Leading up to the Rodney King verdict, what did you think the reaction would be to it?
I've talked to the homicide investigators who were sitting in on the trial. They did not think the jury would come back that day. My belief was there would not be any reaction. Later, the jury did come back and it was a surprise to everyone, but it didn't take them long to make up their minds. Still, the reaction in many areas was not a good one. I really believed there were enough cool heads in the community to not destroy like they did in 1965. Obviously, we didn't have that kind of cool head existing. We had no cool heads providing leadership, there wasn't a cool head in the group, including Mayor Bradley.
Do you feel that the Rodney King beating video made people angry? Was the controversy unfair to your force?
First, there was the heavy TV coverage of only a small portion of what occured, not showing the entire tape. That gave everyone a false opinion of what took place. That's not to say it wasn't bad, but that small tape should not have been given the kind of attention that would create the horrible atmosphere that took place. Then if you look at (that) year of politicians coming to L.A.; Sharpton, Jackson, Maxine Waters, they actually spewed hate into the atmosphere. Every single week, they attacked the L.A.P.D., and we're talking about only a few officers involved. The L.A.P.D. was noted for its thorough investigations. We went 50 years without a scandal in Los Angeles. Yes, we had incidents and we had a very strong disciplinary procedure.
But there had been a lot of allegations of police misconduct from within and outside L.A. What about that?
That was pure unadulterated nonsense. We were a strong police department, we had to be to police that city. We also had community outreach programs like the D.A.R.E. program, officers in the schools, community meetings. I personally had meetings on a regular basis and I told each group they were free to look all through the L.A.P.D. Some took advantage of that and some didn't. It was an open police department and to make the accusations being made is nonsense.
So was it the repeated broadcasting of the tape itself that started the riot, or was it the verdict?
The TV and others started showing this short clip and that incited an incredible reaction. I even had other police chiefs and administrators question me. There is also an incredible bit of misinformation about Simi Valley. That county has many black and Hispanic constituents. The press said it was an all-white jury, but they couldn't find a black juror there who hadn't already made up their minds. So the trial took place, they looked at all the evidence and found three officers not guilty and had a hung jury on one. That case should have been retried, but the gang leaders and the supposed community leaders decided they wanted to go to the street because they didn't like something.
Now, what about police response to the reaction in the community. You have been criticized for it. What really happened.
The initial response was absolutely pathetic. We thought we were reasonably prepared, we were not. Because of the criticism of me, many of my top commanders didn't want to be associated with me, and their response was slow. They said I didn't have a plan, but my God! I wrote the Model Control Plan for Handling Riots and it was adopted by most police agencies throughout the U.S. To say we didn't have a plan is nonsense. We had a plan, we just didn't implement it. But, I take full responsibility for my staff not implementing the plan.
So what did it take to get your commanders moving?
We did a very lousy job in the early stages. When I got down (to the epicenter), I couldn't fInd a police officer. I jumped all over the people down there and they broke down the fences trying to get out there. I later went to a roll call at the 77th precinct. One of the captains wanted me to talk to the officers who police that community. Some had tears in their eyes. They said: "Chief, our wives and kids have asked us 'why didn't you respond,' and we didn't have an explanation." I said the (precinct) captain and lieutenant failed to dispatch you the way they should have. It took me five or six hours to put enough fear in my top commanders to get things moving. Once we did, it was over in 72 hours. But it was prolonged by the governor's actions and the media's actions. But it was a terrible embarassment to the Los Angeles Police Department. I take all respsonsibility.
The 77th is where the Reginald Denny attack took place. What was your reaction to that?
I didn't even know it happened. I was in the field. A reporter asked me what happened at Florence and Normandie. I had no idea. After this reporter jumped all over me, I went back to my office and I looked at the clip and I said "I don't believe it." At that moment, I brought in a lieutenant and put together an investigative crew and said "I want to know why in the hell we didn't respond to that." It showed it was a failure of our people to do what they normally should do. It's my strong belief that the L.A.P.D. could handle what was taking place. The incident with Denny, that should never have happened. The leadership didn't provide them with what was necessary to put that down. They pulled the cops back to the station and it happened. That's not the L.A.P.D., we were known for our aggressiveness.
But what about the residents? Did you get a grasp of their how they felt?
The areas in Los Angeles are peopled for the most part by good, solid people. Most of them were frightened to death. They stayed in their homes, pulled down the shades and hoped the thing would be over with. What we had were criminals who went out to the street to wreak havoc. Then what happened is what happens in every riot I've ever known about: some good people get caught up and they are reduced to the lowest common denominator and that involves the looting of stores. That happens each time. Good people lose their sense of responsibility. They forget a free society has to be a law-abiding society. Later on, the L.A. Times did a study of those who were arrested, and in the study, the vast majority all had criminal records. The good people did not participate, except for those who tried to go out and steal free stuff.
You left the force that December. What did you do then?
After 43 years in the department, I wanted to go sit on the beach. But I was asked by a local radio station to to a talk show. I wasn't interested, but I succumbed and I did it for 15 months. Then I said I want to do something else, so I was asked by a couple companies to help as a consultant and I've been doing that ever since. PropertyRoom.com is a great company that is helping police departments all over the country, and I'm one of the founding board members.
So do you miss being a cop?
I miss the department every single day of my life. It's in my blood. Forty-three years and I miss it every single day. It's one of the things that will stay with me the rest my life. I'm proud of my life and my accomplishments, so many things. But i'm not proud of our initial performance. It was pathetic and I take responsibility. It was an embarassment, but we got it straightened out.
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