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White Man’s Burden 

Let’s draft David Dotson for police chief

Wednesday, Jun 12 2002
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When it comes to great moments in our civic life, the imminent decision over who will be the LAPD‘s new chief is much more important than whether Valley secessionist home-moaners have to drive an extra 15 minutes to get a zoning variance. But I’ve got the sinking feeling that instead of picking simply the best candidate to heal and heel our cantankerous police, Mayor James Hahn will rouse himself from his usual slumber only to anoint the most politically palatable of choices.

I can see our local tribal elders gathering in a sort of closed-door urban loya jirga, trading away and swapping wives, camels and councilmanic districts to reach a grand consensus based primarily on racial considerations. Can‘t you just hear the arguments that would tumble forth in the political haggling? ”After Daryl Gates we had to have two black chiefs to make up for 100 years of racism, now it’s time for a Latino chief.“ Or, ”Latinos are getting too much power at the expense of blacks, so the next chief must also be black.“ Can‘t you imagine Hahn coldly calculating whether he wins more votes by solidifying Latino support or whether he should, instead, try to win back African-Americans still seething over the dumping of Chief Parks? And so on and so on.

What we need at this delicate juncture, then, is a bowlful of corks. Stick ’em firmly in the mouths of Maxine Waters, Xavier Hermosillo and the all-too-white leadership of the Police Protective League -- among many, many others -- because playing racial politics on this issue ought to be a multiple felony.

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The LAPD needs not the best Latino or black or Asian or woman; it needs a veritable miracle worker who can take advantage of the moment and finally bring several decades of delayed change and reform to one of the most notorious police departments in America.

And for those who know anything about L.A.‘s cops, one and only one candidate stands out. He’s the most despised of species: A White Male. Worse yet, an Older White Male.

David Dotson spent 34 years inside the belly of the Blue Monster, signing up in the late ‘50s and rising slowly and steadily from patrolling the streets to nearly running the department. By the time the crisis broke over the Rodney King beating, Dotson was serving as the second-highest-ranking officer in the LAPD -- assistant chief. And when the Christopher Commission came to town to nose into the stinky internal operations of the department, Dotson did the unthinkable. Smashing the venerated ”code of silence,“ Dotson spoke forcefully and candidly of the deep rot piled up in Parker Center.

”Dotson’s testimony really became the spine of the final commission report,“ says an attorney who worked on the probe. ”David gave us the most reliable road map into everything that was wrong with Daryl Gates‘ LAPD.“

But in this world of ours, it seems, no good deed goes unpunished. Barely a week after the 1992 riots, and soon after the Christopher Commission folded up, Chief Gates took his revenge. Gates ordered a demotion and a $14,000-a-year reduction in pension pay for Dotson -- who then wisely told Gates to lump it and gracefully retired.

You know the rest of the story. Mayor Bradley, the Police Commission and the City Council played a polite game of Ping-Pong with the discredited Gates and only worked up the nerve to dump him after the city went up in flames. Meanwhile, the one LAPD manager who had the cojones to tell the truth was quietly forgotten by our erstwhile establishment. Dotson did apply for the top job after Gates’ departure, but he was turned down. ”The Police Commission told him he didn‘t have enough formal education,“ says a downtown insider.

Will someone please explain this to me? Dotson was trusted enough and smart enough to at one time oversee the Anti-Terrorist Division and to become assistant chief. And he was courageous enough to blow the whistle on department corruption and brutality. But not smart enough to move up a half-notch more to be top cop?

Puh-leeze. The word that comes rushing to mind is chickenshit. How else to describe a city establishment that overlooks its own authentic LAPD hero and instead gives us Willie Williams and then Bernie Parks?

Dotson, understandably chastened by his treatment by the department and the city, says he has no intention of applying again for the chief’s job. Instead, he is spending his time consulting mostly with civil rights and civil liberties groups. That said, he‘s still the best man for the job. No one knows the inner workings of the LAPD like Dotson. And no other potential candidate for the job even comes close to his lacerating analysis of what really ails the department: the noxious internal culture. The culture of ”us vs. them,“ the bunker mentality, the dogged resistance to civilian control, the cockeyed notion that civil liberties are a hindrance to law and order. ”Unless that culture changes, there will be more Rampart-like scandals,“ Dotson said last week at a USC seminar on justice and journalism. ”It’s apparent that [Rampart] officers stole cocaine and sold it back on the street; that they planted evidence and that they shot people. But more insidious is reading over and over again of arrests made throughout the city without probable cause or even without warrants. And the LAPD doesn‘t catch it, the D.A. doesn’t catch it, and the judges don‘t catch it. It’s a culture that permeates through the entire justice system.“

Find me any other candidate for police chief, one of any race, gender or ethnicity, who speaks with such staggering honesty about the alarming state of criminal justice in L.A., and he or she will have my support. Until then, I‘m going with white man David Dotson. And if he won’t re-apply for chief, and the mayor and his Police Commission aren‘t smart enough to solicit his application, then we the citizens of L.A. -- perhaps in a last heroic act before we vote ourselves asunder next November -- ought to damn well draft David Dotson for the job. Any takers?

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