Who should be LAPD’s next chief?

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Chief Charlie Beck has announced he is stepping down on June 27 and the hunt for his successor is on. Thirty one people have applied for the job, including some current and former high-ranking LAPD veterans.

Deputy Chief Robert Arcos confirmed he threw his hat in the ring. Others rumoured to be in running are First Assistant Chief Michel Moore and former Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur. Selecting a woman or a Latino would be a first for the 150 year old department; every other chief has been a white or African-American man.

Commissioner Steve Soboroff says with the department well on the path to reform, it’s a good time to look for leadership from within the department. “We’ve got a deep we’ve got a deep bench,” said Soboroff. “And I think Chief Beck said the reason he’s leaving a year and a half earlier is that he didn’t want that bench to thin out any more. The rest of the world knows we have people who are top notch, world class and they’re raiding us.”

According to a 2017 poll of Los Angeles residents conducted by Loyola Marymount University, the department still has work to do to build trust with African American Angelenos. While 65 percent of whites said they trust the LAPD to do what is right at least most of the time, only 39 percent of blacks said they felt that way.

Melina Abdullah is a Cal State LA professor and co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA. Her group has called repeatedly for Mayor Eric Garcetti to fire Chief Beck over police brutality and killings. They even camped out for a month in front of City Hall to pressure the mayor.

At a recent event in Skid Row calling for the prosecution of cops who’ve killed people in Los Angeles, Abdullah said:

“We know what happened: the people fired Charlie Beck! The people fired Charlie Beck! And I’m lifting that up because sometimes we allow them to dupe us into believing that we don’t have power, that you only have power if you have money, you only have power if you’re white. You only have power if you hold that title or you’re in elected office. That’s just not true.”

During the event, names likes Ezell Ford, Eric Rivera, Jesse Romero and Wakiesha Wilson came up. They’re among the people of color who have died at the hands of police or while in custody. The activists point to the fact that in recent years, the LAPD has repeatedly led the nation in fatal shootings of civilians.
Abdullah said she lives in LA’s Crenshaw district and “experiences a very brutal repressive force…I don’t believe there’s anyone in my neighborhood who feels safer when they see a police police car behind them right. I don’t. And most of my neighbors don’t.”

Spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Craig Lally said aside from some anti-police activists, the public generally feels safe and is satisfied with the department’s performance.

“We went through a bunch of stuff after Rodney King, as far as reforms go,” said Lally. “And the officers get sick of it, because when you say reform it means you’re doing something wrong. And we are not doing anything wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the time the officers are doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

Commission President Steve Soboroff said the new chief will have to both be loyal to the men and women in uniform, but also uphold the public trust by disciplining officers.

“We want a chief who loves officers and you can love officers and you can penalize officers who make mistakes without criticizing or hurting the brand of law enforcement,” said Soboroff.

“The officers are always looking for the chief to not throw him under the bus,” said Lally, who also said getting more officers on the street should be a top priority for the next chief.

“We just don’t have enough police officers on the street,” said Lally. “We’re always the last resort. There’s a huge homeless problem. They send the cops. We have a huge mental illness problem in the city. They send the cops. So we just have too much on our plate right now and there’s no way we can do the job that we should be able to do until we get more people.”

It’s particularly important to LAPD leadership to maintain diversity in the force. However, Police Commissioner Matt Johnson said the tension between black communities and police departments across the country has made recruiting them harder.

“That is something you have to work on continuously and as you can imagine in this climate right now it’s particularly difficult to recruit African-Americans,” said Johnson. “And you can look at the city and say OK the department reflects the diversity of the city in that respect but the reality is we spend a lot more time policing in African-American communities because of the level of gang violence in those areas. So those communities it’s not actually reflective of the community.”

By early June, Commissioners Johnson and Soboroff will present a list of three finalist candidates to Mayor Garcetti. Choosing LA’s top cop will be one of the biggest decisions Garcetti makes during his tenure.

If the mayor doesn’t like any of the candidates he could go back to the Commissioners and say bring me three more names, and the City Council has final approval over the mayor’s choice. City officials plan to have a new chief in place by June 27, when Charlie Beck retires.

Photo: John Liu