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L.A. Chief of Police Williams Loses on Bid for Second Term

By Jim Newton
Los Angeles Times

Police Chief Willie L. Williams, who charmed the public and helped restore its confidence in the Los Angeles Police Department, but who struggled to take command of the department and disappointed many of the city's top leaders, was rejected Monday in his bid for a second five-year term.

"We know the chief's strengths and weaknesses; we know the department's strengths and weaknesses as well as its needs," the city's Police Commission said in a statement read by board President Raymond C. Fisher. "As right as the chief may have been when he was selected, he does not have the confidence of this board to lead the department for the next five years."

The vote of the ethnically diverse, five-member board, Fisher added, was unanimous.

In explaining its decision, the board released a lengthy review of Williams' tenure, crediting him with strong public outreach, but methodically listing management breakdowns, from the department's failure to produce an adequate biopsy of the career of former Detective Mark Fuhrman to its failure to integrate the work of various consultants hired to analyze the LAPD.

"The board concluded that the department cannot continue without more effective management, and therefore concluded that strengthening the department's management will require a change at the top, a new chief," the commission statement said.

Monday's announcement ends a two-month evaluation of the chief that has tested the principle of civilian oversight of the police department. It also opens what could be a two-pronged final battle, one legal and one political, if Williams decides to fight for his job. Lawyers for Williams have publicly floated their options, which include asking the City Council to overrule the Police Commission and filing a lawsuit to protest it.

But Williams, the first black to lead the LAPD and one of the city's most popular public figures, appears to face long odds in either effort. Monday, he sent conflicting signals about his next move - sometimes seeming to suggest that he will fight on, other times anticipating life after the LAPD.

"I'm deeply disappointed as a citizen by the decision that was made by the Police Commission this morning," Williams said during a news conference Monday. But "a decision has been made, and I will leave that decision as it is."

At the same time, Williams avoided foreclosing any options.

He said, for instance, that council members might decide to overturn the matter, and he declined to comment on the possibility of a lawsuit. And yet, even as he hinted that those options were still alive, the chief closed his news conference with remarks suggesting that he was looking beyond his own term and toward retirement from policing.

"I'm going to be living in my nice home here in the city of Los Angeles, probably going to have to take out the city phone so I don't get those early morning phone calls, but I'm always going to be concerned about the men and women of this organization," Williams said. "I'll be entertaining some private sector opportunities And I'm going to spend some time with my wife and children and grandchildren."

With Williams' options appearing to dwindle, commissioners were talking about plans for "an orderly transition," and many observers were thinking beyond Williams to the selection of a new chief, who would become the 161st in the history of the LAPD.

The top candidates for that job include Deputy Chief Bernard C. Parks and Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker, two of the LAPD's most senior and visible leaders.

Parks, who is black, received a high-profile show of support Monday, as Mayor Richard Riordan announced he would back Parks for interim chief. That job presumably will open up July 7, when Williams finishes his term, assuming a new chief has not been selected by then.

In some areas, Williams' administration was a success. Led by Riordan, the department has grown by roughly 2,000 officers - fewer than Riordan promised in 1993 but enough to make the LAPD the largest it has ever been - and has obtained new cars and other equipment.

At the same time, Williams has run into one problem after another. After a long honeymoon, his competence and honesty came under fire. Outside analysts have criticized the department's management and have suggested that reform is being stymied by the lack of strong leadership.