By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
THROUGH THE REIGN OF FOUR AUTOcratic chiefs of police -- Bill Parker, Ed Davis, Daryl Gates and Bernard Parks -- the Los Angeles Police Department has traveled in one direction. (Short-timers Tom Reddin and Willie Williams barely even ruffle the water's surface.) Yet certain people like Gascon and Diaz say it's past time for the LAPD supertanker to turn. This is where that mission I mentioned earlier comes into play; George Gascon and Sergio Diaz have an agenda that reaches far beyond simply improving the department's training: Both men want George Gascon to be chief -- or, failing that, to be high up enough on the department's food chain to be able to influence policy on a more fundamental level. And should they get the chance, both men have a long list of ideas of how they'd improve things from the command level on down.
They have ideas for flipping the department's existing power flow so that decision-making is decentralized, creating a sort of LAPD borough system instead of the present structure where each station -- be it 77th, Harbor or the West Valley -- is compulsively micromanaged from downtown. They have ideas about how to institute a new team form of community policing, and how to provide incentives for officers to stay in one area long enough to actually get to know it.
"One of the ways you change an organization," says Gascon, who has officially applied for the job of chief, "is by changing what you reward in that organization. In this organization we have typically rewarded only one kind of person."
Gascon even has a plan to lower California's stratospheric prisoner-recidivism rate. It involves partnering with community agencies and groups to help parolees make a successful transition to the straight life. "For years we have kidded ourselves that the solutions to crime were only law-enforcement solutions, and they're not," he says. "I'm a firm believer that long-term solutions to crime are to be found in social issues that law enforcement can't possibly hope to address alone."
Of course, there are other candidates for chief -- Deputy Commander Jim McDonnell and former MTA head Sharon Papa prominent among them -- who also have good ideas. As for whether any of these candidates possesses the strength, luck and vision to turn campaign rhetoric into accomplishment remains in the uncharted future.
I LAST SAW SERGIO DIAZ AT A RECRUIT graduation held on the field of the old Elysian Park academy. After the ceremony was finished, the newly anointed young officers milled on the grass with their families while another of the declared candidates for chief -- Deputy Chief David Kalish -- chatted it up with a radio reporter, and Diaz and I talked. No matter who is chosen to be its new chief, Diaz says, he hopes that one day soon the LAPD will be doing a good enough job with the community on a daily basis that when the inevitable ugly incident occurs, the public will trust that the department will do the right thing. "Because in police work," he says, "no matter how well we train people, no matter how well we monitor their behavior, the incident's going to happen. Somebody's going to shoot the guy with the toy gun. We're always one radio call away from the next crisis."
Diaz admits that the department is still far from such unquestioning community confidence. "But we have to get there." And that will take the right chief, "someone who starts with the right premise," says Diaz. "And the right premise isn't 'I know what's best, and everyone else is an idiot.' We need a chief who doesn't deal with everyone but his friends in a disdainful and condescending way. It's a tough job. But you only make it tougher if you refuse to work with people. For example, it's dumb to pick fights with everyone in the press. That's what this department has done for years. And it always makes us look like we're hiding something."
To Sergio Diaz, of course, George Gascon is the one who can handle it all. "Obviously I'm completely biased, because he's my best friend," he says. "But I believe we approach things pretty altruistically. And we flatter ourselves that we have the right balance of altruism and realism." He shrugs. "But who knows? We're just a couple of jokers."