LOS ANGELES — Willie Williams passed his first major test as Los Angeles police chief by deploying 300 officers quickly to quell last week's melee at the flash point of the city's spring riots, city leaders say.
Most politicians and community leaders say the Dec. 14 deployment to the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues was an appropriate response and may even have spared the city another riot.
"It was a very effective operation, very concise and well-organized," said Jesse Brewer, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, a civilian oversight panel, and a former police department deputy chief.
The episode also revealed much about the new chief's management style. Cool, calm, and restrained in his public demeanor, Mr. Williams showed he is very different from his combative and quotable predecessor, Daryl Gates.
But the aggressive action showed Williams can be every bit as tough as Mr. Gates, who was roundly criticized for the slow police response to the rioting that followed the acquittal of four white police officers in the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King. He retired in June after 14 years as chief.
Now a radio talk-show host, Gates praised Williams's actions. But he said the people praising the new chief would have lambasted Gates as out of control if he had taken the same steps.
Not everyone had kind words for Williams. Protesters at the demonstration that led to the disturbance said police overreacted and provoked the crowd into violence. Demonstrator B. Kwaku Duren said Williams is no more than "a black Daryl Gates." But such comments were the exception.
"It had professionalism. It had justification," said the Rev. Cecil L. Murray, senior minister at the First African Methodist Episcopalian Church in South Los Angeles.
The melee started during a demonstration in support of defendants in the April 29 beating of Reginald Denny. The trucker was attacked at Florence and Normandie at the onset of the riots.
Police arrested 55 people for offenses ranging from failure to disperse to assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon. Twelve people suffered minor injuries. But the violence never spread beyond the intersection and within hours the area was calm.