R. Reese, Cal Poly Pomona, Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, Volume 6, Number 1, Summer/Fall 2000




The most successful public leaders today are ones that have the capacity to lead externally and internally. At the end of the day, which is more important? One's high approval among the public or one's high approval among his/her staff? The logical answer is that a public leader should have the strong support of his/her staff and the public. In the case of former LAPD Police Chief, Daryl Gates, he had the overwhelming support of his staff but he ultimately lost public support. Willie Williams, his successor, on the other hand, had overwhelming public support but did not have the support of his department. The failure to walk the “public leadership tight rope” in each case led to the same results. Herein lies the fallacy of the politics—administration dichotomy. In 1992, Willie Williams became the first Black ever and the first outsider in 43 years to become the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. He was selected chief in the immediate aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest. Williams espoused a more friendly, open, and community-based policing philosophy. His approach was warmly welcomed. Indeed, he was heralded as the city's savior. Some suggest that the organizational climate of the LAPD doomed Williams to failure in his tenure as police chief. Others suggest that his leadership flaws led to his demise. This case study critiques the rise and fall of this public leader. More specifically, it critiques the leadership flaws of Willie Williams and the various socio-political and organizational factors that were his Achilles heel.



This is a qualitative case study of former Los Angeles Police Department Police Chief, Willie Williams. It relies on interviews and textual analysis. I conducted semi-structured interviews with five LAPD officers of various rankings, one of which was the third ranking officer. I conducted an interview with a member of the LAPD Professional Advisory Board. I also conducted an interview with a Los Angeles City Council member who served during Williams' tenure.

To get substantive background information on Willie Williams' success while he was Police Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, I relied on the Philadelphia Police Department's 1991 Annual Report (the final year of Williams' tenure in Philadelphia) and newspaper articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer. I used the 1991 Christopher Commission Report to characterize the organizational culture of the LAPD prior to the Williams administration. I supplemented my analysis of the LAPD and Willie Williams with secondary literature. I used a 1996 Los Angeles Times Poll to measure Williams' job approval rating during his tenure with the LAPD. I relied on the LAPD's 1996 Annual Report (the final year of Williams' tenure in the LAPD) to document his achievements. Newspaper articles, especially from the Los Angeles Times, enabled me to capture the sentiments of the community.

To support and direct my theoretical discussion on leadership, I interviewed leadership scholar, Warren Bennis and I integrated literature from other respected leadership theorists. I also interviewed crisis management scholar, Ian Mitroff.


"Successful public leadership has the difficult challenge of solving complex, boundariless public problems in highly interconnected political and interorganizational contexts in which authority is shared and power is fragmented...this intergovernmental and intersectoral leadership faces constraints and challenges that are substantially different than those facing contemporary organizational leadership" (Luke, 1998, p.5).

The most successful public leaders today are ones that have the capacity to lead externally and internally. They are able to see and understand the inherent contradictions in their multiple roles. For instance, appeasing the community with a more humanistic approach to policing, while getting tough on crime; giving the community a greater role in police affairs, but maintaining the autonomy to make unilateral decisions; supporting tough actions against bad cops to appease the community while steadfastly defending your department. These are scenarios that are difficult for police chiefs to reconcile.

At the end of the day, which is more important? One's high approval among the public or one's high approval among his/her staff? The logical answer is that a public leader would like to have the strong support of his/staff and the public. In the case of Daryl Gates, he had the overwhelming support of his staff but he ultimately lost public support. Willie Williams, on the other hand, had overwhelming public support but did not have the support of his department. The failure to walk the public leadership tightrope in each case led to the same results. Herein lies the fallacy of the politics-administration dichotomy.

In his classic essay (1887), "The Study of Administration," Wilson states that politics should remain separate from administration. "Administrative questions are not political questions" (Shuman and Olufs, 1993, p.97). Today, few public leaders can effectively lead without successfully fusing politics with administration. Indeed, it is necessary for public leaders to be adroit in dealing with the various entities that affect their multiple roles: their organization, public opinion, the media, politicians, and business leaders.


The LAPD's stated mission is to:

"Work in partnership with all of the diverse residential and business communities of the City, wherever people live, work, or visit, to enhance public safety and to reduce the fear and incidence of crime. By working jointly with the people of Los Angeles, the members of the LAPD and other public agencies, we act as leaders to protect and serve our community"(1999 LAPD Annual Report).

Although the LAPD's mission of serving the community is noble, in practice, they have periodically fallen short of these expectations.

The LAPD is a complex organization, one that is characterized by many paradoxes. The perception of the department has ranged from being the best police force in the nation to being a staunchly racist organization. For example, the LAPD has implemented a national model of community policing while being perceived as the antagonists of the community (Christopher Commission Report, 1991, p.xv).

