Chief Reddin: New Style at the Top

Los Angeles — “Don’t blow your cool" is the advice of the LAPD’s energetic new chief. He has greatly improved the public image of his force, but not in places like Watts, where critical problems remain largely untouched and perhaps beyond the reach of police tactics alone. Mrs. Mathews, erstwhile managing editor of the Harvard Crimson, is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

by Linda McVeigh Mathews

SINCE modern law enforcement, like modern warfare, is as much dependent on appearances as reality, it was inevitable that Madison Avenue would eventually penetrate the world of the station house. Nowhere is this intrusion more apparent than in Los Angeles, where the police department, always the well-oiled crime-fighting machine par excellence, decided two years ago to recast and humanize its image and then proceeded to mount a public relations campaign of the kind that is usually used to sell a new breakfast cereal.

Suddenly, billboards displaying the smiling countenances of policemen took root in the burned-out lots along Watts’s Charcoal Alley. Schoolchildren were sent home with replicas of LAPD badges and registration slips for the department’s Little League teams. Kaffeeklatsches organized by police brass brought together suspicious citizens and unwilling patrolmen. Radio spot announcements, Sunday afternoon television panels, and Hollywood-produced recruiting films clogged the media. Not even prime time was beyond the department’s means. Dragnet, the network TV series which helped create the LAPD’s nationwide reputation, reflected the new upbeat look. Week after week, Sergeant Joe Friday, Dragnet’s perennially dour detective, behaved in a very uncoplike manner. Instead of busting up smuggling rings or chasing petty hoodlums, Friday rapped with black militants and tongue-lashed cocky rookies who made the mistake of treating Negroes “discourteously.” He even allowed himself an occasional grim-lipped smile.

This intensive campaign to alter, and improve, public attitudes toward the police, which has since served as a model for other cities, goes under the name “community relations.” It is a tactic prescribed, after five seasons of rioting, by such authoritative bodies as the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. In Los Angeles, where it has been most widely tested, the “community relations” campaign has had noticeable consequences. It has soothed middleclass Angelenos, shaken by the August, 1965, riots that rocked this city and by the apparent inability of the police department to contain them. Eagerly, although perhaps unsure what was real and what TV drama, they took all the publicity as a sign that something was being done. In their gratitude, they began to look with awe on the man responsible for the apparent changes in police performance, the Los Angeles chief of police, Thomas Reddin.

A beaming six-foot-four-inch, two-hundred-tenpound giant, he is a natural target for such adulation. Reddin both inspires confidence, and as an undeniably talented publicist, knows how to manipulate it once it is aroused. He possesses all the attributes of a top-notch salesman: an ingratiating personality, an ability to inject a winning note of candor into even his stalest speeches, and an endless reserve of enthusiasm. He observes a twelvehour workday, hustling from meetings with black militants to Rotarian luncheons and TV tapings, sometimes making three or four speeches and rarely refusing an interview. During his first year on the job, his staff calculated that he made 245 speeches before an estimated 70,000 persons and spent only 5 nights at home with his wife; in a typical moment, too, they released the statistics to the press. Reddin carefully cultivates the media and sometimes slips unconsciously into the huckster’s rhetoric. He has been known to take reporters aside at press conferences and whisper conspiratorially, “You’ll help me sell this, won’t you?” Even a little old-fashioned Hollywood sex appeal is permissible. “You’re going to love the chief,” Reddin’s television adviser once told two startled women reporters. “All the ladies do.”

Reddin’s energy is infectious; at noon every day, the offices of his subordinates in the glittering eightstory police administration building downtown are deserted. Like their boss, his assistants are out breaking bread with the people and selling community relations. The able community relations director, Deputy Chief James Fisk, says the top administrators keep such whirlwind schedules because that is the way “they can reach as many people as possible and gain their trust.”Anticipating the inevitable put-downs (luncheon toastmasters sometimes wonder when the police do their work) , the chief and his assistants are quick to point out their administrative, technological, and social innovations just to prove there is substance behind the claims of progress. It is a list which reads like the recommendations of the Kerner Report or the summary of the latest police science primer, and leaves no doubt about the progressive bent of the LAPD. Every commission-stamped police experiment known to American society is being tested there, which lends to Reddin’s efforts a significance they otherwise might not have. One is led to the conclusion that if the LAPD fails, it will be a failure for all the less progressive cities and for all the standard commission-produced remedies as well.

