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LAPD's new chief, Charlie Beck

The capable and popular veteran inherits the largest, most improved Police Department in city history.

November 04, 2009

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa consulted widely, thought carefully and chose wisely in his selection of Deputy Chief Charlie Beck to become the next chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. The City Council should confirm Beck without delay, and the LAPD should move forward under this capable veteran, who was raised in the department's traditions and who also has shown a refreshing willingness to adapt to change.

As has been widely noted, this selection is of great importance for Villaraigosa, the LAPD and the city. The mayor interviewed each of the three finalists twice -- in long conversations last week and shorter follow-up discussions over the weekend. More important, he canvassed Los Angeles, reaching out to police officers, members of the command staff, church officials and civic leaders such as Warren Christopher, the former secretary of State whose commitment to improving the LAPD extends back to the 1960s.

What Villaraigosa learned was that Beck enjoys an extraordinary breadth of support. Thanks to his record in Rampart and South Bureau and his close work with outgoing Chief William J. Bratton, he has the confidence of many leaders of the so-called reform community, longtime advocates of firm civilian control and robust accountability for police. As a 32-year veteran whose father was a deputy chief, whose daughter is a patrol officer and whose son will soon graduate from the police academy, Beck's devotion to the LAPD is incontestable, helping to make him popular with the rank and file and many retired department leaders; the Police Protective League was quick to endorse him Tuesday. In the contentious world of Los Angeles policing, any coalition that includes the police union and civil rights lawyer Connie Rice, another Beck supporter, is worth noting.

The selection of Beck is not only a credit to Villaraigosa but a testament to the stability of the department today. This mayor has steadily built its ranks -- if confirmed, Beck will inherit the largest LAPD in history -- and has presided over its increasing diversity and professionalism. At the same time, there are areas that demand continued progress: Beck should commit the LAPD to further openness and accountability; he should examine ways to modernize its disciplinary system; he should publicly commit to maintaining the mandates enforced by the recently lifted federal consent decree and now demanded by sound management; and he should press to expand the department's technical capacities along with its swelling ranks.

Those are real challenges that will test the new chief -- as will inevitable crises and controversies -- but they exist within a larger context of success. Today's LAPD is better run, better equipped and better disciplined than at any time in its history. That is a profound achievement with ramifications for every aspect of life in Los Angeles. Selecting Beck is a nod to continuity at a time when continuity is warranted.

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