On April 1, 1991, in response to the public outcry over the Rodney King beating, the "Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department," more commonly referred to as the "Christopher Commission Report," was initiated by Mayor Tom Bradley and the city of Los Angeles. This report found that the LAPD was a paramilitary organization that was a bastion of racism and bias. "Bias within the LAPD is not confined to officers' treatment of the public, but is also reflected in conduct directed to fellow officers who are members of racial or ethnic minority groups"(Christopher Commission Report, 1991, p.xii-xiii). The report encouraged stronger moral leadership from the police chief down to the sergeant.

"The Commission believes that the Chief of Police must seek tangible ways for example, through the use of the discipline system, to establish the principle that racism and bias based on ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation will not be tolerated within the Department. We urge that the leadership of the LAPD go beyond rhetoric in carrying out its existing policies against excessive force. From the Chief of Police on down to the sergeants, this means taking a firm stand against the "bad guys" on the force and employing all the instruments available: training, discipline, assignments, and promotion. ..We recommend a new standard of accountability "(Christopher Commission Report p. xiii-xiv, 1991).


Daryl Gates was police chief of the LAPD for 14 years. He served from 1978-1992. He led the LAPD with a proactive paramilitary style, which had gained notoriety all over the world. Indeed, during his regime some considered the LAPD the best police force in the nation. Gates, according to 20 year LAPD veteran, Sergeant Ken Santolla, was a strong leader who was really liked and respected by the rank and file. One reason the rank and file respected him was because of his unwavering support of the department. In times of crisis or controversy Gates religiously supported his department. To Gates, his team came first, not public opinion, not political sentiments. He looked at the LAPD as his extended family. In the foreword of his autobiography, My Life in the LAPD, Gates dedicates the book "To the members of the LAPD family, past and present, who have made this department the finest in the world...and to my own long-suffering family-all of them." His staunch defense and support of the department was perhaps his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. On June 8, 1992, in a news conference that marked the transition of power from Gates to Williams, Gates stated "my people (officers) are loyal to me and I am loyal to them...I'd probably risk being fired to be loyal to my people. I think that much of them; I think all of them would do that for me" (Los Angeles Times, 1992, B1).

Gates was a no nonsense leader who helped to shape the organizational culture of the LAPD. The organizational culture of the LAPD was characterized by a pronounced hierarchical structure, rigorous paramilitary training, and tough discipline. Under Gates' reign, officers would routinely get suspended or fired for breaking the rules of the organization. The LAPD Academy was the place where officers became indoctrinated in the culture of the organization.

In the more than 13 years of Chief Gates' administration, the Police Commission attempted to formally discipline him twice. They succeeded once. The Police Commission's first disciplinary action against Gates took place in June of 1982 for insensitive remarks, specifically citing his comment that when the chokehold is applied to African Americans "the veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do in normal people." The Police Commission's second action was an unsuccessful attempt to place Gates on inactive duty pending the investigation of the Rodney King incident (Christopher Commission Report, 1991, p.204).

In the end, it was the public reaction to the King beating and the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest that forced Gates to step down. The Rodney King experience was a low point for the LAPD. The rank and file felt that Gates had to go because of his bad image. He had cost the department. But as one veteran officer stated, "Contrary to what everyone believed, he wasn't a racist. People pointed to one or two comments that he made in the mid-1970s about Latinos and Blacks." Although most of his department had been fiercely loyal to him during most of tenure, in the end, things changed. After the riots, very few of the upper brass aligned with Gates. They did not want to be associated with his image (Former LAPD Officer, 1998, interview). At the end of Gates' tenure, a poll taken showed that 85 percent of Angelenos no longer trusted him. He had a disapproval rating of 81 percent (Wood, 1992, p.9; Canon, 1997, p.537).

The search for a replacement for Gates' put the city of Los Angeles in an interesting dilemma. Politically, and from a human resource perspective, the city's (e.g. mayor, city council, police commission's) choice for a new police chief was risky. If the city had chosen someone internally they would have faced harsh criticism from the general public. Indeed, an internal choice for police chief would not have been perceived by the public as a serious commitment to change. According to Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, “we needed to go with someone from the outside to break the insularity.” Nevertheless, an internal selection would have provided certain benefits. The department would have had a leader who was accustomed to the organizational culture, hence, more sensitive to the specific changes needed within the department (Ridley-Thomas, 2000).

According to former LAPD Deputy Chief, Mark Kroeker, the current Police Chief of Portland, Oregon, “an internal choice would have come with certain benefits.” It would have yielded someone who, perhaps, was strategically connected to the city's key decision-makers. An internal choice for chief would have potentially boosted the morale of the rank and file (Kroeker, 2000). The literature suggests that promoting from within increases morale because individuals witness the organization's commitment to its own. It gives ambitious employees hope of reaching the top (Tompkins, 1995, p.50). The nation and the world looked with interest at the city of Los Angeles' choice for police chief. In this case, an external selection proved to be popular will of the general public.