To understand the pressures on Reddin and his compulsion to sell community relations, it is necessary to examine the state of the department he inherited in February, 1967. It was a well-turnedout corps, with a rather outsized pride in its efficiency, its incorruptibility, and its crime-busting prowess. Rules and regulations proliferated, dictating every move an officer made, and pay was high. Despite all this, the LAPD was also badly demoralized, having learned the scale of its own deficiencies only when Watts went up in flames and the whole world looked on. “We went by the book, which we thought had all the answers,” one watch commander said ruefully afterward. “Our biggest mistake was that we didn’t just chuck it in the incinerator.”

Not only had then Chief William H. Parker failed to draw up contingency plans or give his men any special training to cope with massive civil disorder, but as Watts burned, he refused to negotiate with Negro leaders who were trying to quench the flames. Even the department’s equipment, supposedly second to none, proved hopelessly obsolete: commanders could not communicate with patrol cars because their radios operated on different frequencies. In the end, because the LAPD could not do it alone, 14,000 National Guardsmen were required to subdue the curfew area (which by that time encompassed a region the size of San Francisco) and to halt the sporadic freeway sniping that terrorized the rest of the city.

Those nights shattered the confidence the city had had in the force and the crusty old chief; Parker responded by ordering riot helmets. But the lessons of Watts were not lost on Reddin, then a deputy chief. When he ascended to his present position after Parker’s death, what he learned in 1965 determined his priorities: re-establishing contact with the city’s residents, restoring the morale of the force, and ensuring there would be no recurrence of mass destruction.

The result was a community relations campaign that is essentially two campaigns because Reddin has two distinct constituencies. One, the city’s large WASPish middle class, wants a police department that will protect it from the “criminals” and those on the outs with society, put down future disturbances, and maybe, as an afterthought, be “fair” without demonstrating any softness with lawbreakers. This constituency, which rarely encounters a lawman except in the form of a traffic cop, prizes efficiency. The other constituency, including the 30 percent of the population living in the sprawling Negro ghettos and Latin barrios, shares some of the same anxieties about personal safety. However, with the memories of those August nights burned indelibly in their minds, these very copwise people feel themselves threatened not only by criminals but by the police themselves.

To satisfy the first constituency, Reddin primarily had only to demonstrate that the department was prepared for all contingencies that might conceivably ruffle the near-suburban scene, whether another Watts riot or multiplying home burglaries. These problems yielded quickly to technological and tactical solutions, for which Reddin had clear precedents and guidelines; and the solid citizens meeting their affable chief at luncheons or seeing him on TV were pleased with his promptness and apparent dedication.

Thus, today’s basic anti-riot formula, which calls for superior speed and large-scale infusions of manpower into troubled areas, is designed as much to soothe uptight WASP’s as to contain violence. “It’s a beautiful plan,” Reddin says, “because the police response is carefully calibrated to the size of the disturbance, always enough to smother the trouble quickly without igniting the rest of the community.” In line with other Kerner Commission findings, the department provides three-day review sessions in riot prevention and control for its officers, determinedly recruits Negroes and MexicanAmericans for the force, and operates a $25,000 armored trailer which serves as a mobile command post. In every technical respect, the LAPD is riotready.

As for fighting “crime in the streets” (a shibboleth the usually restrained Reddin uses nonetheless) , the chief has begun to apply scientific and technological tools which will make the force as mechanized as anything Ian Fleming ever dreamt of. Already, thanks to a computer bank financed by a $450,000 federal grant, the time for checking prisoners’ records has been cut from twelve hours to thirty minutes, and the prior arrests of motorists stopped for traffic violations are ready in about sixty seconds. Police missions have been defined so that two years of crime statistics can be fed into a computer that will print out the optimum deployment of manpower. Within a couple of years, computers will not only pinpoint crime target areas but also automatically assign patrols when and where they are needed, making possible what Reddin calls “instant cop”—an officer at the scene of a call minutes after it’s made. Hipped on technology, Reddin wants gadgets that will permit officers to see in the dark, frisk suspects without touching them, and halt speeding automobiles without firing a shot.

