From the Archives: Profile: Willie L. Williams

Police Chief Willie L. Williams

Police Chief Willie L. Williams

(Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times)

Willie L. Williams, Philadelphia police commissioner, has been appointed to succeed Daryl F. Gates as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

BORN: Oct. 1, 1943, in Philadelphia.

EDUCATION: Graduated Overbrook High School, 1960; two-year associate degree from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, 1982; attending St. Joseph’s University.

RESUME: Started out 30 years ago as a park guard, and became a police officer when guards were assimilated into Philadelphia’s police force.


At first, he complained openly of overt racial prejudice in the department, but heeded advice from the only high-ranking black officer that he should bide his time and get ahead through department promotional exams. Through much study, he became an exceptionally prepared and successful test-taker.

He worked his way up the promotional ladder as a narcotics detective, field supervisor and captain in a crime-ridden North Philadelphia neighborhood, and as a division inspector. He then headed the department’s civil affairs unit and its training bureau.

In June, 1988, he was named commissioner--the equivalent of chief.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Williams made community harmony a top priority within the 6,300-officer department. His greatest successes came in Philadelphia’s black neighborhoods, where police had a longstanding reputation for brutality and corruption. The cost: alienating a generation of old-line officers who followed the lead of the late tough-guy commissioner, Frank Rizzo.

Determined to crack down on police brutality, Williams dismissed 19 officers and disciplined or transferred 100 others. The city’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, has frequently sued him for his disciplinary actions.

One of his bitterest moments came last year, when he attempted to promote 14 officers--half of them minorities--to “temporary” top posts that did not require promotion exams. Only after a judge threatened him with jail did Williams agree to administer the exams. Nine of the 14 passed.

Smooth, open and easygoing, he won increased confidence from community groups and younger, front-line officers he tries to call by name.

The most visible signs of his tenure are 27 mini-police stations that have sprouted up in buildings donated by landlords, furnished by neighbors and staffed by officer teams.

Still, during his first full year at the helm, murders jumped from 371 to 476. Last year, that trend moderated, partly because of federal-local cooperation on narcotics.

INTERESTS AND HOBBIES: Detective novels, coaching youth sports teams and, occasionally, golfing.

FAMILY: The son of a Philadelphia meat-cutter and a homemaker, he has been married for 26 years to his wife, Evelina. They have raised three children, a twin daughter and son, now 25, and a 22-year-old son.

QUOTE: “There are far more diverse communities here than in Philadelphia. But the needs of the folks in those communities, the needs of the men and women of the Police Department, the needs of the police union--they’re the same. My job is to get out and let them meet Willie Williams.”