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L.A. Mayor Says He’s Powerless to Fire Police Chief

March 28, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Because he was black and because it was 1940, Los Angeles police Officer Tom Bradley was not allowed to ride in a patrol car with a white colleague.

Now he is mayor of the nation’s second-largest city, and still there are things he cannot do when it comes to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Like remove Chief Daryl F. Gates.

″When I explain this, especially to elected officials in other parts of the country, they’re astonished,″ Bradley said in an interview Wednesday. ″They cannot believe that the mayor doesn’t have the power to simply say ’You’re dismissed, you’re gone.‴

Under the city charter, only the civilian Police Commission can appoint or move to fire the chief. To remove Gates, the city’s Civil Service Commission must uphold findings of misconduct or neglect established by the Police Commission.

Gates has been under fire over the videotaped beating March 3 of black motorist Rodney King. He was struck with nightsticks, kicked, stomped and shocked with a stun gun after being pulled over for speeding.

Four LAPD officers have been charged with assault and brutality; 17 other members of the force were reported to have been present during the beating.

Politicians, community activists, civil rights groups and hundreds of residents want Gates to quit.

So does Bradley. But true to his measured style, the mayor has never said precisely that.

Instead, he has said the city’s ″healing process cannot begin as long as Daryl Gates is in office.″

If Gates were to leave his appointive office, Bradley said, ″I think there would be relief that the controversy - the charges and counter charges and demands - would be at an end. The department could get back to its job.″

Police work is a job Bradley did for 21 years, from 1940 to 1961. The LAPD was segregated when he was there.

Black men had three choices: they could work in the mostly black neighborhood surrounding the Newton station in South Central Los Angeles or in the burgeoning Hispanic population of the Hollenbeck division, or they could direct downtown traffic.

They could not share a radio car with a white officer and they could not work anywhere else in the department, said the 71-year-old Bradley, who rose to the rank of lieutenant.

The department was not integrated until 1965, four years after he left and the same year the Watts riots shook the city to its foundations.

″It was amazing that it took so long to do,″ Bradley said.

Now, with a new racial controversy dragging down the department and hurting the city, why not just come out and ask the chief to resign?

″First of all, I don’t think it would change his attitude or mind at all,″ the mayor laughed. ″If anything, I think it might cause him to get his back up higher than it is now.″

Gates has refused to step down. On Wednesday, he announced a series of reforms and reviews designed to salvage his department’s tarnished reputation.

Bradley said he was pleased by Gates’ proposals but wondered why they hadn’t been suggested before.

Since taking the mayor’s office in 1973, Bradley has sponsored four ballot measures that would amend the city charter to give him and the City Council more power over department heads. Each measure failed.

The mayor said he will try again. June is the earliest such a measure could go on the ballot.

In 13 years as chief, Gates has had his share of embarrassments. There was the remark made nine years ago that blacks may be more susceptible than ″normal people″ to a now-banned police chokehold; his reference to a local newscaster as an ″Aryan broad,″ and a recent pronouncement that casual drug users ″ought to be taken out and shot.″

Bradley has suffered his own political embarrassments. Two years ago, some activists called for his resignation over a scandal surrounding his personal finances. Like his police chief, the mayor refused to step down.

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