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Ex-police chief: Morale low in Los Angeles force

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates  

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- Los Angeles exploded 10 years ago in an inferno of rage after a jury acquitted four white police officers who had been caught on videotape beating black motorist Rodney King.

When the smoke cleared after three days of riots, 55 people had been killed, more than 2,300 injured and 1,100 buildings destroyed.

Daryl Gates, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department during the 1992 riots, is seeking to return to that job. He talked Monday with CNN anchor Paula Zahn.

CNN: Now that you have the benefit of reading all these investigations of what went wrong, there must be some things that haunt you to this day. Do you have any regrets?

GATES: There's no question about it. One of the things that haunts me is what happened to a guy [Reginald Denny] who was pulled out of a truck and badly beaten and the Los Angeles Police Department did not respond. You know, we were the most aggressive police department in the country. And suddenly, we didn't respond the way we should have.

CNN: Why?

GATES: I can't answer that. I wish I could. I look back and say, "Why didn't the leadership provide the leadership that was necessary?" But in some areas of the city, it just wasn't provided. Police officers wanted to go out, but some of their leaders just were reluctant to push them out there.

And I think some of it was they did not want to appear to be overly aggressive. I'd been accused of being overly aggressive for a whole year, and I think they were looking to be chief, maybe, and they just did not want to [act]. Plus, there were the politicians who stood up and said, "We've instructed the police not to move in too aggressively."

Have race relations in the United States improved in the last decade?

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I think all of that combined, plus a whole year of really beating the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as the Rodney King situation -- the Los Angeles Police Department was beaten over and over and over again, called all kinds of things. So I think there was really that hesitancy that shouldn't be in a riotous situation.

CNN: But as you know, there was this extensive investigation done by [former FBI and CIA Director] William Webster. He put out this report, and, as you know, essentially put the blame squarely on your shoulders and City Hall leaders whom they accused of not planning appropriately for the possibility of riots prior to the verdicts in the Rodney King case.

Let me read what William Webster also wrote. He said that, "This city is plagued by hostility, rage and resentment in many areas ... where minorities and economically deprived citizens believe the LAPD did not treat them with respect or extend the same level of protection as elsewhere. It could happen again."

What did you think of the results of that investigation?

GATES: I thought it was a very poor investigation, quite frankly. William Webster's never handled a riot in his life. They know nothing about riots. I was talked to for, believe me, one hour. I got one hour from that whole committee. That's all they talked to me -- one hour. That was it.

And I think we have dealt with the community over and over again. We've done our very, very best. We've made all the changes that were necessary, that people said we should do.

Our department was the most diverse department you'd find anywhere in the country. We taught human relations, race relations. We had community councils in every community. We did all the things that were necessary, and we had, behind us, the majority of the public saying, "Hey, we want you to do something about the gangs; we want you do something about the drug pushers on our streets." The black community, for example, wanted us in that community.

And when I look back, I really believe -- and I think anyone who would look at the Los Angeles Police Department in those days would say -- it was the best police department in the world. We had one incident. We had the Rodney King incident.

And you called him motorist. Rodney King was an ex-felon. He was on parole. He was driving down the freeway at 95 mph, endangering people. He would not stop for the highway patrol. He stopped finally for us, and we used a baton. We used a club, a prehistoric instrument that was provided to them, something I objected to and was forced upon me.

And no matter how you use a club, it's going to appear to be a beating. Yes, they did beat him more than they should have, there's no question about that.

CNN: Now, you find yourself in a situation where you're going through the process of submitting an application to become the police chief again. What is the possibility given the diversity, you say, of the department, that [an incident like Rodney King] could happen again? There are a lot of people within the LAPD and the Los Angeles community who feel that there is a lot of racial tension.

GATES: Well, if you look at the Los Angeles Police Department, it's gone downhill ever since I left, 10 years. It's dysfunctional; it's reached a point where it's dysfunctional. The morale is in the pits. It's just horrible. And I want it to return to the pride that people had in that organization, that the people within the organization had as the best police department in the world. I can do that. I can bring the morale up.

CNN: What are the chances that they're going to pick you?

GATES: I have no idea what the chances are. Probably pretty slim.

Gates displays the Scorpion, a personal self-defense weapon.  

I brought this as a gift for you. [Gates displays device]. It's called a Scorpion, and it's a personal self-defense weapon, and I wanted you to have it.

But there's another story to this. There's a police model. And had the officers in the Rodney King affair had one of these instead of a damn club, they could have put him on the ground very, very quickly, handcuffed him, and it would have been all over.

And remember, there were two others in that car. Somebody said this was a racial incident -- it wasn't. There were two others, who were black, in that car, who were taken into custody with no problem whatsoever.




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