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Daryl Gates, chief of police in Los Angeles during the Rodney King uproar, dies

LOS ANGELES — Daryl F. Gates, the blunt former Los Angeles police chief who waged war on violent gangs and skirmished with city leaders until his handling of the Rodney King police beating and ensuing riots forced him to retire, died Friday (April 16, 2010) of cancer. He was 83.

Mr. Gates died at his Dana Point home with his family at his side, according to a police statement. His brother, retired LAPD Capt. Steven Gates, said recently that the former chief had bladder cancer that had spread.

One of the most polarizing figures in modern law enforcement, Mr. Gates served as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department for 14 years beginning in 1978, an era of tumultuous change as the nation's second-largest city faced a surge in well-armed gangs, a burgeoning illegal drug trade and growing racial conflict.

"He was a man of deep convictions," said former police Chief William Bratton, who left the department last year. "He was very happy to stand up for them, whether you liked them or not. And he enjoyed being in the middle of the bull's-eye. He thrived on it."

Mr. Gates' critics and admirers remain as far apart as ever.

"I don't remember much that was good about him," said Ramona Ripston, the longtime executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "I think in many ways he gave policing a bad name. He certainly didn't believe in civil liberties."

Mr. Gates was credited with developing the policing plan, including a terrorism task force, that brought off the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics without so much as a traffic jam. He also created the department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., program for youth.

But police actions overshadowed his accomplishments.

In 1979, two officers shot and killed Eulia Love, a 39-year-old black woman who brandished a butcher knife as they approached her about an overdue gas bill.

Street sweeps in the 1980s meant to battle a surge in gangs and drug dealers stirred community animosity for rounding up thousands of youths, and excessive-force lawsuits against the department cost the city millions.

Mr. Gates' career began to unravel with the March 3, 1991, beating of King, which was videotaped by a man in a nearby apartment after the black motorist was pulled over for speeding. King suffered 56 baton blows, kicks and repeated shocks from a Taser.

An independent review of the department released later that year found that the LAPD had a significant problem with excessive force aggravated by racism and bias, and under pressure to resign, Mr. Gates announced his retirement.

On April 29, 1992, just two months short of Mr. Gates' leaving, a jury acquitted the officers of most charges in the King beating, a verdict that triggered one of the worst outbreaks of civil unrest in Los Angeles history.

Four days of rioting throughout the sprawling city left 55 people dead and more than 2,000 injured, with property damage totaling $1 billion. Fires set by rioters reduced entire blocks of the city to cinders.

Mr. Gates' personal life was sometimes tumultuous, too. His marriage ended in divorce, and his son struggled with drug abuse, suffering an overdose during the 1992 riots.

Mr. Gates is survived by his brother, Steven, and three children.

Daryl Gates, chief of police in Los Angeles during the Rodney King uproar, dies 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 11:32pm]

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