Willie Williams, First African-American LAPD Chief Who Took Control Of Department After 1992 Riots, Dies

Willie Williams, the ex-LAPD chief who helped regain control of the department and put it back in the public’s favor following the 1992 police beating of motorist Rodney G. King, and subsequent riots, has died. He was 72-years-old.

Willie Williams was appointed to the role of Chief of the LAD after two decades of pulling himself up through the ranks of the Philadelphia police department to become the first African-American police chief of the City of Brotherly Love — a feat he would achieve again with the LAPD. Williams was appointed to head the LAPD by then-mayor Tom Bradley, in the hopes that he could bring calm to a city still reeling from not only the riots, but also a police chief — Daryl F. Gates, Williams’ predecessor — who was viewed by the public as a bigot who encouraged his department’s mistreatment of the African-American population of his district, as well as other minorities.

While Williams was appointed the LAPD police chief in an effort to “mend deep racial divides” that sprung up after the officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted, according to the Los Angeles Times, but it was a daunting task. He succeeded in helping to win back favor for the department in the eyes of the public, but it was ultimately an effort in futility said John Mack, a long-time civil rights leader who served on the city’s civilian Police Commission.

“Willie Williams was appointed to do some healing, and in many ways he succeeded, building and rebuilding positive, constructive relationships between the African American community and the police. But the deck was stacked against him from the start. The Los Angeles Police Department was not ready to accept him for two reasons: He was an outsider and he was African American.”

Following his appointment to LAPD police chief, polls among Los Angeles citizens showed that Williams was well-liked among the community, and his novel ideas concerning community policing –building trust in communities by having officers integrate themselves within them — was a favorite among the city’s disenchanted African-American population. Showing he would fight for change in the force and the way it was run, Williams fought to hire more female police officers, and spoke out often about the sexual harassment women on the force faced.

A year after Williams was appointed LAPD police chief, his staunchest supporter, Mayor Bradley, was replaced by Richard Riordan, and things began to go downhill for the police chief. Other officers, as well as officials in the police union, fought against Williams every step of the way, and a 1995 letter from a former LAPD official to the Police Commission led to an investigation and mini-scandal surrounding Williams, and the allegations that he accepted free accommodations from a Las Vegas casino. Though he denied the allegations as a smear campaign, his approval ratings began to drop, and an attempt to run for a second 5-year-term as LAPD chief failed. He was given $375,000 in severance pay in return for stepping down from his post as LAPD police chief seven weeks early.

According to 6ABC.com, Williams left the LAPD in 1997, and in 2002 was appointed to federal security director for Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta.

Williams died after a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer near his home in Fayetteville, Georgia. He is survived by his wife, Evelina, and children — one of whom is currently a police lieutenant in Philadelphia. According to his son, funeral arrangements have not yet been made, but services will be held in Philadelphia.

Former LAPD police chief Willie Williams served as chief of the Philadelphia department from 1988 to 1992, and the LAPD from 1992 to 1997.

[Photo by AP Photo/Nick Ut]