LAPD Chief Charlie Beck –Photo Credit: Malcolm Ali
Chief’s staff (L to R) Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, Mary Grady, Public Information Officer; the Chief; Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon
–Photo Credit: Malcolm Ali
According to Chief Beck, he wants his legacy to reflect an LAPD that worked well with the community, especially the Black community because that has not always happened in the past.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
The Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) motto is ‘to Protect and to Serve’ however, the essence of its service has not always been equally or adequately distributed throughout the city–particularly in the Black community. That there had been a need for an association to address problems confronting Black officers primarily (the Oscar Bryant Foundation), says that all was not well “on the home front.” However, there has been substantial progress over the years, and much of it has been directly related to department’s leadership, particularly the chief. (In addition to two African American chiefs, there have been the federal consent decree, some African American commissioners and other departmental mechanisms that have caused the LAPD to become a “kinder and gentler” department, more responsive and reflective of the Black community it serves).
To better understand the present workings of the LAPD, the Los Angeles Sentinel’s editorial board spoke with the current chief, Charlie Beck, along with some members of his command staff–Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon and Public Information Officer Mary Grady. The chief spoke frankly to members of the Sentinel’s editorial board about the challenges and constraints of the department, his tenure thus far, and some of his goals and objectives in his vision of making the LAPD the best police department that it can be.
In becoming chief of one of the nation’s premier police departments, Beck explained, “It’s what I expected with some differences … luckily I was brought up in the organization working for a lot of our chiefs, I got to see them and what they dealt with. We had a lot of tragedy last year, personal tragedies within the organization: two officers killed in Afghanistan, two officers killed in traffic accidents, five officers died of cancer. And when you are chief, you work with the families.” That showed the human side of Beck as the leader/father figure toward his officers and by extension, how he considers the department as part of one big family.
However, the real police work comes in dealing with the public … the community … those whom the department are sworn to protect and to serve.
Delving into a question about the consent decree, the chief said, “There has been a huge effect since the consent decree has been negotiated and went into effect; many of the processes have been changed because of that.
We are now in a transition period out of the consent decree; we have four avenues that we have to fulfill pending the transition out of the consent decree. So we are working with the federal government and the police commission on that. And I think the consent decree has made us a better police department.”
As a commanding officer, Chief Beck had a reputation of forming community alliances and putting a human face on the department. According to sources, he “cleaned up” the Rampart Division in the wake of the corruption scandal and he believes that paying for good policing is a good economic investment.
In responding to women in the police and specifically African American women, Beck said, “First of all, there’s no job in the police department that women do not hold except mines … that women have not earned their spot. They hold every rank and do everything that every other Los Angeles police officer does: captain, commander, deputy chief and so on. I think that’s the important thing and they also make up just about 20 percent of our workforce, which is larger than any other major metropolitan department that I know. Women can do anything that their male counterparts can do. As chief, I got the opportunity to promote the first African American commander. ”
In a lighter moment, Beck stated that he played basketball–an interest that he seems to share with young African Americans in the community … and some of his command staff, according to Gannon.
When the conversation switched to diversity, Chief Beck was very specific about his role in making sure that the department’s makeup was consistent with the community notwithstanding, he himself has seen to it that diversity is not just an empty slogan but rather a departmental policy and practice. He said, “First of all I’ve spent my whole career in some of our most diverse communities …the most diverse areas of our community.
Furthermore, I think that good policing … good constitutional policing does more for those who need the police more than anybody else. I love being a police officer and policing is important for everybody.”
Another area covered was the budgetary challenges that are facing governmental agencies throughout the state, and indeed the nation, and the possible effects those fiscal shortages may have on the department particularly in the Black communities. “We’re in the middle of our fiscal planning; so let me tell you what’ll happen this (fiscal) year so that we can predict what’ll happen next (fiscal) year. This year we stopped paying over time; in order to cut our budget by over $8 million, we went to a compensatory time-off system.”
In addition to the budgetary woes and the lessening of funding from Sacramento, it seem most important to look for creative ways to do more with less. “Because of these (fiscal) challenges, the importance of community outreach, and also making sure that we have community relationships and that we sustain those relationships,” Gannon chimed, ” for as the old folks used to say, it took more than a hammer and a nail to make a house (into) a home.”
Paysinger talked about the bicycle officers as one of the ways to get a closer working relationship between the community and the department saying, “Police officers enjoy it (riding the bikes) themselves because it frees them from what I call the circumference of the police cars. There is much greater interaction … much greater support and relationship building than in the police cars.”
Then programs for the young people in the community … in the schools, in the playgrounds … became the instant topic. This was buttressed by rumors, innuendoes and some facts that many young people–especially African Americans–seem to be afraid when they come in contact with the police. The chief said, “We have five magnet schools for those interested in law enforcement; we have the largest cadet program (we changed the name from explorer to cadet) that we ever had in all of our history; we have our athletic league in almost every station; we have boot-camps and a robust system of youth programs.
“I cannot do as much as we would like–we are a police department and a school is a school, and a lot of that falls to the school and after-school programs.
There have been many studies that were done as a result of “bumps in the road” in the community police relationship. One recent Harvard study stated, “The recent history of policing in Los Angeles demonstrates that respecting rights and reducing crime can be achieved together, and the community looks forward to Chief Beck to continue on that path.
The Sentinel has asked members of the community for their input as to the status of the LAPD and its progress or lack thereof under the leadership of Chief Beck.
Rev. Cecil Murray, former pastor of First AME Church and currently professor of religion at USC said, “he is a 21st century police chief; he is professional; he is multi-cultural; he is communicative in all areas of our society; and he has an ear that is opened to wisdom.”
Willis Edwards, community activist and member of the NAACP national board said, “He started off to be a great police chief; he is a person who’s including all human beings in discussions about what’s best for the police department. I’m very proud of his outreach and hope that we can continue a great relationship.”
Nicole Bershon is the current inspector general who oversees the police officers. She said, “One of the complaints of the consent decree is how LAPD handles racial profiling. One of the things about the chief is that he has the first specialized units dedicated solely to investigating racial profiling. And they have increased the quality of the investigations and Charlie Beck has reaffirmed his commitment that every police officer in a constitutional way and not use race, and other protected props as the sole reason to stop somebody.”
The editorial board consisted of Attorney Eulanda Matthew of Ivie McNeill & Wyatt; Ron Green, P.A.C chairman AFSCME Local 3634; Denise Hunter, president of FAME corporation; Sam Richard, Associated editor of L.A. Watts Times; Joy Childs, Sentinel contributing writer; and the editor of the Sentinel.