The Blackstone Rangers and the Chicago Police

Few uniformed policemen walk the streets in the Woodlawn area. Those who do are black. Most white policemen drive through the area in cars, usually accompanied by a black officer. Most of the policemen in the area seem to be young. They are, for the most part, polite and a little cold. Only rarely does one notice a parked patrol car with two hard-faced white officers in the front seat and the barrel of a shotgun framed in the window between them. Only then does one remember the tension which is supposed to exist between the police and the black community. It is present, but it is not racial; at least not in the traditional, blackwhite, sense of the word.

Black people, if Blackstone Rangers can be called representative of black people, feel a tension between black policemen and themselves. It is a feeling of mistrust, of discomfort. Rangers do not seem to be under continual harassment from the police, but it is a fair assumption that they, or at least their leaders, are being watched by other blacks. If one sits too long in a restaurant with a Ranger of any status within the organization, one eventually becomes aware of another black sitting in the next booth, sipping an eternal cup of coflee. Perhaps he is merely enjoying his coffee, taking his time over it; perhaps he is a plainclothesman on the job. In any case, Rangers find it more relaxing to converse inside the Center or in one of their other meeting places.

“It shouldn’t be called the [Chicago Police] Gang Intelligence Unit,”says Mickey Cogwell, a Ranger leader. “It should be called the Gang Stupid Unit because they are so stupid. If they really wanted to get us, they would wait until we commit crimes and then arrest us. Instead, they try to stop us from doing anything.”

I asked Mickey Cogwell if the Rangers would like to patrol their neighborhoods as a kind of community police force similar, in some respects, to the Black Panthers on the West Coast. Cogwell said that there is quite a difference between the power structure on the West Coast and the power structure in Chicago. “Mayor Daley is the most powerful man in America,” he says. “He can tell the President what to do. On the Coast the Panthers can ride around in cars with guns, but not here. Mayor Daley is a powerful cat, very powerful. And dangerous, very dangerous.”

—From the first inside report on Chicago’s controversial Blackstone Rangers: to its critics, a corrupt gang; to its supporters, a ghetto welfare organization. By James Alan McPherson. Coming soon in the ATLANTIC.

In his conception of law enforcement, computerization and gadgetry are not ends in themselves but will tree officers to get at the real task of policing: knowing the people. That may well be; in the meantime, his willingness to experiment along these lines and his skill at grantsmanship, unlike more humdrum administrative changes, have convinced the middle class that the force is on the move and criminals had better beware. Technology, too, if applied correctly, becomes effective community relations. In great sections of the city today, citizens carry on serene in the knowledge that Tom Reddin is out chasing crooks with computers.

The chief’s other constituents, those who live in the ghettos and barrios which today make up the sou tit and east ends of the city, are less easily appeased. Long-standing enmities, nurtured under Parker, have scarcely been altered by the same tactics and promises that have worked so well with the middle class. The poor, who come into contact with the cops every day, are aware as the WASP’s are not that the realities of the streets do not yet resemble Dragnet’s well-made little dramas.

On paper, however, the community relations program is flawless. And Reddin, a perfectly sincere and thoroughly devoted policeman, does his best to make it work with the poor. Again anticipating the Kerner Commission, the chief soon after his installation set out to re-establish “positive contacts with the people, a task Parker (“we are not sociologists”) neglected during his sixteen-year tenure. “We found out as a result of that little training exercise in 1965 that we had completely lost touch with the public we were attempting to serve,” Reddin recalled recently. “Our men were faceless badges behind the windshields of patrol cars, and the only time they ever talked with citizens, especially Negroes, was when they were writing citations and making arrests.”

A THICK blue-bound manual describes the programs created in the last two years: athletic leagues and camping trips for the children; Teen Posts, police-youth councils, and Explorer posts for teenagers; a federally financed program to hire young ex-convicts as “community liaison aides.”The community relations staff has been enlarged from 3 officers to 120 and dispatched to each of the 17 divisions with instructions to organize community councils that include the militant cop-haters as well as the usual cop-sympathizers. Reddin sits in on some of these meetings and welcomes the most militant, who usually disdain the councils, to private sessions in his office.