The city replaced Gates with Willie Williams. In 1988, during the administration of Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Williams was appointed as the first black police commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department. In Philadelphia, Williams was successful in reducing crime and instilling pride in the city. He was credited with hiring and promoting more women and minority members and with restructuring the police department to add mini-stations and foot patrols to expand the impact of community policing (Philadelphia Police Department Annual Report, 1991; Hinds, 1992, p.B7). Williams' style was glaringly different from that of Gates. His supporters characterized him as being friendly, compassionate, and an advocate of the community (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1992, p.A18; Noble, 1995, p.32). People felt that Williams would confront issues that Gates had refused to address. Williams talked about weeding out bad cops instead of protecting them. He painted a picture of a non-paramilitary LAPD (Alpizar, 1999).

Perhaps Willie Williams was doomed to fail from the beginning in Los Angeles. He was the first outsider in 43 years and the first black ever to head the LAPD. Gates had continued to develop an insulated paramilitary culture that was the legacy of his mentor, Chief William Parker, who served as chief of police when Gates was a rookie LAPD officer. Williams stepped into a racist organization entrenched with Gates' loyalists. Nevertheless, some suggest that there was not really a coup waiting for Williams. "People really wanted to give him a chance" (Kroeker, 2000). However, others suggest that he was met with subtle hostility and criticism from the outset (Noble, April 2, 1995, p.32). How could Williams successfully lead this organization? Given the dynamics of this organization, Williams would have had to rely on brilliant savvy or divine intervention. How else could he have appeased the public, the police brass, the rank and file, and the city's business and political leaders?

Early in his tenure, the chief was backed by 69 percent of Latinos, 67 of percent Anglos, and 59 percent of African Americans (Canon, 1997, p.658). Williams did all of the right things to garner broad public support. He saw his mission as restoring public confidence in the LAPD and delved into this task with energy, passion, and conviction. He promised a revitalized department that would emphasize community policing and implement the recommendations of the Christopher Commission. He attended hundreds of meetings with an array of community, religious, homeowner, and business groups of every racial and ethnic background. He won support from the gay community by changing an objectionable question regarding sexual orientation on the LAPD application form (Canon, 1997, p.537).

Some two years after Williams was sworn in, he had maintained wide popularity among the diverse city dwellers. Some even considered him a savior, a folk hero (Streisand, 1993, p.12). However, among the rank and file and the city's political leaders he was losing respect. The different perceptions of Williams from the outside and from the inside were interesting phenomena. On the outside, the public liked his personality. His friendly, articulate, easy-going demeanor was comforting. Inside, the rank and file increasingly disliked his aloofness, his lack of attention to details, and his different approach to policing (Noble, April 2, 1995, p.32).

Williams was unfamiliar with the way things were done in Los Angles. He did not have the institutional knowledge that it took to run the LAPD. He did not understand the political climate, demographics, or history of the department. Williams did not fully understand the organizational culture of the LAPD. He had not studied the department (Kroeker, 2000). In Los Angeles, it was Williams' inability to build allegiance among the rank and file and his inability to build alliances among the city's key decision-makers that led to his demise (Former LAPD officer, 1998).


While Williams had a high grade from the public, his inside grade was much lower. There were crucial mistakes made and opportunities missed in building allies. He did not build a relationship with his law enforcement peers. The prestigious Criminal Justice Group (CJG) was made up of the sheriff, the police chief, the district attorney, the presiding judges of the municipal and superior court, the public defender and representatives of the state attorney general, the governor, Youth Authority and the Department of Corrections. According to Diane Shah (1997), the meetings were held in the Parker Center across from the chief's office. Nevertheless, he only attended these important meetings twice (p.46). This was a fundamental mistake because according to Bennis (2000), building allies among your professional peers is essential. Councilman Ridley-Thomas states that the current police chief, Bernard Parks, takes the city council members on ride-a-longs in police cars through each of their districts. According to the councilman, “this is the way you do it.” “When Williams was chief, he wouldn't even call the city council members back if we called. Parks could be in Hawaii and we'll get a call back.” Moreover, Williams had a fragile relationship with Los Angeles mayor, Richard Riordan, and he only had the full confidence of the city council for a few months (Ridley-Thomas, 2000).

Former LAPD Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker stated in an interview, The allies of a police chief are analogous to a wagon wheel.

"You have several spokes: the rank and file, the community, special interests groups, various ethnic groups, the elected people, the news media. Two of Williams' spokes broke down early in his administration, the rank and file spoke and the elected people spoke" (2000).

Inside the department, Williams tended to have a top down approach. He was not really in touch with the rank and file. He did not regularly attend role call and many of the officers did not feel like they knew him. He did not effectively communicate with them. He did not connect with them. According to John W. Gardner (1990), "communication is at the very heart of the leader-follower relationship"(p.85). Indeed, the literature suggests that communication, in its multiple forms, plays a fundamental role in leadership. Effective leaders present their thoughts clearly and convincingly in order to inspire and motivate their followers.

