I can't believe it is essentially impossible to fire Daryl Gates, the embattled Los Angeles police chief. Last week Mayor Tom Bradley called on him to resign "for the good of the LAPD and the welfare of all of Los Angeles." Bradley was understandably reacting to the pressure as a result of the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King that involved some L.A. police officers.
Bradley said, "I will simply not stand by as our city is being torn apart."Gates reacted by saying, "Mayor, I think you're wrong, and I will not resign." He accused Bradley of carrying on a "sneaky" behind-the-scenes campaign to get rid of him.
Then the police commission - the only body with any authority there - took limited action that infuriated Gates - they gave him "an involuntary leave of absence."
The interesting question is why can't anybody just get rid of Gates? What kind of unlimited, crazy authority allows him to hang onto his job and even thumb his nose at the mayor in spite of overwhelming support for his resignation?
When Mayor J. Bracken Lee of Salt Lake City had major disagreements with Police Chief W. Cleon Skousen back in 1960, he had only one vote in five on the city commission. But Lee quickly got the support of two other members of the commission and then fired Skousen with a 3-2 vote.
According to Lee, Skousen ran the police department "like a Gestapo," and according to Skousen, Lee was "soft on law enforcement."
One prominent controversy was whether the police should conduct raids on private clubs to prevent striptease shows and illegal gambling.
The fact that Lee was attending one of the private clubs at the time of a police raid didn't help Skousen's standing with the mayor.
They also disagreed over budget cuts and a host of other issues, even though they were both charismatic, political conservatives.
Lee was plain-speaking and frank with special appeal to the common man, while Skousen was polished, sophisticated and fluent. His firing was one of the most controversial events in Utah's political history - even though there was no police brutality.
The problems that led to the firing were problems of compatibility. It's hard to imagine how difficult city administration would have been had Lee been unable to fire someone with whom he simply could not get along.
Because of corruption in city hall resulting in police corruption, William Parker was named Los Angeles police chief in 1950 on the condition that he would enjoy autonomy from City Hall and the public.
That was a calculated mistake for which the city of Los Angeles is still paying. Parker took measures of reform that made the police department an outstanding law enforcement agency, closely modeled after the FBI.
As we know, even the FBI attained too much authority under J. Edgar Hoover, resulting in numerous improper procedures. Since the end of Hoover's tenure, accountability has fortunately made its way into the FBI as well.
Because Parker was an effective police chief at a critical time, his authority was unquestioned. The "Joe Friday" mentality put the chief "above the law."
Even before Gates assumed the job, the department had been accused of using excessive force in numerous instances, the most famous of which was the deadly confrontation in 1975 with the Symbionese Liberation Army.
The fact is that for more than 40 years the the Los Angeles police chief has been accountable to no one. It makes no sense that one of the major cities in the country allows a police chief to function without a boss.
How many of us have the luxury of working without a boss?
In the current crisis, Gates has become the symbol of police brutality, and so for that reason alone he needs to go - for good.
But the overriding issue is that every police chief ought to be answerable to elected officials. Los Angeles needs to write a new law.