On a more formal level, he has decentralized the functions of the department to give the local divisions more autonomy and, it is hoped, a less starchy and inaccessible character. As a means of personalizing and stabilizing the force, Reddin has also reversed an ancient department policy that rotated assignments around the city and around the clock every six months. “I wanted the people in the neighborhood to identify certain patrolmen as their policemen and get the same man on the phone every time they called the station,” he explained. The most popular innovation so far, however, has been the simplest. Reddin merely revived an old institution that was rapidly approaching extinction in motorized Los Angeles: the cop on the beat. He took more than forty men out of prowl cars and set them to pounding the pavements in high-crime and high-density areas.

The response to Reddin’s first overtures was cautious but favorable. The youth programs were well subscribed, and minority businessmen and housewives, those most aware of daytime street activity, liked the cops on the beat. The citizens’ councils, begun with such hopes, quickly deteriorated as participation fell and only the confirmed cop-symps remained. Despite their failings, the councils had the chief’s ear, and he implemented several of their recommendations: officers are now required to wear breast-pocket nameplates and carry business cards; warnings instead of expensive citations are given for automobile equipment violations; the bitterly resented and dehumanizing “roust-frisks” (in which suspects are stopped and searched with their hands held high) have been “de-emphasized,” though not eliminated.

But community councils, handouts, and TV programs could not in the end remove the most formidable obstacle to winning the trust of the ghetto: the whole long sordid history of police-minority relations. “Talking out problems” and “getting to know each other” are essentially middle-class solutions to problems; but ghetto people, especially the angry young men who were Reddin’s special targets, are suspicious of such modi operandi and do not ordinarily even go to meetings. In the ghettos, the councils which worked well elsewhere became incestuous. At a recent city-council inquiry into a police-Black Panther shoot-out, the star witness for the LAPD was an elderly Watts resident, a citizens’ council stalwart, who is notorious for her antipathy to her neighbors. She appeared at the behest of “my lieutenant,” as she called the community relations officer who escorted her downtown.

What most poor black and Latin people (even those who liked Reddin otherwise) were waiting for was a sign that the attitudes and actions of the lowdy patrolmen had been reformed. The chief, to his credit, was well aware of the need for reforms at the street level; but the patrolmen’s behavior was the one thing Reddin could not control. He struggled manfully to sell his ideas to the line officers, many of whom resented the innocuous concessions that had come out of the community councils; he tried to convince them that the community relations program was not just window dressing but would make their job easier. The chief circulated throughout the department, visited division roll calls, summoned command-level officers to weekend conferences at a mountain resort (where they engaged in activities that looked suspiciously like sensitivity training and enraged the Birchers), and called patrolmen into his office for biweekly meetings. Twice a month, the troops got a newsletter from the boss, with a one-paragraph message. One typical caveat: “Don’t blow your cool and be the one who starts an incident. One man who allows his bigotry to enter into a police decision can do more damage than a hundred men can do good.”

But the patrolmen are tough customers. Community relations strikes many of them as softness, which is antithetical to their self-image. Practically all resent Reddin’s conferences with militants and consider his negotiations with the enemy (read “Negro troublemakers”) tantamount to treason. When dissension appears in the ranks, Reddin has only the most negative means for setting things right: he can transfer the known bigots out of trouble spots, which he does; he can discipline those who are openly insubordinate or demonstrate “conduct unbecoming a policeman.”But for the majority of patrolmen who are hostile to change but who never make any overt gesture of rebellion, there exist no specific sanctions. (What could be done, for example, to those officers who last April, on the day of Martin Luther King’s funeral, disobeyed a Reddin directive to turn on the headlights of their patrol cars?) And no one has yet to find an adequate reward for the man who displays positive attitudes, except to promote him—right out of the patrol division, where he obviously belongs.

If balky patrolmen represent one aspect of police operations which Reddin apparently cannot reform, there is another aspect, even more fundamental, that he will not reform, though doing so might be the one demonstration of sincerity that would win over minority groups.

