A Proper Eulogy

The day after former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates died, the L.A. Times once again showed its total lack of class and objectivity by being – well, the L.A. Times.  The paper ran headlines such as “Controversial LAPD chief – Known for key innovations and a combative approach, he saw his leadership challenged as the Rodney King beating case unfolded.”  The next day, the editorial section had almost a full page with separate pieces written by two men who obviously didn’t like the man.  Jim Newton’s lead was “I knew where I stood with the chief, and it wasn’t pretty.”  Joe Domanick started his diatribe with “L.A. changed, but he – and his department would not.” The guy was dead, and they were still sniveling and sparring with him.  It made me wonder what it was about the Chief that got under their skin so bad that it caused them to lash out at him even as he lay in the funeral home.  After reading their editorials, I had this picture in my mind of Chief Gates sitting in his black and white chariot looking down at Newton and Domanick and laughing his ass off.  Gates was smarter than both of them and had a sense of honor and courage they never valued.  He also had a sense of humor and must be enjoying the idea these guys are still so pissed at him they can’t give him a proper eulogy. The reason Gates didn’t like Newton should’ve been pretty obvious to most cops.  Newton never understood the police department he wrote about with such sublime arrogance and ignorance.  If Gates “detested” (Newton’s word) The Times, it was because The Times lacked objectivity and intelligent research in covering anything related to the LAPD.  The paper worshiped the likes of Ramona Ripston and her ACLU-laden police commission, but couldn’t stomach the concept of giving any police officer a fair hearing or the benefit of the doubt. Domanick claimed the city changed but Gates and the department wouldn’t.  Gates was the chief of police for 14 years and contrary to Domanick’s assertion, the Chief did understand and support the social justice movement.  Domanick just saying Gates didn’t support civil rights, women’s rights and gay and lesbian rights doesn’t make it true.  Disagreeing with Tom Bradley didn’t make the chief a racist.  Most of the time Mayor Bradley was not only wrong but ineffective and aligned with too many special interest groups.  The police department should’ve been bigger and better equipped, but Bradley did nothing to make that happen.  Gates believed in accountability, but promoted aggressive policing because that’s what he had to do when there weren’t enough officers, and the mayor wasn’t doing anything to make it better.  The whole department wasn’t running amok killing unarmed suspects with no accountability.  If by that statement, Domanick was referring to Rampart, it was the LAPD that uncovered those renegade cops.  It’s disingenuous and dishonest to indict a whole department because of a couple of bad cops…yes, a couple.  After all the ranting and raving, the Rampart scandal was proven to be only a handful of bad cops and a weak captain.   Gates’ department never tolerated brutality or lawlessness.  If it had, no one would’ve ever known about Rampart or any of the other rare “scandals” that were quickly uncovered and bad cops fired and punished. Domanick’s entire editorial is a simplistic shabby analysis of the city’s history and Gates’ tenure as chief.   He touts the Christopher Commission and the consent decree for harnessing and reining in an out-of-control department.  The truth is the commission’s findings and the consent decree were no more than annoyances creating busy work for an already burdened department.  A real historian would’ve looked at the department and Gates’ actions within the context of the time he served and taken into account a number of events including the onset of the crack cocaine epidemic, the rise of violent street gangs, out of control illegal immigration with an increase in drug smuggling, changing demographics in the neighborhoods, a fading recession, a flood of homeless people on the streets (the ACLU’s Sundance decision kept the police from picking them up for being drunk), the tapering off of the anti-war movement’s violence and leftwing groups fomenting violence – a lot of it directed at the police, the remnants of the SLA, SDS and the Weathermen – all handled with one of the smallest police departments in the country for a city as big and complex as L.A.  Since these were just a few of the social issues the police department had to confront and deal with at that time, Gate should’ve been given a lot more credit for his efforts. Joe Domanick gloats at the end of his editorial that when Bratton became chief of police it drove, “a final stake through the heart of the culture Gates had embraced.”   This guy is really ignorant about the LAPD.  I worked for and knew Chief Gates.  The man was a true leader and innovator who embraced a proud, well-trained, professional police department where courageous men and woman protected and served those who depended on them for law and order.  His department was diverse and dedicated to the rule of law.  He didn’t tolerate dishonesty or cowardice and honored those who risked and many times sacrificed their lives for others and to preserve a tradition of excellence.  That was and is the real culture of the Los Angeles Police Department.  That was Gates’ real legacy and the reason why, almost 20 years after he retired, the man couldn’t walk into any room of police officers from any police department without a standing ovation. Chief Daryl F. Gates was a better man than Joe Domanick or Jim Newton and deserved a better eulogy than they could possibly give him.

