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by Peter Moskos

April 16, 2010

RIP Daryl Gates

The career of Gates should not be celebrated. My sincere condolences to his family and those who loved him. Seriously. But LA Police Chief Daryl Gates didn't like to give breaks to other people. So why should I give him one?

Gates is still popular among conservative law-and-order types. Drugs on a block? Send in an armored tank. Casual drug users? "Taken out and shot." Oh, he later said those words were just "calculated hyperbole." You know, to get attention. Well he got mine.

I wonder what Daryl Gates's position would be when a 16-year-old punk punched one of his police officers? Probably charge him as an adult and throw away the key. If only that had happened to Gates when Gates was a young cop-punching punk we might have been saved from his rule. But Gates did not live by the Golden Rule.

Gates got a lot of breaks in life. It's not like Gates was born on third and thought he triple. It's more like he got on first after being hit by a pitch. Then advancing to second on a passed ball and stole third. Then he thought he hit a triple.

After not being charged with assault after punching a cop (break #1), Gates got his life in order. Military veteran Gates gets hired as a cop because of an affirmative action program for veterans (break #2). Soon, because of some unknown connections (at least unknown to me), he becomes the driver for Chief Parker (break #3).

There's no merit exam to become the chief's driver. Gates must have had a very good hook. The funny thing about commissioners' drivers is that they very often go on to become police commissioners. "Well," goes the joke I heard years ago from Bill Bratton, "Commissioners sure know how to pick the best drivers. That's why they always end up rising so quickly in the ranks!"

Based on Gates political connection (break #3), he becomes police chief (break #4). Now let's look at some of the lowlights of his 43-year police career, the last 14 of which he was in charge:

1) Gates pissed off just about everybody who wasn't white and conservative (which explains a good part of popularity among those who are).

2) Gates was a racist SOB. Exhibit A is his observation that black people's arteries don't open like "normal people." His apology, something about cardio-vascular disease, was even weirder. But there's more to his racism than just this one line.

3) Operation Hammer.

4) Gates set armored cars into troubled minority neighborhoods to "send a message." I'm not exactly certain what that message is.

5) Gates helped establish SWAT and police reliance on military weaponry. The jury is still out on whether a SWAT-like more-militaristic entity within police departments is good or bad, at least for small departments.

6) Gates helped establish D.A.R.E. The jury has settled this one. D.A.R.E. does not work. It actually increases drug use. Gates could not keep his own children drug free. Please don't trust him with yours.

7) He established C.R.A.S.H., the unit that gave Rampart a bad name and led to the worst police corruption/brutality/murder scandal in police history!

8) When the L.A. Riots broke out, Gates was nowhere to be found. I guess he had somewhere more important to be.

9) Many people, myself included, blame Gates for the LAPD's leaderless withdrawal from the initial trouble at Florence and Normandie. It was this withdrawal that almost killed Reginald Denny. It was this withdrawal that let much of the city go to hell.

Fifty-three people were killed and thousands injured. Hundred of millions of dollars in property destroyed. I think we've kind of forgotten just how big this was. The whole nation was on edge. This riots certainly had a big impact on me. On the day of the verdict I got out of the subway in Manhattan and saw a crowd of scared women running through the street holding their shoes in their hands. Somebody had gotten aggressive with a garbage can half a block away. I had thought we had left this "burn down our city" thing back in the early 1970s. The LA Riots woke me up and were one of the reasons I became interested in police.

10) Gates gave police "professionalism" a bad name by somehow convincing many people that only clean-cut white guys could be "professional" police. And also effed up the entire LAPD. He left a city in ashes and a police force mired in corruption and brutality. It took him 14 years as chief to accomplish all this.

The riots also broke the tacit agreement Gates had with the public. "You give me free reign to do what 'needs to be done,'" Gates basically said, "and I'll keep you safe by keeping 'them' in line." But the L.A. riots ended any charade of effective leadership. The Christopher Commission was pretty damning.

