(LOS ANGELES) -- Retired LAPD Det. Donald Benton, a pioneer of anti-gang police work and a mentor to a generation of black officers, threw one last party Saturday to enjoy the company of the men and women with whom he served the city.
Benton is a man who is called a legend by his colleagues. He's a man of strength, they say, the kind of leader who would make patrol officers stand straight and talk straight and who demanded nothing short of excellence.
"Don was a legend for black officers in the department," said Nate Pannell, a retired assistant watch commander. "But just because your skin was the same tone as his didn't mean he'd let you slack off. He insisted that you do your job."
Even in retirement, Benton refused to soften. "You had to stand up straight and act straight when you came to see Det. Benton," he said with pride.
His strength of will was matched by his lean and muscular physique. One track and field record he set in the National Police Olympics in 1970 still stands.
During the backyard barbecue at his Mid-City home, Benton--who retired in 1988 after 25 years--was back in his element, perhaps for the last time.
A month ago doctors told him he has cancer in his spine. This after lung cancer went into remission a year ago and a brain tumor was removed in June.
"There's really nothing they can do," said his wife, Nancy.
At his party, dozens of officers, retired and current, came to say goodbye and talk about the good old days with Benton--a time when cops were called "L.A.'s finest" and headlines reported more on city crime than department scandal.
During the late 1960s and early '70s, a time when racial integration was new and generally resisted by the Los Angeles Police Department, Benton was a role model and mentor to black officers. "I just tried to nudge the young guys along and be someone they could talk to," said Benton.
"You'd be surprised some of the things they needed to talk about."
Lt. Edmund Wilson said Benton's "adamant dedication to doing the right thing" led to his 1980 appointment as the first commander of the South Bureau's anti-gang CRASH unit.
Wilson, who served under Benton, now heads the South Bureau's Special Enforcement Unit, today's equivalent of CRASH.
Benton's philosophy of policing could come right from the pages of the Christopher Commission report on police reforms.
"Police officers have a responsibility to support the community," Benton said. "They are not separate camps."
Police Former Colleagues Shower Praise, Affection On Ailing LAPD Pioneer; Police: Retired Det. Donald Benton Is Known For Groundbreaking Anti-Gang Work And Mentoring Young Black Officers. Oscar Johnson, Times Staff Writer December 3, 2000, Sunday, Home Edition Copyright 2000 / Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times December 3, 2000, Sunday, Home Edition Terms and Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.