Gates should go

March 25, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

THE LOS ANGELES Police Department deserves respect and support. It has fought hard against internal corruption, served as a virtual laboratory for testing many policing innovations and struggled, often courageously, against an increasing crime rate even though it has fewer officers per population density than most other major departments. . . .

Under Chief Daryl F. Gates for the past 13 years, it has initiated improvements in urban policing that have been widely praised and in some cases emulated by other police departments.

Today, that reputation for excellence may have sunk to a low because of the Rodney King-police beating case. It may be a very long time before the LAPD lives down that videotaped monument to police brutality.

The assault has brought to a head long-held reservations about the department. Revelations of racially disparaging comments on police tapes prior to the beating only add to those concerns.

Gates himself is now the target of much of the built-up enmity for the department. Fair or not, his exit is regarded by many as a precondition for healing and for progress. . . . He cannot simply be fired, and he is insisting that he'll not go. But the issue here is not what's best for Gates but what's best for Los Angeles. . . .

If the King case were an aberration, there would be fewer calls for his resignation. But this horror occurred on a watch that for 13 years has been marked by a history of the chief saying things he shouldn't, and by some officers doing things they shouldn't.

The King beating . . . raises questions about command and control, about training, about the street-level value of officers. But the fact that the victim was black and that the beating happened in a city where minorities of all walks of life have complained for years of police harassment adds measurably to the pain. . . .

Worst still is that during his 13-year tenure police misconduct complaints against the LAPD increased perceptibly, and the city has paid many millions in police misconduct settlements and judgments.

Now all the fury that is focused on the King case hampers the ability of the good cops to do their jobs properly because trust in the police has fallen. The current atmosphere is harmful to public safety. . . .

Gates should move on not because of legal necessity -- there is none -- but because of moral wisdom. In the future that decision will be seen as a sign not of weakness but of strength. . . . Gates can now set the LAPD free of the controversy that surrounds him and thus set off a rebuilding of confidence in the police. Many wounds have been opened during the King case. The chief now has the opportunity to start the healing.

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