And once things did settle down, people wanted Gates out. It was only then that we learned he couldn't be fired. Such was the final ignominious legacy of the so-called "professional" movement in policing. The police had managed to completely separate themselves from the public and from politics. Hey, politics ain't perfect, but it's better than a Dictator Gates. And dig this irony: when the riots broke out, Gates was at a political fund raiser!

I'm not certain how the city finally got Gates to resign. I suppose they gave him a golden parachute or something (break #5). He never did apologize or accept any blame for his bad leadership. The closest he came was saying, "Clearly that night we should have gone down there and shot a few people.... In retrospect, that’s exactly what we should have done. We should have blown a few heads off."

L.A.'s mayor said Gates had, "brought Los Angeles to the brink of disaster just to satisfy his own ego." Gates later dismissed Rodney King as, "a no-good S.O.B. parolee who has never been able to find himself ever since."

Had Gates been a successful police leader, perhaps we could then debate the merits of his horrible public posture. No matter how good his get-tough hate-filled rhetoric makes some police feel, if you want the politically incorrect truth, here it is: Gates was a bad police chief; he failed at crime prevention; he failed at preventing scandal. His tough-talk tough-action approach never worked. It didn't work in his personal life (two failed marriages and a son lost to drug abuse). It didn't work in the city of Los Angeles.

When Gates became chief in 1978, there were 678 murders in L.A. After 14 years at the helm, homicides increased 61 percent (1,092 murders in 1992. The population increased about 20% during this time).

Gates was a racist, hypocritical, egoistical, affirmative-action baby. Worse than that, he was ineffective. Let me put it another way. Over the past 40 years the average number of murders per year without Gates in charge, 522. With Gates in charge? 876. Well done, Sir! Way to keep our city safe.

Daryl Gates is best remembered as a warning and not a role model. He didn't tell the truth other people were afraid to say. He misled the public, misled the police, and stoked hatred and racism.

Since Gates departure, homicides have gone down every year. In 2009 there were 315 murders.

"Just the facts, Sir. Date of birth and description of the looters?"


Suasoria said...

Well said. I don't think there's a person of color in Los Angeles who doesn't suffer from PTSD on his behalf.

Cleanville Tziabatz said...
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Anonymous said...

Peter, Wouldn't disagree with a thing you've said, but would add that a large contributor to Gates' failure was the political leadership in L.A. Everybody knew he was incredibly divisive and the mayor and city council did nothing to get rid of him until after the riots. Tom Bradley, the city's first and only black mayor, was in office prior to and during Gates tenure. Bradley knew how horrible Gates tactics were on a city still seething from the race riots of the '60's.

Another aspect: Gates was innovative. Not necessarily good innovation, but CRASH, SWAT, and DARE were responses at a time when no one else was offering a course of action. (To be fair, EVERYBODY got lathered up when DARE came along at the idea that we could educate our way out of a problem.) Gates tenure is a huge cautionary tale to not simply follow the first one that offers a solution to a new problem. We left the deep thinking up to a closet thug that wiggled his way to the top. Now we've got a generation's worth of dysfunction we're still trying to undo because everyone stopped thinking when he came up with a "solution".

Sgt. T

PCM said...

Sgt T,

In police circles, as I'm sure you know, Gates gets credit for keeping politics out of policing. Of course in reality this also meant job security for Gates. The mayor and city council couldn't get rid of the Chief. And if they couldn't do so after the riot, Bradley (or anybody) would have had no chance before the riot.

I'm curious about the history. How did it get to this point? When how and why did the politicians give up control?

Interesting point about innovation. Community policing was also big in the 1980s (not in LA). That didn't really gain any traction, but at least it did no harm. I guess Broken Windows became the solution of the 1990s.

Meh said...


Your comments hurt my head. Why don't we just disband SWAT and put those officers back on patrol. Then we let the military have response teams that go to those types of calls. They don't have police powers but they sure are good at shooting people.

The officers can handle the perimeter while the military response teams kill the bad guys. Basically you are advocating stripping police powers from SWAT so this would cover that.