To the public, Williams was an articulate visionary of community based policing. Inside, however, he was said to have no clear sense of direction. According to officer Santolla "He would tell the public one thing and tell us another" (1998). In 1996, the Los Angeles Police Commission, in a vote of no confidence, stated in a 22 page report card that "He has proven unable or unwilling to consistently translate his words into action" (Shah, 1997, p.46). According to Bennis (2000), leaders often display inconsistent leadership behavior. This inconsistent behavior poses a serious threat to one's credibility.


Bass states in Stodghill's Handbook on Leadership, that appearance, athletic ability, and physical prowess is associated with leadership, especially in military (type) organizations (Bass, 1981, p.49). From this perspective, Williams' appearance threatened his credibilty from the outset. In an organization that prided itself on appearance, strength, fitness and dress (uniform), Williams did not pass the first test. According to Santolla, "Some officers were disappointed in his physical appearance...he was clearly overweight when everyone else was physically fit" (Santolla, 1998).

"My first impression of Willie Williams started at the academy. I was one of the many officers standing at attention, in formation, waiting for Chief Williams to arrive. We had been standing for a long time and then all of a sudden I smelled the aroma of cologne. We were all wondering where it was coming from, and then out of no where comes this really big guy weighing about 320 lbs. dressed in a double-breasted suit and draped in gold. I mean this guy had gold everywhere. He had a gold watch, rings, bracelet, and huge gold cufflinks. He seemed to be more of a corporate executive than a chief of police. So my first impressions, along with a number of other officers, were that his cologne was loud, he was fat and out of shape, and I could see there was no way he could fit in a uniform" (Eynon, 1999).

According to Bass, "Leaders are found, with a high degree of uniformity, to average better scholastic grades than do non leaders." Bass goes on to state that this is not surprising since leaders tend to be more intelligent than followers (Bass, 1981, p.52). According to City Councilman Ridley-Thomas there was a mismatch between Williams's profile and the LAPD. “Traditionally the LAPD has put emphasis on academic achievements for their brass and physical fitness for everyone” (Ridley-Thomas, 2000). Williams did measure up to the LAPD's high expectations of a chief. “It was clear from the start that he didn't have the bona fide academic background” (Kroeker, 2000).

Williams received an associate's degree in business administration from the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. Over the years he took professional courses and seminars in a graduate program in criminal justice at St. Joseph's University but he never received a degree (Hinds, p.B7, 1992). Ross Clayton, a 1992 member of the LAPD Professional Advisory Board and Dean of the USC School of Public Administration, Sacramento, stated in an interview that he was surprised to find out Williams did not have a four year college degree. Clayton attempted to help Williams take graduate courses at USC's School of Public Administration in Sacramento, but they could not get passed the problem of him not having a bachelor's degree (2000).

Initially in Los Angeles, Williams was not even certified to carry a gun. The Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) is a state agency that is responsible for certifying and setting the standards for all sworn peace officers in the state of California. This agency gives training, course work, and an initial test that must be passed by all peace officers. Williams was said to have failed the level one "Basic Course Waiver Exam" on three occasions. The state assembly passed a bill in 1993 exempting police chiefs from POST certification, hence, allowing them to carry guns. Some suggest this bill was passed to save Williams' from embarrassment. Williams' inability to pass a basic exam inevitably undermined his credibility (Shah, p.48, 1997; Santolla, 1998; Alpizar, 1999).


In Webster's dictionary, integrity is defined as "adherence to a code of moral values." Integrity of character, according to Bass, is closely associated with leadership (Bass, 1981, p.57). According to Bennis and Goldsmith (1994),

The leader's integrity is unquestionable. We tend to trust leaders who stand for a higher moral order and who demonstrate their ethical commitments through actions that we can observe. Leaders uphold a standard of ethics and call themselves and others to account for deviations from this moral code (p.121).

"The keepers of the city's ethics were appalled by Williams accepting free hotel rooms in Las Vegas, then allegedly lying about it to the police commission" (Domanick, 1996, p.M6). This incident started to undermine his credibility. During the Gates' regime, accepting gifts and perks was not tolerated. It was routine for him to have officers return gifts with a polite note attached (Shah, 1997, p.46). According to another officer, the Las Vegas incident showed that Williams' lacked important institutional knowledge. "He was not held accountable for certain things he did in Philadelphia. He might have been able to get away with accepting perks in Philly but Los Angeles held him accountable" (Former LAPD Officer, 1998). According to former LAPD Deputy Chief Kroeker, Williams did not display professional integrity from the start. “If he had studied the organizational culture of the LAPD he would have known that accepting gifts was a no-no” (2000).

One of Williams' major mistakes as police chief was that he went against this established code of ethics when he received special perquisites from a Las Vegas Hotel. The first mistake was that Williams' accepted the perks. The second mistake was that he lied to the police commission, his department, and the city about accepting the perks. The third, and perhaps the most exaggerated mistake was that he filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, accusing them of libel, defamation, and invasion of privacy (Santolla, 1998; Noble, pA18, 1995).

