Betting on Beck

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

The William Bratton era is officially over at the Los Angeles Police Department. And any day now, the Charlie Beck era will begin.

By LA standards, the process of choosing a new LAPD chief went by so quickly and with so little open political rancor, you could have blinked and missed it.

That's fairly amazing, given the city's history of police relations and identity politics. And so is the apparent consensus behind Mayor Villaraigosa's choice of Charlie Beck.

Cops like him. Liberals and conservatives like him. He has the blessing of civil rights leaders in South L.A., business leaders Downtown, and community groups in the Valley.

I heard someone say Beck is the chief that Central Casting would have sent over – well built, well spoken but not too polished, with a moustache that fits the part.

I'm optimistic about Beck's impact, and here's why.

While Bratton accomplished much in ridding the department of its old Thin Blue Line, us-versus-them mentality, he did so as an outsider.

For all his qualities Bratton was a hired gun, a visitor to L.A. who flew home to New York or Boston regularly.

The shift in culture that Bratton forced on old-liners in the LAPD still needs to become part of the DNA of law enforcement in this city.

There are pockets of resistance, as we saw in the defensiveness of some in the department over the May Day Melee incident in MacArthur Park two years ago.

You see it in the ideological writing of the anonymous cop Jack Dunphy, who criticizes the new LAPD on various right wing websites, and occasionally in the rhetoric from leaders of the police union.

That's where someone like Beck comes in.

He's an LAPD lifer, a product of the old system. Yet he bills himself as a true believer in the Bratton credo that policing has evolved – for the better.

Community based policing and transparency are not going soft on crime – as some old-timers still contend – but in Beck's view are essential to effective crime fighting.

Beck can preach this pragmatic ethic to street officers and SWAT guys because nobody can demonize him as a softie. He has 32 years on the LAPD. His dad was a deputy chief. His sister a detective – the best he ever saw, he said choking up at his debut press conference.

His daughter patrols Hollywood division. His son is about to graduate from the academy. His wife is a retired sheriff's deputy. They could be the first family of LA law enforcement.

Charlie Beck has even been the department's Motocross champion. The new chief has street cred when he tells officers on the front line that we can never go back to the old way.

He talks about good it feels to finally have Los Angeles united on the side of the police. Not just the hardcore law and order crowd, but ordinary people from all parts of the city who suffer when gang and drug violence is out of control.

They also lived with the LAPD when it sometimes seemed to be out of control. And they deeply want to feel proud of their city and its police. What a great asset that can be to the police.

For now I believe that Beck is sincere, and I hope the best for him and his agenda.

There will, inevitably, be flash points where the old culture tries to raise its ugly head. It will take someone like Charlie Beck to make it go away for good.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.