loyalty and independence tested on other matters, depends on how quickly the City Council acts to confirm their appointments.
City Council President John Ferraro said Wednesday that he anticipates the nominees will have no difficulty winning confirmation. The City Charter gives the council up to 45 days to consider the nominations. The Police Commission is scheduled to recommend to the mayor its choices for chief at the end of July.
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* Age: 45
* Residence: Hancock Park
* Education: Denison University, bachelor’s degree; Northwestern University of Law, law degree
* Career highlights: Partner at the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, specializing in environmental and antitrust matters; former prosecutor with the Federal Trade Commission; member of the board of directors for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles; member or contributor to various gay and lesbian groups, including Lambda Legal Defense, Gay & Lesbian Center and Lawyers for Human Rights.
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Gerald L. Chaleff
* Age: 56
* Residence: Brentwood
* Education: bachelor’s degree from UCLA; law degree from Harvard
* Career highlights: Criminal defense attorney specializing in white collar crime cases; former deputy district attorney; represented Hillside Strangler Angelo Buono, a serial killer who terrorized the city in the 1970s; former president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. and director of the ACLU; worked as deputy general counsel to the Webster Commission, which diagnosed management failures related to the Los Angeles Police Department’s initial response to the 1992 riots.