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Chief attributes

The mayor's choice to lead the LAPD, Charlie Beck, is committed to reform and has strong support from civil rights activists and Latino, African American and immigrant leaders in the community.

November 04, 2009|TIM RUTTEN

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's selection of Charlie Beck as Los Angeles' new police chief sends a powerful signal that City Hall remains committed to the innovative policing strategies and reform agenda that William J. Bratton so successfully employed during his seven-year tenure.

In an interview Friday, Villaraigosa told me that he was looking for a new chief who could be his "partner in reform."

According to people knowledgeable about the second round of conversations the mayor conducted with Beck, Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell and Deputy Chief Michel Moore at Getty House over the weekend, Villaraigosa's questions focused on issues of cooperation, respect for civilian oversight and loyalty.

Bratton, who declined to endorse a successor but gave those with whom he spoke the clear impression that he favored Beck's candidacy, was known to place particular value on the deputy chief's personal commitment to the reforms required under the city's consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as his personal discretion and loyalty.

Those qualities also won the 32-year LAPD veteran strong backing from civil rights activists and leaders of the Latino, African American and immigrant communities, many of whom got to know Beck during his rehabilitation of the LAPD's once scandal-plagued Rampart Division and during his stint running the department's South Los Angeles operations.

As City Council President Eric Garcetti, a Beck supporter, told me Monday evening, "Charlie has as many deep roots and connections in the African American community as any black candidate for chief would have." Several prominent Latinos with whom the mayor consulted told me similar things about Beck's ties to their communities. Many of the civil rights activists whose advice Villaraigosa sought also made it clear that they favored Beck because he was the candidate most likely to give reform a seat at his command staff table.

Bratton's establishment of a high-powered Consent Decree Bureau is considered one of the keys to his success. Even though the decree has been lifted, the new chief is expected to retain its top staff as a voice for reform and community policing.

That's very much in line with the advice given Villaraigosa by one leading civil rights activist with whom he consulted over the weekend. "We all told the mayor," said the advisor, who asked not to be named, "that the new chief needs to have the right kind of ego. He needs to be strong enough to go through the budgetary hell it will take to maintain and expand the reforms, but not think so much of himself that he needs to put his personal stamp on a department that's basically working for the first time in anybody's memory."

In an interview Tuesday evening, Beck seemed to agree. Asked whether an LAPD under his direction would be different than the one Bratton ran, the chief-designate replied: "The short answer is no. Reform of the sort we've embraced is a total package built on transparency, crime-fighting, problem-solving and constitutional policing. That's not just Bill Bratton's legacy. That's the legacy of all the department's leaders who have worked with him over the past seven years. A lot of people changed this place."

One area where Beck said he will be more assertive than his predecessor is in supporting well-drafted legislation to restore the public's right to know the names of officers involved in shootings. Bratton lent lip-service to the concept, but police unions opposed it, and supporters complained that Bratton did not do enough to overcome that opposition.

Transparency, said Beck, is paramount. "The public entrusts us with the power to deprive them of life and liberty, and we have a responsibility to exercise that trust in full public view."

Beck's appointment now goes to the City Council for confirmation, which Garcetti has said he fully expects. "So far, there have been no red flags," the council president said of all three candidates last week, "and none of the council members have told me, 'I just can't vote for that guy.' " The council's Public Safety Committee will hold public hearings on Beck's confirmation, and Garcetti said he expects a final vote by the week of Nov. 17. In the meantime, according to Garcetti, the council will want to hear the nominee's views on four critical issues:

* How to continue reducing crime with a budget likely to contract still further over the next couple of years.

* How to keep the LAPD's pension fund solvent by pushing down benefits for new officers.

* How the new chief can "project the charisma to be accepted in all parts of the city." Garcetti thinks this is particularly important because he senses "a free-floating but rising anger" in the city, fueled by the economic, housing and jobs collapse.

* How to permanently inculcate the spirit of the consent decree reforms into the department's patrol ranks.

Garcetti is a Bratton admirer; nonetheless, he said he'd like to see a chief more focused on Los Angeles -- less worried, for example, about international terrorism and more concerned with the domestic terror created by gang violence. With one council member, Bernard C. Parks, a former LAPD chief and two others, Greig Smith and Dennis Zine, reserve officers, Beck is also likely to hear more than a little about their thoughts on the department's future.

Once confirmed, he's also going to have to draw deeply on what LAPD insiders say is a reservoir of goodwill in the department's rank and file, because it's likely to be some time before any of its officers see a real raise or improvement in working conditions.

Bratton's tenure was a transforming one in the LAPD's tumultuous story; Beck and Villaraigosa now will determine whether that moment was a taste of what could have been or a historical turning point.

--

timothy.rutten@latimes.com

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