Thousands mourn ‘the Chief’
Thousands turned out Tuesday to mourn Daryl F. Gates, the venerated and controversial chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who was remembered for the huge imprint he left on the LAPD and a fierce devotion to his officers even in the face of harsh criticism.
“Daryl was the Los Angeles Police Department,” said current LAPD Chief Charlie Beck during a memorial service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A. “The Los Angeles Police Department was Daryl Gates.”
Gates led the LAPD for 14 years ending in 1992 — a tumultuous period marked by surging gang violence, a crack cocaine epidemic, and rising tensions between police and minority communities. He died earlier this month after a battle with cancer at the age of 83.
Under gloomy, cool skies, a large, somber procession escorted Gates’ body over the several blocks from LAPD headquarters to the cathedral. With several city streets shut off to traffic during the morning rush hour, the procession began with mournful tones from a band of bagpipers, followed by a phalanx of motorcycle and mounted officers. In line with police tradition, a riderless horse led the hearse, a pair of black boots placed backward in the stirrups and a sword hanging from the saddle. Tearful family members, accompanied by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the entire LAPD command staff, walked slowly behind.
By the start of the private, two-hour ceremony, the 3,800-seat sanctuary overflowed with a dark blue sea of uniformed LAPD officers. Gates’ wooden coffin, draped with an American flag and etched with his badge number, was flanked by two LAPD honor guard officers.
The turnout underscored the strong devotion an older generation of cops had maintained for Gates, who, while disliked by some outside the ranks, was known to many supporters simply as “the Chief.”
Beck, who was an LAPD rookie when Gates became chief in 1978, praised Gates as a leader completely devoted to the department he served in for more than 40 years.
“Daryl loved this place. He loved it because he respected the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department. He loved them unconditionally,” said Beck, struggling to keep his emotions in check. “The chief is dead. Long live the Los Angeles Police Department.”
The LAPD that Gates knew, however, is largely gone. Today, more than nine of every 10 LAPD officers have been on the force for 15 years or fewer and, so, never served under Gates, according to department figures. And the nearly all-white, male department that Gates inherited has been transformed. Under court orders to do so, Gates began to diversify the force, which today far more closely resembles the city it serves.
The dramatic changes that the LAPD has undergone since Gates’ time have presented Beck, Villaraigosa and other city leaders with a difficult balancing act in the days since Gates’ death. They have publicly acknowledged Gates for the influence he had on the department and city at large, but have been careful not to fully embrace a man who led the department during a troubled time that stands at odds with the reforms of recent years.
A former driver and aide to Chief William Parker, who built the modern-day LAPD, Gates was hailed by supporters as an innovative, hard-charging leader, who continued Parker’s efforts to professionalize the agency and did his best to hold the line with an undersized force against soaring gang and drug violence. They cite his creation of the department’s SWAT team and the anti-drug DARE program as some of his more notable contributions.
Critics, however, view him as a man who pursued an antagonistic, paramilitary approach to policing, in which officers treated the city’s poor, minority communities as occupied territories. He was, they say, a man prone to racially insensitive remarks, either blind or impervious to the rising animosity many Angelenos felt toward the LAPD. That tension snapped when riots erupted in South L.A. after the acquittal of officers put on trial for the beating of Rodney King. Gates, who blamed those beneath him for the department’s failed response, was nonetheless roundly criticized for the debacle. He resisted calls for his resignation for months after the riots, but eventually stepped down in June 1992.
Gates remained unapologetic to the end. Late last year, when Beck was chosen as the chief, he and many others made frequent comparisons between the modern LAPD, known for having dramatically improved its ties to minority communities, and the one that Gates led, which was often dismissed as the “dark years.”
“My time as chief was not the dark age of policing in L.A.,” Gates wrote in an e-mail to a Times reporter. “As a matter of fact, it truly was the golden years. People within the Department worked harder and accomplished more with less than any time in the history of policing.”
The first song played at the memorial service was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
In a recent interview with Times editors and reporters, Beck said Gates must be viewed in the context of his time.
“The Police Department is thought of completely differently now than in 1992. Then, the hate was palpable. You could feel it,” he said. “Gates had to deal with those things as chief. Whether he made the situation worse or better, that’s for somebody else to decide. Sometimes the machinations of history are going to be so stacked against you that you’re not going to be successful.”
At the memorial service, former LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Hillmann, who was close to Gates, described a man who remained fiercely devoted to the department in his final days. Shortly before he died, an LAPD pilot maneuvered his helicopter outside the window of Gates’ hospital room. Badly sickened and weakened by the disease, Gates nonetheless rose from his bed, put on his SWAT hat and stood at attention at the window with tears streaming.
After the service, Gates was given the traditional honor of three volleys of rifle fire by officers in the cathedral plaza. Three LAPD helicopters flew overhead with an empty space for a fourth — the symbolic missing man formation.
After a traditional “end of watch” announcement was read, Beck handed the American flag from the casket to Gates’ daughter.