Crime & Justice

Former LAPD chief Daryl Gates dies

Daryl Gates arrives at the 'Street Kings' premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater on April 3, 2008 in Hollywood, California.
Daryl Gates arrives at the 'Street Kings' premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater on April 3, 2008 in Hollywood, California.
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Former Los Angeles police Chief Daryl F. Gates, who was credited with modernizing the department but later forced out in the wake of the 1992 riots, died today from complications of bladder cancer at age 83. (Audio: KPCC's Steve Julian talks to reporter Frank Stoltze about Gates' death.)

Updated 11:14 a.m.

The sometimes brash but popular chief died at his home in Newport Beach with loved ones at his bedside, according to the LAPD Media Relations Section.

"Daryl Gates was a one-in-a-million human being," Chief Charlie Beck said. "He inspired others to succeed and, in doing so, changed the landscape of law enforcement around the world."

"Los Angeles has suffered a great loss," said Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Gates "was a man of courage and character who had a deep commitment to the rule of law, with a deep pride in the LAPD," Weber said.

"Chief Gates was a cop's cop, revolutionizing critical policing tactics and changing the face of modern law enforcement around ... the world."

LAPD lieutenant reacts to former police chief Gates' death from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Some accused Gates of permitting the use of excessive force against minorities. KPCC's Frank Stoltze asked Gates about that in December.

“That’s just is not true, that’s not true," said Gates. "We had a very small police department. We had lousy equipment. Proposition 13 had set in. We didn’t have any overtime. We had a tough time. But we produced more than any other police department in the country.”

When asked what he thought of today's LAPD's community-friendly policing, Gates responded "Well if you have enough people, you can be very friendly."

He was praised by rank and file officers and criticized by many civil libertarians who claimed he was racist.

Connie Rice is a board member of the Advancement Project in Los Angeles, and says Gates was part of the ghost and the glory of LAPD’s history.

“First of all in LAPD’s family, I think he’s still revered as one of the last old great chiefs," said Rice. "And of course, to the poor minority communities he was the head of a department that was viewed as sort of occupation force that triggered a lot of the friction and unhappiness in South L.A., particularly.”

He also formed the anti-gang CRASH unit, the hard-driving group of officers that went after gangsters in Los Angeles during some of the most violent gang crime in the city's history. The group also became known for being overly aggressive, beating up non-gang members.

Last December, Gates attended current Chief Charlie Beck's swearing in. He flashed his trademark attitude when civil rights activist Tom Hayden brought up the issue of reforming the department.

"What the hell do we need reform for?” said Gates.

Hayden said, “Well, you’re from the old era. We have the old era, the new era.”

Gates responded, “Reform from what? This is the greatest police department in the country – doesn’t make any sense.”

Gates was born Aug. 30, 1926. He grew up in Glendale and Highland Park in Los Angeles, according to his department biography. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Navy for a two-year tour and he later earned degrees from the University of Southern California.

The Los Angeles native joined the police department Sept. 16, 1949, according to Media Relations. He eventually landed a plum job as driver for then-Chief William Parker – a relationship that helped him move up through the ranks and eventually land the department's top job in 1978.

He was later instrumental in developing the first SWAT team in the nation and developing the anti-drug effort DARE.

Though popular among officers, his brash style often rankled city leaders. After the rioting that erupted in 1992 when four white police officers were acquitted of charges related to the beating of black motorist Rodney King, Gates was cast as out-of-touch with the realities of the city's urban core.

Though he was criticized for his response to the rioting, Gates personally jerked out of bed and arrested the man who was eventually convicted of smashing trucker Reginald Denny in the head with a cinder block at the genesis of the rioting.

Thirty-four people died in the rioting, and hundreds of buildings were torched.

Gates retired under pressure on June 28, 1992.

Gates feuded with many, including casual drug users and the city's first black mayor.

He was not seen as a reformer of the department from the outside, but within the department, Gates was loved.

His attitude toward oversight led to the chief job becoming an appointed position.

Connie Rice is a board member of Southern California Public Radio.