Of course I hope you realize that SWAT has a limited response time so regular patrol still sometimes has to handle dangerous situations and rush towards the gunfire. Do a google search for HIPS training (Homicide in Progress). Surely you don't expect officers to sit on the sidelines while people are being killed do you?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jaguar said...

Wow. I haven't read this blog in months. I poked my nose in here today and now my head hurts, too.

I'm the commander for a regional S.W.A.T. team serving multiple jurisdictions in a suburban county bordering a major city. Like every officer on our team, I also put in time as a "regular" cop in a patrol car within my specific jurisdiction. Sometimes I'm on S.W.A.T. duty, and sometimes I'm performing "ordinary" patrol officer duties in a suburban hamlet. Before I lateraled out here, I was exclusively S.W.A.T. on the city PD for a bunch of years, and a patrol officer before that.

What I've found, in my experience, is that 99 percent of the public really doesn't understand what S.W.A.T. teams do. Their impressions are based primarily on movies and TV shows. They think we only handle armed bank robberies, hostage situations, Columbine-like massacres, etc.

The greatest number of our calls involve serving felony warrants on one or more dangerous suspects. The suburban patrol officers are more than happy to have us handle this usually dangerous job. A town or township officer who draws his weapon perhaps once every other month simply is not trained nor experienced in the type of calls we handle.

It would be extremely expensive to fund our team for all the down time we would have if we only handled tactical calls. Without our team, however, countless officers would be placed in dangerous situations they're not really trained to handle. More important, the public would be placed in greater danger, too.

We had a felony warrant call yesterday, for example, on several gang members from the city who were using into an empty foreclosed house on a quiet suburban street. Because state line and other issues are involved, the city PD cannot send their ESU guys out here to make the arrest. The little town in which the house was located has less than a half-dozen officers, several of whom are part-time. They have no interest in handling this kind of situation. This was a typical call for us and went down, as they usually do, without incident.

The second most frequent type of call we handle are domestic disputes that morph into a suspect barricaded in a house, usually with the DV victim and, often, children. Again, a suburban police department with all of six or eight officers in the entire jurisdiction cannot adequately handle this kind of call. Most of these officers do not have military or city PD experience. They have no experience getting a violent, armed, crank-crazed 250-pound musclebound man out of a house without harming the children or DV victim. That's where we come in.

As part of our ongoing training and networking, we interact with many officers in other states who serve on similar regional S.W.A.T. teams. Many of their experiences mirror ours. Most smaller jurisdictions, even wealthy ones, simply cannot fund their own tactical operations. They can't rely on state or nearby city tactical squads. Hence, the need for regional S.W.A.T. teams serving multiple jurisdictions.

On the issue of Chief Gates, I don't agree with Peter on everything he writes, but he's absolutely right on the money when it comes to point number nine.

PCM said...

Thanks for taking the time write that, Jaguar. Very informative.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the SWAT discussion, I have to disagree with Cleanville on the organizational/job description issues. SWAT work is indeed police work,as Jaguar explained very well. It is just not normal police work. I believe that people should have experience in police patrol prior to being a member of SWAT. SWAT deployment should never be construed w/a military action. Once on SWAT, officers just need to remember that their goal on SWAT is similar to what it should be on patrol--preserve life.

Personally, I think the regional SWAT concept that Jaguar discusses is probably a good model. We have one in my area. Problems arisewhen SWAT becomes a special unit in a smaller agency (both budgetary and civil rights problems). I have heard of some ridiculous examples of pretty small towns forming SWAT. If your jurisdiction doesn't serve at least 100,000 to 200,000 residents, I don't know why you would ever have a legitimate need to have your own SWAT. The better option is regional cooperation.

Dave H.- IL

Cleanville Tziabatz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meh said...

Your plan is nothing except a naive and dangerous idea.

You say that SWAT shouldn't be used for search warrants. Bull crap.

If you are serving a warrant where the suspects are known to be armed and/or have multiple violent incidents in their records, then why wouldn't you send in a tactical team? There is no reason to send in a patrol officer when there is a safer option.

