Will LAPDâ€™s New Chief Be About Ghosts or Glory?
Â Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s choice to head the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is as true blue as they come. (This has both positive and negative implications.) Charlie Beck’s father was a deputy chief, his daughter and son are on the force and his sister is a retired LAPD officer. Beck’s wife is a retired L.A. County deputy sheriff.
Accolades poured in following Charlie Beck’s selection and the City Council will likely approve the appointment. The media stressed the diversity of Beck’s supporters who ranged from rank-and-file cops and the arch conservative Police Protective League, to “civil rights advocates.” Attorney Connie Rice, who is also an oft-quoted pundit on LAPD, calls Beck “the right choice for the time.” She says the African American electorate is different now and feels that in the recent past there would have been protests if a Black had not been one of the finalists for Bratton’s job.
According to City Council President Eric Garcetti, “Charlie has as many deep roots and connections in the African American community as any Black candidate for chief would have.” This is preposterous as related to his roots. It’s like claiming Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, who is Black, has as many deep roots in the Latino or Slavic communities as any Latino or Slavic candidate would have. Mayor Villaraigosa describes Beck as “a conservative when it comes to criminals and a progressive in his policing.”
Beck’s own statements offer some insight into his thinking. He says, “I know the ghosts and glory of this police department’s past………There were failures….We did not rise up to our ability and did not do what we should have done in some instances….Those were the ghosts. The glory of the department is reflected in my father’s leadership and his ability to work with people and understand community policing before it was popular.”
Beck differs from Bratton on some important issues and says, unlike Bratton, he intends to make change from the bottom up. He says his “Wheel House” is much more about the rank-and-file and that his positions are more an evolution than a revolution and describes himself as “more a cop’s chief” than a leader-manager.
The Chief Designate plans to give more authority to captains-control now rests with commanders and at headquarters. He also says that by controlling gang violence “L.A. can be the safest city in the nation.” (This is certainly laudable, but arguably, a simplistic assertion.) Perhaps Charlie Beck’s most progressive, and most surprising contention, is that LAPD’s culture, not the chief’s, is the ultimate authority.
According to Beck, transparency is of utmost importance. (Bratton professed but supported it half-heartedly, at best.) He indicates that he will be more assertive than his predecessors in supporting legislation to restore the public’s right to know the names of officers involved in shootings-and other disciplinary hearings. He also has a personal commitment to the reforms required under the city’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. Because of his role in rehabilitating the Rampart Division and stints in South Central Los Angeles, Beck is said to have strong backing from civil rights activists and leaders of the African-American, Latino and immigrant communities. This might be an exaggeration.
Continuing challenges in predominantly Black and Latino areas-this is most of the city-will not only test Beck’s mettle, but his progressive reformist reputation. Racial profiling by LAPD was part of the consent decree, but is among the unresolved problems to be dealt with during the transition period mandated by the federal court. (Bratton claimed that racial profiling no longer existed in LAPD. Yet, over the past five years, of the hundreds of complaints alleging racial profiling, not one was sustained!) Remember, racial profiling is likely the most frequent complaint against LAPD by Blacks and Latinos and how Beck deals with this issue will be instructive.
Trust is the bottom line, the key ingredient in police-community relations. To date, LAPD officers and colored people, especially in the city’s high-crime areas, have yet to develop reciprocal trust. Beck may have been the most likely candidate to push for actual reform, but it is a nearly indescribably difficult task.
LAPD, like all other law enforcement agencies, is a paramilitary organization and intuitively resists change. Hopefully, Beck’s progressive proclivities will make a dent in the department’s firmly embedded “us vs. them” ethos. Everyone is affected, directly or indirectly, by LAPD’s values, policies and practices that thus far, have neither well served nor protected LA’s communities of color.
So, under Charlie Beck, will the future be mostly ghosts or glory?
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.