This is the old bugbear, the department’s internal disciplinary procedures. Reddin claims he cannot alter the basic disciplinary pattern so as to allow more civilian participation without “completely losing control of the force.”To compensate, he has tried to give some appearance of equity by juggling personnel and renaming administrative positions; an inspector (with a large staff) outside the chain of command is empowered to investigate all complaints against the force. To the layman, however, the inspector’s place on the organizational chart scarcely matters; few minoritygroup members who have had experience with the system consider it just. In an attempt to discredit the complaint procedures, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a $600,000 suit against Reddin on behalf of the city’s Negroes and Mexican-Americans. The ACLU’s purported goal is a civilian review board, though spokesmen admit in private they would settle for open hearings on complaints. On this, Reddin is immovable. “Maybe we will never reach the point with our critics that they trust the system,”he says philosophically. “We just have to rely on the fact that we know we’re strictly disciplined.”

Because he is unable to provide the more meaningful reforms the poor would prefer—changes that might bring about a “partnership between the police and the total community"—Reddin has settled for a peacekeeping function in these neighborhoods, which at least keeps the middle class happy. Lacking the same kind of citizen support the chief has been able to generate in better-off sections of town, this is a very fragile peace indeed. Once this past summer (at a festival organized, ironically enough, to celebrate the third “peaceful" anniversary of the 1965 riots) , Watts threatened to blow up again. Ignited by the arrest of a woman on a drunk charge and fanned by the almost instantaneous arrival of dozens of patrol cars, violence spread throughout Watts and left three Negroes dead (through circumstances the coroner was unable to establish). The police, wearing riot helmets, patrolled the south end for two days afterward; the militants, who claimed Reddin’s “overreaction" had caused the trouble, broke off diplomatic relations with the chief and have not resumed them. Negro City Councilman Thomas Bradley, a former police lieutenant, estimated the community relations program was set back six months to a year.

AFTER TWO years on the job, Reddin has no sure way of judging his accomplishments or the effectiveness of the community relations concept. The statistics show mixed returns: the force, for the first time in years, is growing steadily, and the percentage of Negro and Mexican-American officers has climbed by one percentage point; crime is up (but not as high as the national average), assaults on officers down, complaints up (“Does that mean the public trusts us?" Deputy Chief Fisk asks hopefully) . All this might have happened had there been no community relations, of course.

To an outsider, it appears that speechmaking and the media blitz have paid off with at least one constituency, the middle class. Reddin’s genial salesmanship has aroused excitement within the upper echelon of his department, charmed the ladies, and disarmed the businessmen who go to luncheons. Los Angeles is once again proud of its police force, so much so that Reddin has obviously considered moving into politics; his assistants have quietly felt out potential donors to finance a mayoralty campaign.

But in the ghetto, there is only the flimsiest police-citizen detente. Patrol cars are relatively safe on the streets of Watts, an achievement which police chiefs in other cities might envy although it falls far short ot Reddin’s goals; Negro children wave at passing cops. That these are the only tangible achievements of two years of determined salesmanship (and, to be fair, hard work) demonstrates the limitations of the community relations concept as it is applied to the poor. The LAPD is, after all, a law enforcement agency, and one with pride in its efficiency, the very characteristic that will always mitigate against its acceptance in the ghetto. Aggressive law enforcement practice, which is the normal expectation of the public and the normal mode of operation for police chiefs, requires, for example, that Reddin deploy the greatest concentration of men in high-crime areas. Doing that, he guarantees that if his men are normally zealous, those areas will remain high-crime areas. So it is in Watts, where the people being policed (through no fault of their own and no fault of the police either) end up with a disproportionate number of arrests and an insoluble residue of resentment.

Reddin cannot abandon these practices, no matter how they impede real progress in the ghetto, as long as he wants to retain the support of the middle class and the loyalty of his own officers; that is to say, as long as he wants to remain the Los Angeles chief of police. That he is unwilling to give up his job is certainly no reflection on his character or sincerity. As police chiefs go, he deserves the reputation he has gained through his energy, his relative openness, and his undoctrinaire approach to problems. His tragedy is that like other top police administrators he is held accountable for matters over which he has no control. He cannot hope to make community relations compensate for a do-nothing mayor who is essentially apathetic about the problems of the poor, a governor whose solution to social problems is to cut budgets, and a business community that has not yet become attuned to the idea of black capitalism.

Some of Reddin’s most sympathetic observers are the black militants themselves, which would surprise him. “Hell,” said one, making an observation that would do credit to the best criminologist, “you can’t blame Reddin. One man can’t change an institution. The way I look at it, cops is cops.”