BORN FOR IT: Captain Paul A. Snell, a graduate of Jefferson High School and Occidental College in Los Angeles, is one of two captains at LAPD Southwest Division. (Brian Carter for Sentinel)
COMMANDER IN BLUE: LAPD Commander William Scott grew up on an army base and moved around a lot in his youth. The family eventually settled in Alabama. Scott grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, but he always wanted to become a policeman. (Brian Carter for Sentinel)
Is the Los Angeles Police Department changing for the better? The long and strained relationships between the department and the Black community is perhaps improving dramatically with the promotions of African Americans within the LAPD.
It’s a relationship that dates back to the notorious years of Chief Daryl Gates and throughout his many predecessors, but under the leadership of Chief Charlie Beck the LAPD has made improving history relations within the Black community a top priority.
And example of Beck’s new vision for the men and women who are sworn to protect and serve Los Angeles is two of the departments high-ranking African Americans.
Captain Paul A. Snell and Commander William Scott have steadfastly committed to improve the LAPD’s perception and relationship with the Black community.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Snell is a graduate of Jefferson High School and Occidental College. L.A. has been his stomping grounds all his life so he feels a sense of responsibility to the South L.A. area.
“I’ve had the opportunity to serve this community for my entire career,” said Snell. “I’ll have 30 years next year on LAPD.
“Thirty years of serving this community throughout a number of areas. In fact, when I made lieutenant, I went back to the area I grew up in and was able to serve that community.
“I am 110 percent dedicated to continue to serve this community to my last day on this department.”
Snell is one of two captains assigned to Southwest Division. He is the Area Captain and is responsible for the entire command, which entails running a department of over 400 people.
“It’s essentially running a small police department,” said Snell. “I run that entire command.
“I responsible for all decisions… that impact that particular command.”
An army brat, Scott grew up on an army base and moved around a lot in his youth. The family eventually settled in Alabama. Scott grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and attended the university of Alabama.
“I always wanted to be in a service type of job, career whether it was military or law enforcement,” said Scott.
A cousin in the LAPD turned Scott on to the idea of being a police officer in Los Angeles. He applied for LAPD and made his way to Los Angeles.
“It’s been everything I thought it would be,” said Scott. “I’ve always felt good about what I do, you’re helping people and it’s a very rewarding career.”
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, tensions between police and communities were raised nationally. In the South L.A. area, many saw the need to become rebellious and reckless in the anger over the ruling. Snell shared the LAPD’s intentions during this time and the overall protocol they take in these kinds of situations.
“Historically, we’ve built up trying to do better,” said Snell. “LAPD is constantly trying to improve upon how we serve the community.”
“What we did after the Trayvon Martin verdict is consistent with that.
“In preparation for this particular event, although I will admit, it was a surprise to us that the verdict came down when it did, we expected to come down on Monday, it came down sooner however, having said that, I think that the preparations in advance helped dictate how we were going to police that event.
“The primary purpose for that event, I called all my supervisors in once the verdict came down, I was actually at Leimert Park—I knew that would be a point where the community would come to express its first amendment rights.
“The primary thing that we [LAPD] wanted to do was make sure we respected the opportunity for everyone to exercise their constitutional rights and I made it a point for me to go out there and be on scene from the inception throughout the entire event.”
“The over-arching philosophy of the department, so many things goes into that… including dialogue with our officers, that our officers understand how people feel and how they may express themselves.”
“There is a point, from a law enforcement perspective, we have to maintain public safety,” said Scott. “When it gets beyond expressing first amendment rights and infringing on others, then we have to take some type of action but the restraint that we use and the understanding that we need our officers to do their jobs but do it in a way that the community will accept.”
Both Snell and Scott agree that bridges continuously need to be built between LAPD and the community. The officers vouch that LAPD want and need the communities help to be even more effective in their jobs.
“We cannot forget the [community] because that’s what this is all about,” said Snell. “This is about taking care of this community and the importance of having a community involved in trying to work with us and making sure they respect and trust us.”
One of those ways in which LAPD is engaging the community is by connecting with youth. They are many programs throughout LAUSD that participate in these kinds of meetings. Scott agrees that the best way to mend the abrasions between LAPD and the community is through conversation.
“I’ve visited schools and I’ve talked to a lot kids in the community throughout the city,” said Scott. “ For a lot of those kids it’s the first non-threatening, non-hostile contact that they’ve had with a police officer.
“We’ve got to do more of that whether it be through youth programs or just getting out and outreaching—just having conversations with people so they understand that we’re just people.
“I want them to see me first as a person—I’m no different from you, no different from your father, no different than your mother, this just happens to be what I do for a living. Once you get there and they understand I’m just a man… just like you are, then you can start having conversations about law enforcement.
They got to see you as a person first… if they can see me as a person then we can get through a lot of this stuff.”
Scott talked about addressing gang violence and in particular, how to address and handle the families affected by it.
“You still have to, when somebody murders somebody… shoots somebody or shoots at somebody, you still have to go out and solve the crime,” said Scott, “and get that person and let them face the criminal justice system.”
“However with gang violence, there is so much that goes into the approach that we need to make a difference.” Scott implored that it’s going to take everybody’s involvement, from the LAPD to the community, to work towards better solutions to this problem.
“We’re trying to be a leader and bring everybody in.”
He spoke on the idea of taking care of families who are affected by the arrest of a loved one and how LAPD is working towards being more considerate. He said it’s about making sure the family understands that it isn’t personal when the knock and warrant comes at the door but about justice.
“Let’s not forget that these young men [are] somebody’s brother, dad, son, cousin, friend in this community,” said Scott. “What do we do for those folks now that their lives are in an uproar?
“We got to not just think about it from a law enforcement perspective and… we are there. We’re not just thinking about making an arrest and leaving these people in dust.
“It hasn’t always been that way where officers understood, the sixteen-year old girl, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning, we don’t want her out in her pajamas, standing in the cold—let’s take care of that person. That’s not who we’re here for.
“That mindset goes a long way in changing how we approach the families because it’s more than just the gang member.”
When it comes to police officers who act above the law, both Scott and Snell agree, it has an affect on all LAPD. They don’t condone officers who forget their oath and act against the law but remind us that there are still good police officers in LAPD.
“We are just as embarrassed when we have some cop get out there and do something horrible,” said Snell. “It’s embarrassing to us to when you have good men and women, out there, everyday, trying to make a real difference.
“There are some excellent [police officers] out there but there are some bad ones too. I don’t think those bad ones speak for the good ones.”
It’s about working towards a common goal at the end of the conversation with LAPD. Officers like Snell and Scott are making sure the community stays engage and connect with the men and women who serve their community. It’s a good thing to know we do have good men and women in blue in the streets serving and protecting on our behalf.