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In Beck, Villaraigosa taps a veteran with deep ties to the LAPD

The nominee for chief is supported by both the rank-and-file and civil rights advocates and will take command at a time of uncertainty in the department.

November 04, 2009|Joel Rubin and Phil Willon

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's selection of Charlie Beck to be L.A.'s new police chief elevates a 32-year veteran who is steeped in the traditions of the LAPD but has also won praise from civil rights activists for reforming the department and improving the once-contentious relations with the city's minority community.

"He's a man who understands the past, a man who is an important part of the present and a man who will shape this department in the future," Villaraigosa said to a bank of television cameras transmitting the announcement live Tuesday morning. "Charlie Beck will lead the charge to make Los Angeles the safest city it can be."

Beck, 56, has risen quickly through the department's command ranks in recent years and was widely viewed as the favorite to be picked as the mayor's nominee.

He first made a mark as an up-and-coming commander by rehabilitating the LAPD's Rampart Division, which had been at the center of a corruption scandal, and later earned praise as head of the department's forces in South L.A. During that time, Beck has managed to win kudos from both cops and onetime critics of the LAPD for blending a tough stance on crime with a progressive approach to bettering the LAPD's relationship with city residents.

An emotional Beck said he was "humbled" by his nomination. "I pledge that I will not disappoint this city," said Beck, who choked up repeatedly as he talked about his deep family ties to the LAPD, which include a daughter and son on the force and a sister who is retired from the department. And his wife is a retired L.A. County sheriff's deputy.

Beck said that through his father, who rose to the rank of deputy chief in the department before retiring, he understands the LAPD's long and conflicted history.

"Through him and through my own service, I know the ghosts and the glory of this police department's past," he said. "There were failures, [times when] we did not rise up to our ability, we did not do what we should have done in some instances. Those are the ghosts. But the glory of the department is reflected in my father's leadership, his ability to work with people and his ability to understand community policing before it was a popular concept."

In praising the choice, City Council President Eric Garcetti noted Beck's deep ties to the department.

He "embodies the new era of the LAPD," Garcetti said. "He represents the future, but connects us with the best of our past. He has the vision, temperament and intellect to continue making Los Angeles safer. I believe he is the right chief for our time."

Villaraigosa chose Beck nearly three months after Chief William J. Bratton abruptly announced his plan to step down after seven years in which he oversaw dramatic declines in crime and improved long-strained relations between the police and minority communities. Bratton left office Saturday.

Beck, who is deputy chief, faces the difficult task of sustaining his predecessor's hard-won gains made at a time when budget constraints were not the dire concern they are today.

Beck's five-year term would run to 2014, a year after Villaraigosa will be forced out of office by term limits.

After remaining neutral in the selection process, Paul M. Weber, president of the union representing the department's nearly 10,000 officers, quickly offered support for Beck, saying he knew Beck well and felt comfortable with the prospect of working with the new chief.

Such support will be crucial as Beck goes about following a chief with a reputation as one of the country's leading law enforcement minds, implementing a crime-fighting strategy built around an obsessive focus on crime data that pinpointed areas of Los Angeles in need of additional police officers. Crime rates have fallen every year since Bratton's arrival.

Because of that success, the mayor and City Council leaders mostly tolerated Bratton's brash style. Last spring, Bratton threatened to remove officers from the Westside when that area's councilman voted to halt police hiring because of the city budget crisis.

Beck should not expect the same latitude.

"There's only one Bill Bratton, and he certainly has his good points, but there were some things that I felt were counterproductive," Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents San Pedro and a portion of South Los Angeles, said earlier. "I think you can get the same results with the council with good communication and understanding."

Bratton also benefited from Villaraigosa's relentless push to add hundreds of officers to the department, an effort the council indirectly supported by tripling trash fees. But the city's precarious finances have put an end to the hiring binge.

This year, the department's budget was slashed by $60 million, and hiring was reduced to replace only those officers who retire or resign.

As a result, November's Police Academy class was canceled. Under the terms of a new contract with the city's police union, officers also will forgo cost-of-living increases for two years and instead of being paid overtime, many will be forced to take extra days off -- meaning fewer police patrolling the streets.

Beck's appointment must still be ratified by the City Council in a vote expected in the coming weeks, although no serious opposition is expected.


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