What the Choice of a New Chief Says About the Past, Present and Future of the LAPD
Los Angeles Downtown News
By Jon Regardie
July 7, 2018
DTLA – There are times when the changing of a Los Angeles police chief prompts the city to re-examine its relationship with law enforcement. In these instances the hiring of a new top cop propels widespread discussion about equality and justice, and the selection inspires introspection about not only what kind of police force the city needs, but even what matters to the city.
This is not one of those times.
On Wednesday, June 27, Charlie Beck retired after 40 years in the LAPD and more than eight years in the chief’s suite. He has been succeeded by Michel Moore, for whom many people’s biggest question might be, “Would you like to buy a vowel so you can put an ‘a’ in Michael?”
I’m not making fun of Moore or of spelling in general. Rather, I’m pointing out that the shift from one chief with decades of local experience to another chief with decades of local experience is the most seamless LAPD transition in generations. There was never any serious consideration given to bringing in an “outsider” who would cleanse the culture.
It hasn’t always been this way. Consider how the resignation of cataclysmic Chief Daryl Gates in 1992 came after a chunk of the city burned in the Rodney King riots; the decision to hire former Philadelphia top cop Willie Williams was an attempt to rip out and re-weave the fabric of the department (it was a disaster, but that was definitely about Williams).
The arrival of William Bratton in 2002 (succeeding Bernard Parks) was equally seismic, though at the opposite end of the spectrum: His tenure came to be interpreted as the L.A. police equivalent of a massive spring cleaning. Beck and now Moore continue Bratton’s approach.
Moore was a finalist for the chief’s job back in 2009, and he has long been near the top of the LAPD chain of command. The general mood is, things have been pretty good in the department for a while. Let’s keep it that way.
It’s an unspectacular civic mindset that underplays the spectacular change that is afoot. Mayors come and go in eight years, or less if they lose an election or win the presidency. A police chief can lead the city’s most important department for a full decade, and his (and one day her) policies impact the most meaningful and/or frightening encounter an Angeleno may ever have with a representative of the city.
Put it all together and that makes last Wednesday both milquetoast and magnificent. We’ve just witnessed a changing of the guard, and only time will tell where the new guard will go.
Varied Skill Set
Chief of Police is a weird job that demands an incomparable skill set. Actual law enforcement credentials are only the start. You need supreme management chops and the ability to wrestle with an approximately $1.4 billion budget that’s as easy to handle as a giant greased squid.
You also need ample political skills; a chief has to please the mayor who hired him and likely the next mayor as well. There are council members with big egos who know little about policing but think they know a lot. Then there are the demands from the public and the media, not to mention a powerful union in the Police Protective League.
Success requires understanding where the greater culture is going and when to take bold moves — history will reward Beck for being at the forefront of putting body cameras on officers (give loads of credit to the Police Commission, too, though everyone will forget that in a few years).
In the arc of LAPD history, Beck’s tenure has been relatively sunny, though with occasional dark storm clouds. Bratton had initiated a reform agenda, and had plucked out most of the officers who didn’t get with the program. Beck continued that approach and helped build a department that, in terms of diversity, looks more like the city it patrols. He made inroads into minority communities and worked hard to help those neighborhoods build trust with a department that, in the Gates era, was often viewed (and experienced) as a paramilitary force.
Beck also vociferously opposed using the LAPD as an agent of immigration enforcement, despite the Trumpian thunder pounding out of Washington, D.C.
Crime goes in cycles, and the Bratton-to-Beck era saw a steep drop, allowing city leaders to proclaim that Los Angeles was safer than it had been in decades. When crime spiked in 2015 and continued rising, Beck deployed officers from the elite Metro unit to problem areas, and by the middle of last year the situation had stabilized. He goes out with violent crime down 2.7% from last year.
This doesn’t mean everything was perfectly peachy. As homelessness has worsened cops are frequently cast as the first responders, which is utterly ridiculous. The person who figures out how to effectively deploy an army of social workers and outreach staff, and thus lets police concentrate on law and order matters, will win some sort of Nobel Prize.
Additionally, like many police forces across the nation, the LAPD was involved in some deeply controversial shootings of African-American men, including the killing of Ezell Ford in South Los Angeles in 2014, and the death of Charly “Africa” Keunang in Skid Row in 2015. The organization Black Lives Matter has long lambasted Beck and the department for these and other incidents.
Then there was last year’s wackadoodle LAPD Cadet Program scandal, in which teenagers were, uh, borrowing, and sometimes crashing, patrol cars. There was even a 2014 kerfuffle involving Beck’s daughter Brandi Pearson selling a horse named George to the department, pocketing $6,000.
Still, none of this capsized the chief, and though Beck lacked the media charm of his predecessor Bratton, he generally projected steady confidence and consistency, and maintained strong ties with Garcetti and other city brass. Though the homelessness crisis has raised concerns, people generally feel safe in L.A.
Job Like No Other
What will Moore bring? That’s what everyone is waiting to find out.
By nearly all accounts he’s super intelligent and a potential visionary; people who follow this stuff say he can see the forest, the trees, and the little blue bird sitting on a branch. Moore long helmed the LAPD’s weekly Compstat meetings, which, to oversimplify, uses a smarty pants computer program to identify crime hot spots and how to respond. It’s the ultimate police accountability tool, and thus it’s no surprise that he appealed to Garcetti, a metrics aficionado who chose Moore from three accomplished finalists.
Moore will face heated moments. This is the era, after all, where nearly everyone has a smart phone and a social media application like Twitter, MySpace or Facebook (I may have one of those wrong). It’s a certainty that some LAPD officer will do something controversial and video will spread like wildfire. When it does everyone will watch to see how the new chief responds.
The job is never easy. The LAPD claims over 10,000 sworn officers and more than 3,000 “civilian” workers, and any stupid thing that any of them does can reverberate. Additionally, a lot of people expect the economy to tank in the near future, and when it does and city departments need to cut back, LAPD overtime will be scrutinized.
Moore has 36 years in the LAPD and was most recently director of operations. His resume details nearly everything you could think of, including that he is a director of the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union. So if you need a loan for a Jetta, he’s your guy.
Car cash aside, Moore is now in a job that has challenged everyone who has held it, and felled a few. No previous experience can quite prepare him for what lies ahead.
Los Angeles is watching.
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