The Las Vegas perks episode was devastating to Williams' ability to lead. Although the Los Angeles City Council and the public still supported the chief, this experience gave those who were against him from the start something on which to solidify their judgement. This experience also left some supporters in doubt of his ability to lead effectively. Officer Santolla states that "the chief was caught in a lie and if he lied about Vegas...he was certainly capable of lying to us...I have to admit some trust was definitely lost" (Santolla, 1998; Eynon, 1999; Alpizar, 1999).

In the end, William breached a fundamental relationship with his organization that was predicated on trust. Perhaps the lack of trust between Williams, his department, and the police commission ultimately led to his downfall (Domanick, 1996, M6). According to Bennis and Goldsmith (1994),

"Trust is the secret of their ability to inspire those who create movements for social change and build the organizations that realize their dreams. Trust provides the motivation and energy that makes it possible for organizations to work. It is hard to imagine an institution without some semblance of trust operating somewhere" (p.120).

According to Falcione and Adrian (1997), one of the most fundamental elements of an ideal communication climate is that employees trust management. It is important that management embrace strong values and persist in acting out these values routinely. "Without employee confidence and trust in the credibility of management, all of the slogans and exhortations regarding quality, productivity, commitment, and so forth will have little impact" (p.736).

Initially, much of Williams' criticism came from the Police Protective League. They represented the old-guard hierarchy within the LAPD. However, in the end, he was being attacked from many sides. Even his philosophically allies e.g. liberal police commissioners, politicians, and journalists lost trust and faith in Williams, suggesting he did not possess the right management skills to lead the LAPD. Nevertheless, public trust in Williams remained relatively high until the end.


Williams was the victim of his own poor judgement. Indeed, he made many decisions entirely on his own (Santolla, 1998). He used poor judgement in accepting the Las Vegas perks. He also made poor decisions on other significant occasions. To defend him against allegations of impropriety and libel in the Las Vegas case, he chose Melanie Lomax, an African American lawyer who was responsible for the ouster of Gates. Many in the organization still had bitter feelings towards Lomax. Irrespective of these ill-feelings, Williams chose Lomax to defend him (Noble, 1995, p.32).

During the O.J. Simpson trial, Williams had an excellent opportunity to exert public leadership. He did. However, the words that he said to the public did not resonate well with the rank and file. Again, in public, Williams seemed to exude a confidence to the city that things were all right. The rank and file saw their department under vicious assault from Simpson's lawyers. They did not feel that Williams voiced strong enough support for the department during this episode--fearing that he would alienate his strongest supporters, African Americans (Santolla, 1998; Noble, 1995, p.32).

The recurrent police complaint throughout the Simpson trial was that Williams failed to stand up for the LAPD when its integrity or professionalism was questioned. As the defense systematically put the LAPD in the dock, officers expected their chief to function as their advocate (Canon, 1997, p.552).

To the rank and file, Williams was more concern about his public image than his department. One of the most unpopular moves that Williams made early in his administration was demoting the widely popular Deputy Chief Bernard Parks in 1994. Parks, a 29 year veteran of the force, was well respected among the rank and filed and well connected to the city's establishment. Williams made the decision to demote Parks while Parks was out of town. Upon his return, Williams convened a meeting with Parks that lasted 20 minutes. In this meeting, Parks was informed that he was being demoted. Allegedly, Williams demoted Parks because of insubordination. Williams stated that he had "lost confidence in Parks" (Newton, 1994, p. B1). He promoted Commander Ron Banks to deputy chief. Banks was perceived to be a less qualified "yes man" for the chief. This decision further undermined his credibility and painted Williams as someone who wanted total control at any cost (Shah, 1997, pp.47-48). Defenders of Williams suggested that his demotion of Parks was the first phase of a bigger shake up in the department. Indeed, months later, Williams gave more than a dozen mid-to-high level LAPD officials new assignments (Newton, 1994, p. B1). Nevertheless, Parks threatened to sue the department. Williams wanted to avoid a lawsuit. He stated, "I believe a lawsuit would rip this organization inside-out, and it is more important to put this issue to rest." To avoid a suit, Williams agreed to give Parks a $15,000 raise while demoting him. Parks accepted this agreement (Rivera, 1994, p.B1).

The case involving Chuck Heim was another instance of poor judgement by Williams. Heim, an eleven year veteran of the LAPD, was a widely popular officer who was known for his bright sense of humor. In 1994, he was shot and killed in the line of duty by a suspected drug dealer. Heim and his partner Officer Felix Pena, were following up on a tip given to them during a traffic stop on a run-down strip of Sunset Boulevard. They were told that someone was dealing drugs at a motel room on the same block. The officers knocked on the door of the motel room. Someone opened the door and shooting began. Heim was shot twice in the upper body and died two hours later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Newton and Pool, 1994, p.A1).

