Though the nation's most controversial police chief refuses to heed it, the handwriting on the wall is unmistakably clear:

Daryl F. Gates has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. He must step down as Los Angeles' police chief.If that message wasn't obvious before, it should be now that Mayor Tom Bradley has joined the rising choir of voices across the nation calling for Gates to go.

Like any other public servant, Gates can only be as effective as the public confidence he enjoys. Confidence in Gates has all but dried up in the aftermath of the televised police beating of a speeding L.A. motorist that shocked the entire nation.

Even though Gates bears no direct responsibility for that grim episode, he must take some blame for helping to create a climate of thinking on the L.A. police force that made the beating possible.

For years, Gates has been making irresponsible statements. He once said that blacks were more susceptible to chokeholds than "normal people." He referred to a TV anchorwoman in Los Angeles as an "Aryan broad." He told a congressional committee last year that casual drug users should be shot. Jews and Hispanics also have felt the lash of his tongue.

Such crude remarks were bound to send a signal to members of the L.A. police department about how they should think and what the chief considers permissible.

Incredibly, Gates even tried to pass off the televised beating as just a rare aberration despite a sharp escalation in the jury awards Los Angeles has been forced to pay for police brutality. The figure rose from $6.3 million in 1989 to $8 million in 1990.

Los Angeles needs a police chief with much better judgment than Gates has displayed. And law enforcement across the nation needs to be rid of the public relations problems he continues to generate for the profession. As long as Gates remains on the job, unwisely protected by civil service rules unlike most police chiefs elsewhere, he will remain a symbol of racism in law enforcement and an embarrassment to good lawmen across the country.

Clearly, the Los Angeles police department needs a housecleaning, starting at the top.