Cleanville wrote,

"Believe me, I have heard all the happy talk about how policemen understand how to keep their aggressive, collateral damage doing tendencies in check."

This comment is some passive aggressive baloney. I personally know of multiple incidents where officers were totally justified in using deadly force but held back despite great risk to themselves. SWAT saves lives despite how much you seem bothered by it.

PCM said...

Man... I hate when comments get off subject. What about Daryl Gates?

But still, the comments have been interesting.

Johnny Law, what do you think about using SWAT [-like units] to serve felony warrants when there is no particular reason to think the person is armed or more dangerous than any other felon? Or maybe even less so?

Regarding times when officers could shoot but don't, I strongly recommend reading David Klinger's "Into the Kill Zone." And excellent book of such stories (and more).

Meh said...

I've read that book and found it very interesting. I think it shows the amazing restraint officers use and how reluctant they/we are when it comes to taking another person's life. People like Cleanville have obviously never been in that type of situation but consider themselves experts on the subject anyway.

As for your question about SWAT, I don't think they should be used unless there is information that the subject is armed, is usually armed, or has made threats against law enforcement.

Armed Robbery suspects = SWAT
Gang Members = SWAT
Militia Members = SWAT

I don't think they should be used for all search warrants. Just the ones that require some dynamic type of entry. You should have to do a threat assessment on each warrant to determine what resources should be used.

IrishPirate said...

Without immediately going into the best way to utilize SWAT I would like to give my "props" to Chief Gates. Do kids today still use that phrase? It may be so 90's.

Anyway, while I think the reign of Gates was largely a disaster for American policing, he personally arrested Damien Williams. Young Mr Williams was the primary attacker of Reginald Denny at the start of the LA riots.

That I appreciated. It had a certain "panache".

Now beyond that I think one could argue that the entire Parkeresque LAPD police culture that came out of the 50's was/is damaging to policing and the public.

Gates just continued that into the 90's.

To me the two worst moments in the last 20 years of American policing were the LA riots and the Columbine shooting. LA because of the initial police "retreat" and lack of leadership and Columbine because of not immediately entering the school.

I think the lessons of "active shooters" and Columbine has been learned. I'm unsure if the lessons of the riots being learned.

Hopefully, it will be a long time before I find out. I don't particularly want to see any major "civil disorder" destroying large swaths of an American city.

I prefer my "civil disorder" to be slower and on a smaller scale. Sorta like the difference between a building "rusting away" or burning down.

Now as to SWAT if you eliminate the drug war the need for SWAT and warrants will decrease drastically.

Outside a terrorist situation, similar to Beslan or Mumbai, or a hostage situation SWAT members would hopefully find themselves with plenty of time for training and physical conditioning.

Although, I did happen to walk out of a door late last year and witness Chicago Police SWAT block and surround an SUV with three occupants. I imagine said occupants had some drug or weapons connections. It was in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Where many residents think crime is mostly drunken frat boys throwing up.

As I walked away quickly, not wanting to get shot if any bullets started to fly, I hummed the theme to the original SWAT TV show.


PCM said...

I'm a sucker for all "wacka wacka wacka funk" music. Serious props.

Robert Avery said...

Dribble from a disgruntled cry baby. I know so many great officers who did everything right, risked and gave their life to protect people like this jerk and still get badmouthed. I would not waste time reading his book just based on what I read in this. I just recall the words, if you live in a glass house don't throw stones. When I came on the LAPD, Gates was an assistant chief. I would have given my life for this man. Chiefs that came after him were from outside agencies and did nothing to improve things, like willy from Philly, was a douchebag he was, then Bratton from boston, give me a break.

Unknown said...

Gates was an innovator that held people accountable. He was responsible for SWAT, D.A.R.E. (which does work, and is widely still used) and he used his hard upbringing to wipe away excuses of those in similar situations. CRASH was all over the riots, I should know, I was there. Stop posting ignorant B.S.