It is the tradition of the LAPD to show solidarity when a fellow officer is slain. Officers show support by attending the funeral in uniform. In 1989, the department introduced a riderless horse into the police funeral services-empty boots facing backward in the stirrups signify the missing officer in military fashion. Decades before 1989 however, the tradition of the police chief was to show unwavering support for those officers badly injured or killed in the line of duty (Kroeker, 2000; Newton and Pool, 1994, p.A1). According to former Deputy Chief Kroeker (2000),

"As I recall, I remember concerned members of the force requesting the chief to return for Heims' funeral. It was a `no brainer.' It was tradition. If you are anywhere in the world and one of your officers has been killed in the line of duty, you come back ASAP. It's just like one of your family members being killed. You have to respect the tradition of the organization."

Williams did not return for Heims' funeral. He was in Las Vegas celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife. LAPD Sergeant Dennis Zine, a board member and treasurer of the LAPD Protective League, stated "Williams, as father of the LAPD family, has an obligation to return and comfort its members...clearly there is a moral and ethical cause for him to return" (Tamaki and Glionna, 1995, p.B1). In failing to return to the funeral of one of his officers, Williams further angered and alienated the rank and file. Moreover, he further undermined his credibility in the department (Santolla, 1998).

At the end of his tenure, Williams threatened to sue the city for $3 million if he was not reappointed to a five-year term. However, the city's Charter Amendment F, adopted in 1990, undercut his leverage. This charter states that the police chief can be replaced via a civilian democratic process at any time for any reason (Westreich, Duff, and Romero, 1997, p.B9). In 1994, Williams made a deal with Deputy Chief Bernard Parks to avoid a costly and internally divisive lawsuit. Some three years later, Williams was threatening to sue the city.


In his classic book, Leadership, James MacGregor Burns distinguishes transactional leadership from transformational leadership. Burns states that transactional leaders abide by a trade-off philosophy. They do not have the ability to inspire their followers with charisma. Hence, they give followers rewards in exchange for compliance. Transactions are at the foundation of their relationship with their followers. They are characterized as opinion leaders, bargainers, or bureaucrats. Transformational leaders possess good visioning, rhetorical and impression management skills that they use to bond with their followers. They seek to address the needs of their followers. They inspire their followers to reach their potential. These leaders are categorized as intellectual leaders, leaders of reform or revolution, and heroes or ideologues (Burns, 1978; Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, 1993, p.443). On the transactional-transformational leadership continuum, Williams should be positioned closer to that of a transformational leader. He did not display the characteristics of a transactional leader.

According to Bass (1985), the level of motivation inspired by transformational leaders is linked to three empirically derived factors of leadership. First, transformational leaders are inspiring and charismatic. Charismatic leaders develop a "chemistry" with their follower, which inspires loyalty and deference. Subordinates intensely identify with their mission. A second component of transformational leadership is individualized attention. A transformational leader pays attention to the particular development needs of his/her subordinates. Individualized consideration, through efforts such as coaching and mentoring, inspire followers to achieve their full potential. The third component of transformational leadership is intellectual stimulation. An intellectually stimulating leader taps into the creative potential of subordinates. He/she engages subordinates in challenging ways and encourages them to find solutions to problems (Yammarino and Bass, 1990, p.151).

If charismatic leadership is based solely on the ability to inspire and transformational leadership encompasses this element and more, then perhaps Williams was more of a charismatic leader. This categorization, however, is limited to his relationship with the public. Leadership occurs inside and outside of the organization (Gortner, Mahler, and Nicholson, 1987, p.291). Williams' role as a transformational leader is more questionable.

From the outset Williams' appeared to be a transformational leader. In fact, City Councilman Ridley Thomas states that Williams was more reform minded than Mayor Riordan and perhaps even the city council (2000). During his swearing-in speech on June 30, 1992, Williams talked about changing the LAPD. His grand vision included an examination of officers' training and of the public's complaint process. He stated that he wanted a screening system that would pick out overly aggressive or problem officers quickly. Referring to the Rodney King incident, Williams stated, "We have to make sure that circumstances don't again become real where more than a dozen officers could not get control of a single individual" (Wood, 1992, p.9). In an interview (four months after taking office) with Gayle Pollard Terry of the Los Angeles Times, Williams stated there was a high degree of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the department. He stated that he would try to confront those problems. When asked whether he felt there was more animosity from insiders towards him because he was black? Williams responded,

"a lot of officers are still struggling with their personal views versus my view and the city administration's view. That's impacting on the officers' ability to work...to deliver a bias-free service to the community. The black and Hispanic officers expect this minority chief. To understand those problems and then begin to address them. The white officers, on the other hand, some sit and wonder, "Are things going to change?" Am I no longer a part of this department? Are we going to wake up and see all women in the department? All minorities? My job is to let them know that there is a roll for everyone in this organization. But if change comes--whether it's mandated through court orders, mandated through negotiation-once those policies are in place, you can go bang your head against the locker, you can kick the cabinet or kick your tires on your car, but then you got to come into work and put on your suit and be an LAPD officer. And if you can't work with those balances, then you don't belong in this job. I've said publicly, this department has to reflect the ethnicity of the city it serves" (Terry, 1992, p.M3).