The Los Angeles Police Department has officially bid farewell to its Parker Center headquarters at 150 N. Los Angeles Street and will soon occupy a new ten-story administration building at First and Spring Streets in downtown L.A.  Chief Bratton very graciously invited retired command staff to attend a tour of the new building and take a last nostalgic look at what remains of Parker Center.  It was an eye-opening event in many respects.  There’s no denying the new structure is impressive both in size and technological advances, but with everything that’s been gained something irreplaceable has been lost.  From a writer’s perspective, I can’t help but feel if the walls at PAB could talk there’d be enough material there for at least a hundred good books.  The new building is your basic gerbil warehouse motif with a network of long sterile hallways and cubicle space for everyone from clerk typists to the commanding officers…the higher the rank the bigger the cubicle – civil service nirvana with no danger of fascinating, outrageous stuff going on behind closed doors.  Not much chance of that happening these days anyway.  In this era of political correctness and robotic professionalism, the survival rate for command mavericks is very low.   Every department leader seems to have had a revelation sometime within the last seven years that police work can’t be accomplished without the social service component.  Police officers are by nature do-gooders.  We want to assist and will hold out a helping hand to anyone who needs it as quickly as we’d pull out the handcuffs.   For that matter, community policing is not a new concept.  It goes back to Ed Davis, and it’s irritating to see an organization become like Stepford wives to do what it has always done.  The social consciousness of the department mirrors the world around it.  Officers come from the general population and as tolerance grows in the community the LAPD reflects that change in its ranks and philosophy.   The fear of being an individual appears to be the only prejudice that thrives in today’s policing force.  How long I wonder would an independent thinker survive in this new environment.   More impressive than the new police building was the collection of retired staff and command officers who attended the tour.  Although a number of the active officers including Chief Bratton bragged about the state-of-the-art hi-tech in the new headquarters, no one thought to make simple name tags for the attendees.  Too bad.  I knew a lot of those men and women, chiefs, commanders, innovators and individual leaders who held the reins of power for many years, making the rules, fighting the battles, making mistakes, for sure, but keeping the LAPD the best police department in the world.  Some had been retired a long time and weren’t easily recognized.  It would have been nice to know who they were.  Some should have been acknowledged by the chief of police but weren’t.  Their contributions deserved better, but the oversight wasn’t all that surprising.  The LAPD’s greatness is founded in its history.  The future is important but it’s critical to remember the past and honor those who served and led.  There are few left who can or are willing to do that.  That’s the saddest part about leaving Parker Center.  The new LAPD headquarters is symbolic of the redefined role of policing in LA…it’s big, nondescript, and historical perspective and individuality are not encouraged within its labyrinth of corridors.  The new chief will come from inside the department, but he can’t think like an insider or for that matter think at all.  He must criticize the old and promise to follow the path of his predecessor or there’s not much chance he’ll get or keep the job.   Maybe this kind of department is more efficient, but I’ll wager it isn’t as motivated as the one I remember.   Inspiration goes a long way in creating greatness.   Bratton was a capable manager.  Parker inspired.

“Being a police officer in today’s politically correct climate”

It seems as if there’s always something on the nightly news or the morning papers that reminds me just how difficult it is to be a police officer in today’s politically correct climate.  Recently, the President of the United States called a Cambridge police sergeant stupid for doing his job and essentially equated the sergeant’s reasonable behavior with that of a foolish, out-of-control professor.  Several weeks ago, I read an editorial in the L.A. Times by one of the paper’s regular contributors who may have surpassed both the professor and the president of the United States in allowing prejudice to cloud her judgment.  “All the colors that make blue” was a piece by Sandy Banks.  She had attended a graduation at the Los Angeles Police Academy and was gushing about her delight in what the L.A. police department had become.  Banks saw racial and ethnic diversity and the ability to deal with people as some new kind of policing. She had this revelation while “passing down the row of cadets, checking the ‘function and lubrication’ of each graduate’s gun.”  Having carried a gun for nearly 27 years while an active police officer, I’m not certain how you’d check the function and lubrication of a gun by just looking at it, but that comment fit nicely with the rest of her insights.  In her article, she quoted an assistant chief who claimed “the Neanderthal, knuckle-draggers are going the way of the dodos in this department,” and applauded the chief of police who had “embraced the concept of community policing and surrounded himself with like-minded brass.”   Sorry, but I found those comments pathetic and insulting.  Even before the department started hiring and promoting people based on their color and gender and not exclusively on their ability to do the job, there was some professional, intelligent, and yes, compassionate police work going on in the City of Los Angeles.  Banks also quoted this assistant chief as saying, “good police work is about understanding the human factor.”  I give up.  What exactly does that mean?  I’ve always believed good police work was about knowing the law and enforcing it.  Police officers can’t change the social make up and dynamics of a community.  They have little lasting impact on crime trends, and all the talk at crime stat meetings won’t change that.  They aren’t social workers, priests, crossing guards, babysitters, or mommies.  They carry guns and handcuffs because they should be concentrating on preventing crime, catching the bad guys and protecting the people they serve.  If they do that really well, they create an environment for good things to happen in a community.   Throughout the history of the LAPD, a lot of brave men and women of all races and backgrounds died doing just that.  Their uniform was one color – blue, and I can’t remember one of them hesitating or walking away because the victim they had to protect was a particular color or economic status.  It’s ignorant and offensive to say that today’s LAPD officers are somehow better than those that came before them.   I know for a fact there are a lot of dedicated, hardworking officers in the department today, but it’s a different time with different problems.  Maybe today’s officers won’t have to deal with a time like the sixties, a couple of riots, the SLA, the Weather Underground, gang wars, or rampant indiscriminate killing over crack cocaine, etc.  I hope not.  But don’t use today’s standards  to judge those cops who came before and got the job done under incredibly adverse conditions with several thousand fewer officers to back them up.  They weren’t Neanderthals, and they weren’t knuckle-draggers.  There have always been a few bad cops, and there always will be; they’re human, but the majority of the department was and still is extraordinary.  There was a time when the LAPD was considered on the cutting edge of policing.  Other agencies came to Los Angeles to see how it worked and shamelessly copied this department.  Dragnet and Adam 12 didn’t glorify NYPD.  Every law enforcement publication had an article by the chief of police or some member of the department’s command staff.  How often do you see that now?  Team policing, senior lead officers, SWAT weren’t notions that came from cavemen.  Those were progressive crime-fighting ideas that worked.  Police officers should always be held to high standards.  Diversity is important and necessary, but it isn’t everything.   Merit, innovation and excellence are concepts from the past worthy of retention in the “new” LAPD.