Daryl F. Gates, 83

Daryl F. Gates, 83; police chief during Rodney King riots

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Daryl F. Gates, 83, the polarizing former Los Angeles police chief whose 14-year tenure ended amid widespread criticism over his department's response to the city's deadly 1992 riots, died April 16 of bladder cancer at his home in Dana Point, Calif.

A career cop with a short fuse and a penchant for making controversial statements, Mr. Gates was controversial long before the riots that broke out after four white police officers were acquitted of most charges in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.

"He was a man of deep convictions," said former Los Angeles police chief William J. Bratton, who left the department last year. "He was very happy to stand up for them, whether you liked them or not. And he enjoyed being in the middle of the bull's-eye. He thrived on it."

Although often at odds with civil rights activists, the mayor and other political figures, Mr. Gates was well liked by rank-and-file police officers. He was responsible for police successes that were sometimes overlooked when he was pressured into early retirement after the riots.

He was credited with developing the policing plan that allowed the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics to proceed without so much as a traffic jam. He also created the department's popular Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., program for youth.

As a member of the police department's command staff in 1972, Mr. Gates formed Los Angeles's first special weapons and tactics, or SWAT, team. He also shut down one of the department's intelligence units in 1983 after learning officers were spying on the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

By turns charming and brash, articulate and tactless, he generated controversy with gaffes about Latinos, blacks and Jews, most famously with a remark about blacks faring poorly under police chokeholds because their physiology was different from that of "normal" people.

After forensic experts said there was no such difference between races, he apologized.

He also made disparaging comments about Latinos and once told a congressional committee that drug users should be shot -- even though he later acknowledged that his own son had a long drug history.

Mr. Gates's police career began to unravel with the 1991 beating of King, which was videotaped by a man in a nearby apartment after King was pulled over for speeding. The video of the prolonged beating was televised, and audiotapes of the officers making racist remarks about the incident were made public.

Although Mr. Gates criticized the officers' actions, he dismissed them as an aberration. Critics said they represented a pattern of abuse directed at minorities under Mr. Gates's watch.

When the officers were acquitted April 29, 1992, one of the worst outbreaks of civil unrest in Los Angeles history erupted. Six days of violence left more than 50 people dead, more than 1,000 injured and 600 buildings damaged or destroyed.

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