Although Williams' initial platform and rhetorical appeal can be characterized as transformational, leadership categorization must be evaluated in the context of time. As we look back and evaluate his tenure we can now ask the questions: Was Williams' initial vision carried out? Did he truly reform the LAPD? Did he inspire his officers to reach their full potential? Did he effectively use impression management skills to bond with his officers? Was the LAPD amenable to Williams' leadership style or was there a mismatch? Williams' biggest faux pas was attempting to transform the LAPD from the outside in. Genuine transformation takes place from the inside out.

Williams managed to partially carry out his vision. Contrary to what some believe, Williams had a significant impact on reforming the organizational culture of the LAPD. The military minded street soldier image was challenged and changed. During his tenure, there was not an arrogant disregard for civil liberties. Crime went down. There was not the equivalent of a Rodney King beating, Watts Riot, Rodney King Verdict Riot, chokehold deaths, and multiple deaths of unarmed citizens. Under Williams, the department became more diverse. More women and minorities were hired and promoted in the Williams administration than during any other time in LAPD history (1996 LAPD Annual Report; Former LAPD Officer, 1998; Domanick, 1996, p.M6). “In stark contrast to Gates, he put a human face to law enforcement in Los Angeles” (Ridley-Thomas, 2000).

Nevertheless, Williams could not successfully implement the Christopher Commission reforms that were recommended after the 1992 Riots. He did not develop chemistry with his officers and he failed to inspire them. Consequently, Williams can not be categorized as a transformational leader. Joe Domanick suggests that he was more of a transitional leader than an ardent reformer. "In the end, the department will be transformed not because Williams zealously changed it, but because he permitted it to change" (Domanick, 1996, p.M6). In many ways, Williams' transformational rhetoric was a reflection of the socio-political zeitgeist.

He responded to the mandate of his immediate community and the country. His platform was forced to be one of dynamic change. Williams worked along with his external environment to usher in a transition for the LAPD. A transformational leader would have taken advantage of the climate for change and truly transformed from within. According to Ross Clayton, a transformational leader thoroughly understands the symbols, traditions, and values of their organization. “Williams did not have the analytical sophistication to understand the various dimensions of the LAPD's organizational culture” (2000).

Perhaps, as Domanick states, Williams was a transitional leader. I define a transitional leader as someone who is positioned to lessen the impact of change during a period of transformation. This individual is a safe and conservative facilitator and mitigator. He/she is a figurehead. They symbolize change is occurring, or about to occur. This person serves in an interim position until a "real" replacement is found. In this case, the LAPD and the public needed someone to merely symbolize change. Williams was the visionary manager the city needed. From the long-term perspective, he was clearly a mismatch for the organization. One LAPD officer commented that "Chief Williams whole term was interim...the chief was merely a person used to allow Los Angeles to cool down. The chief was a transition guy. Now we have a real chief, Bernie Parks" (Alpizar, 1999). At some point during his administration, Williams realized that it was not his team-that he was their to coach until the dust settled. As a result of this realization, Williams lost some of his enthusiasm. "He didn't have a go-get-um attitude" (Eynon, 1999).

During the tumultuous period of the Rodney King experience,

"the Los Angeles Police Commission wanted someone to restore calm, someone committed to a different style of policing. And given the heightened sensitivity to racism in LAPD, preferably someone black. Williams fit the bill. He talked a good game on community policing, a style of law enforcement that emphasizes problem-solving and community relations" (Newton, 1997, p. 12).

Bennis (2000) suggests that not much has been written on interim or transitional leaders. He states that Willie Williams appears to have fit this category.

A comprehensive Los Angeles Times survey measured Williams' job approval while in office. At the peak of his popularity in 1994, the city gave him a job approval rating of 73 percent. However, at the end of his tenure, his job approval rating had dropped to 56 percent. When asked whether Williams should get a second term, 44% of residents said he should get a second five year term while 43 percent of residents said he should not. Respondents to this survey cited several reasons for opposing another term; they ranged from general unhappiness with the police department to criticisms of Williams for his conduct during the Las Vegas incident to dismay over his decision to upgrade his official police vehicle at a time when the department was feeling a budget crunch (Newton, 1996, A1).

Willie Williams' Job Approval Rating

June `96 June `95 June `94 June `93 Feb `93 Oct `92
Approve 56% 65% 73% 72% 67% 52%
Disapprove 33% 20% 14% 13% 9% 4%
Don't Know 11% 15% 13% 15% 24% 44%

(The Times Poll, June 8, 1996; Newton)

The chief's declining popularity is paralleled by a similar drop in that of the LAPD.

The LAPD's Job Approval Rating

June `96 June `95 June `94 Oct `93 Oct `92 July `91
Approve 56% 66% 67% 61% 45% 42%
Disapprove 38% 26% 27% 32% 48% 52%
Don't Know 6% 8% 6% 7% 7% 6%

(The Times Poll, June 8, 1996; Newton)


Newton (1997), states that Williams failed because

"he never grasped Los Angeles politics, because he felt threatened by talented subordinates, because he didn't care about winning the loyalty of his staff, because he didn't seek or take good advice, because he mishandled a key set of 1994 staff changes, because he twice hired bumbling lawyers and because, by the end, the job simply overwhelmed him" (p.11).

