For a man widely seen as the disciple of just-exited LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, Charlie Beck on Wednesday exhibited some notable contrasts in style and strategy from the man he was tapped to replace.
In an interview with Times reporters, editors and editorial board members, Deputy Chief Beck portrayed himself as a leader rooted by his ties to rank-and-file officers, as opposed to Bratton, who reformed the department by focusing on its upper echelon.
The 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department said he would concentrate on pushing down reforms Bratton introduced into the mind-set of the thousands of officers who are the heart of the organization.
"The only way that real change is made is from the bottom up," he said. "You can mandate change from the top . . . but the only way an organization really changes is from the roots up; that's much more powerful. So what you'll see is different with me is I'm going to concentrate on the roots of the organization."
He said Bratton was successful in getting the department's upper management to accept his progressive vision for the LAPD because "that's his wheelhouse. With me, my wheelhouse is much more about the rank-and-file. I think that will be the major difference. . . . I see this as an evolution more than a revolution."
That focus, Beck said, will keep him in Los Angeles far more than Bratton, whose extensive travels to faraway places for conferences, speaking engagements and the like became a running joke for some and a point of contention for others.
"I certainly won't travel as much as [Bratton] did. This is my home. This is where my family is. . . . I'm a local boy, I always have been and that's the way I'll be as chief," he said. "And, again, with my philosophy of driving these changes down internally, I've got to be here to do that. I've got to touch people. I've got to have conversations with the [officers] and I can't do that from out of state."
Beck took a lighthearted jab at Bratton, saying he would continue Bratton's practice of consulting with people with different points of view on subjects, but deadpanned: "I think I have a little more of a common touch, much more of a common touch. I think that maybe at the end of the day you'll think of me more of a cop's chief rather than a leader-manager."
Strategically, Beck said he planned to give greater authority to the captains who run the department's dozens of field stations. Currently, decisions on how to deploy a large segment of the department's force are made by commanders at the LAPD's headquarters. Field captains should have more discretion, Beck said.
Amid an ongoing debate over the size of the force and whether the city should continue to fund a push by the mayor to add 1,000 officers, Beck said he believes the current number of officers, which hovers near 10,000, should be viewed as "a floor, a basement." Any drop in numbers, he said, would make it difficult to continue with gains made under Bratton.
"I think by controlling gang violence, we can be the safest city [in the nation] and we should be," he said. "But it's going to be difficult to do at low deployment levels. So, if you want to solve problems, if you want to get at the core issues that have significant impact on the city, you need to have the resources to do it."
Regarding possible promotions, demotions and reassignments he might make as he assembles his team of deputy and assistant chiefs, Beck tamped down speculation that he plans to make dramatic changes to the cabinet Bratton had put together.
"Nobody is being thrown out. Nobody has told me they are planning on leaving. I plan to use the players we have. I think that people make the mistake of thinking, 'Well, Beck got it, so these other people are going to be minimized.' No. I've known these people my entire career. I know their value."
Beck rose quickly through the ranks under Bratton and won broad praise from officers and LAPD critics alike for his ability to fight crime and pursue progressive ideas on policing championed by Bratton.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday selected Beck to become the 55th chief of the department. The appointment must be ratified by the City Council in a vote expected in the coming weeks.