*Willie Williams, Los Angeles’ first black police chief, has died.
Williams’ death was confirmed Wednesday (April 27) by the Los Angeles Police Department, The Los Angeles Times reports, adding that it reached a woman in Fayetteville, Georgia who identified herself as Williams’ wife and stated that Williams passed away Tuesday night (April 26) after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.
The woman declined to comment further.
Prior to coming to the LAPD, Williams, who was 72, started his career as a park guard before becoming Philadelphia police commissioner. He generated national exposure as the LAPD chief during a time when the department was under heavy fire for its handling of the riots that took place after the infamous verdict in the Rodney King case back in 1992. Four LAPD officers were acquitted for using excessive force in the arrest and beating of King, which was captured on video. At the time, the city was divided racially over what happened in the case.
Williams ultimately replaced Daryl Gates, whose tenure as chief was marked with criticism for running a department that mistreated minority groups, particularly blacks, in Los Angeles, the Times noted.
As chief, Williams is credited with restoring confidence to the LAPD via a series of reforms he ushered in following the King case. Under his watch, the LAPD grew by 2,000 officers and adopted more “community policing” strategies that were designed to be less confrontational than the methods Gates used.
Despite his accomplishments, Williams faced criticism from what some viewed as weak administrative skills. In addition, Williams’ honesty and competence came under scrutiny, with outside analysts criticizing the LAPD’s management amid suggestions that reform was being hindered by the lack of strong leadership at the top.
Although Williams denied accusations of accepting free accommodations from a Las Vegas casino back in1995, receipts were later uncovered that showed him and his family accepting “comped” rooms on at least five occasions. Williams’ efforts to point out the difference between a “comped” room and a “free” room failed in the end as the Police Commission reprimanded him concluding that he lied. The decision was later overturned by the City Council.
While he sought a second term as chief, Police Commission rejected Williams’ bid in 1997.