When asked why Williams failed, City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas stated that “Williams did not have the sufficient support to fight off the sharks. He just made too many mistakes and he was not a strong enough administrator” (2000).

Key stakeholders in Los Angeles have learned (and are still learning) hard lessons about public leadership and organizational behavior in this new day. Daryl Gates managed to walk the public leadership tightrope effectively for 13 years. Nevertheless, in his 14th year as police chief, the balance was undermined. He breached his relationship with the public and was consequently ousted. Williams never did effectively walk the tightrope. Although his public approval remained consistently high, his approval in the department remained consistently low.

Why was Williams so successful in Philadelphia and not so successful in Los Angeles? In Philadelphia, Williams had come up through the ranks from humble beginnings. His four years as police commissioner in Philadelphia were relatively quiet. He had not been tested by disasters like the 1985 police bombing of a house owned by members of the armed cult, Move. His tenure began three years after this controversial bombing and five years after the department had been tarnished by corruption scandals. Moreover, his tenure began a decade after allegations of widespread police brutality by the Frank Rizzo administration. Williams stepped in when the City of Philadelphia was ready for change and the police department was ready to embrace reform (Hinds, 1992, p.B7). In Los Angeles, Williams came immediately after the most controversial incident in the department's history. Unlike in Philadelphia, he took the helm in the midst of turbulent times, and although the city of Los Angeles was ready for reform, the department was not. Perhaps Williams was not allowed to walk the public leadership tightrope in Los Angeles. His inconsistent leadership behavior e.g. multiple bad decisions and poor judgment, obfuscate this conclusion.

According to City Council member Ridley-Thomas and former Los Angeles Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker, Williams was a bad choice from the outset. No one inside the department had influence on who was selected. As Kroeker, states “we could have informed the commission that this was clearly a mismatch” (2000). Nevertheless, as Ridley-Thomas states, they needed to bring someone in who was untainted and African American (2000). When asked about what type of person that would have been an ideal choice to lead the LAPD and successfully walk the public leadership tightrope, Warren Bennis responded,

The best candidate in this case would have been someone who once served in the LAPD and had moved on for a few years. In recruiting this person, the commission would have found someone who was familiar with the culture of the organization and the political environment of the city. This person would have also been away long enough to be considered an outsider, hence, pleasing the police commission and the city (2000).

In the traditional democratic theory of bureaucracy policy makers and administrators have been viewed separately. While this distinction has served as a useful paradigm for debate, it does not capture the complexities of being a public leader in this new day. This case study offers us a few significant lessons about public leadership in this new day. The most fundamental lesson is that public leaders "must" have political savvy. They must exert, what Charles Goodsell (1992) calls, "political professionalism."

Political Professionalism is "advanced as an ideal as well as a reality-it does not seek to `clean' the politics out of government, but rather to demand that everyone holding high power in government subscribe to a politics that serves the public interest...The foremost trait of the political professional is the competence to mobilize and wield political power. The nave notion that career public administrators do not engage in politics is also implicitly rejected" (p.10, 12).

Public leaders should be trained to be what Jeffrey Luke (1998) calls, "catalytic leaders." According to Luke, "catalytic leaders" are public leaders who "convene multiple stakeholder groups, facilitate and mediate agreements around tough issues, think systemically and strategically about sustainable actions." This case study teaches us that diverse groups must be consulted to confront interconnected problems. The "catalytic leader" is cognizant of the interconnected characteristics of public problems. Hence, they "bring together diverse individuals from multiple agencies to work together toward solutions" (p.4).

Bennis (2000) agrees, a fundamental lesson learned from this case study is that public leaders must be consistent in their leadership behavior. Any breakdown in, or lack of, a leadership quality can undermine the credibility of one's leadership. Moreover, public leaders should know their categorical leadership roles in an organization and should work within defined parameters. For example, a leader should not attempt to transform an organization if they were hired to be a transactional leader.

Public leaders should realize that they can not satisfy all stakeholders at once. A public leader must choose which stakeholders are most important (Mitroff, 2000). The results of this case study suggest that public leadership training should focus on the balance of appeasing internal and external constituencies simultaneously. This training should pragmatically guide students to build important allies inside and outside of the organization. Bennis (2000) states that public leaders should “adhere simultaneously to the symbolic tradition of stability and to the symbolic dimensions of reform and change.” Individuals aspiring to become leaders in the public sector should be trained as political professionals. The political professional is aware of their multiple roles.

"Only the political professional can define policy agendas, shape agency missions, develop policy objectives, forge administrative programs, garner public resources, create political alliances, fight determined enemies, and win powerful friends" (Goodsell, p.13, 1992).

Indeed, it is the political professional who has the best possible chance of walking the public leadership tightrope.




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