YOU’RE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT detective John Carey, hot on the trail of a serial killer. After tracking leads everywhere from a sleazy strip joint to the county coroner’s office, you suddenly find the imposing image of former LAPD chief Daryl Gates on your computer. “Carey, gel that son-of-a-bitch!” he offers by way of encouragement. Later, as you close in on the culprit, he screams, “Carey, you find him, and I’ll pull the switch!”
Seventeen months after his departure from the LAPD—in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the April 1992 riots that followed—Gates is the same shoot-from-the-hip swaggerer who was beloved by cops and conservatives and vilified by liberal politicians and the media. Only this time his stage is a just-released computer game, which he helped develop, called Police. Quest 4. “I’m comfortable in what I am and who I am, and I’ve never worried about whether people like me or dislike me,” says Gates, who still enjoys being called Chief. “It’s never been an issue.”
In addition to starring in the game, Gales, 67, has kept the heat on his detractors—with his own radio call-in show, a best-selling autobiography (Chief: My Life in the LAPD) and frequent appearances on the lecture circuit, al up to $12,000 a pop.
On his radio show, Gates has jokingly recommended that Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, the police officers imprisoned for violating Rodney King’s civil rights, paste a photo of their Justice Department prosecutors on a dartboard (“Stacey already put a couple of darts in Rodney,” added Gates). And he has blamed civil rights leaders for blowing the King case out of proportion (“The black leadership was out there just loving all of that attention,” he said). “What I love about him most is his total inability to filter things,” says Melanie Lomax, Gates’s former archcritic on the Los Angeles Police Commission. “He’s extremely smart, but he says totally dumb things.”
ACLU president Nadine Strossen, however, whose public debates with Gates have led to near riots, says Gates’s bulldog public personality doesn’t make him unbearable offstage. “It’s a combination of disagreement on the issues and yet respect and cordiality on a personal level,” she says.
One thing Gales won’t say, though, is, “I’m sorry.” He refuses, for example, to apologize for not stepping down as chief after the King beating, despite the fact that his refusal is often blamed for exacerbating the city’s racial divisions. Gates says he had to slay on the job out of loyalty to the LAPD. “One of the problems today is that people run from a crisis,” he says. “That’s lousy leadership.”
But that loyally may end up costing Gates. He spends a lot of time fending off the 200 or so lawsuits filed against him and the city for alleged police brutality and civil rights violations. Among those suing him are King, former police officer Timothy Wind, who says he was unfairly fired for his role in the King beating, and riot victim Reginald Denny, who says the police violated his civil rights by not coming to his aid. (Gates says the recent verdicts acquitting Denny’s attackers of the most serious charges was a case of the jury choosing “peace over justice.”)
Although he has filed his own suit against the city of Los Angeles—seeking to recover $365,000 in costs he contends he incurred when the police commission attempted to force him out of his job—Gates claims he holds no bitterness toward his former employer. “Hell, I spent 43 great years in law enforcement,” he says. He admits, though, that he is disappointed that his best-remembered legacy will be the King incident and not his creation of the nation’s first SWAT team in the 1960s.
Still, Gates believes that his turbulent final year as police chief was tougher on his second wife, Sima, and his three children from his first marriage—Debby, 44, Kathy, 43, and Scott, 37—than it was on him. “I guess I have a cast-iron disposition,” he says. “They take it much harder. That has been the sad part of this.”
Since his retirement in June 1992, Gates has learned to relax by cooking (“I make the greatest salmon you ever tasted,” he brags), burying himself in Louis L’Amour novels and going for six-mile runs near the two-bedroom condo he shares with Sima in northeastern L.A., not far from the blue-collar Glendale neighborhood where he grew up. Even for a man who stubbornly refused to leave his job, the relative peace of retirement sometimes seems a blessing. “The last year and a half of being chief was not a happy time,” he admits. “It seemed like I was fighting everybody in the world.”
NANCY MATSUMOTO in Los Angeles