The Los Angeles Police Commission forwarded to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday the names of three finalists to become the next police chief -- a list that contained no women or minorities, but sparked little initial criticism.
Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck and Deputy Chief Michel Moore will now compete to be chosen by the mayor to replace outgoing Chief William J. Bratton, who steps down Saturday after seven years at the head of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In the not-so-distant past, when tensions between the LAPD and minority communities in the city ran high, the selection of three white men as finalists would almost certainly have set off intense criticism. On Tuesday, however, news of the decision was met generally with praise as officials and outsiders said reforms made under Bratton had largely rendered racial and gender politics a moot point.
John Mack, the commission president and a prominent African American civil rights activist, said he was struck by how little attention was devoted to race and ethnicity when the panel held community meetings throughout the city seeking the public's guidance on a new chief, including in Watts, Crenshaw and the San Fernando Valley.
"Seven years ago, there's no question in my mind that race would have been a hot priority," he said. "I'm not naive -- we have not become a colorblind society yet. But I think this is an indication of the progress that's been made by this department.
"We can stand here and say in good conscience that clearly, our ultimate decision . . . really represents who we consider to be the three best candidates for the job."
Moore's father was Basque and Moore is identified in department rosters as Hispanic. His mother was white and his heritage has not played a significant role in defining him within the department.
At a news conference to announce the names, Villaraigosa said his choice looms as possibly "the single most important decision I will make" as mayor. He is scheduled to meet this afternoon with an advisory panel and then interview Beck at Getty House, the mayor's official residence. He'll meet with McDonnell on Thursday, Moore on Friday, and is expected to announce his choice Monday.
Moore, 49, is a 28-year veteran of the LAPD and is widely credited with helping to push down crime rates in the San Fernando Valley during his more than four years in charge of the bureau. As a captain in 2000, Moore was assigned the difficult task of helping to run the department's notorious Rampart Division in the wake of accusations of widespread corruption and abuses.
Beck, 56, is a 32-year veteran of the force and the son of a retired LAPD deputy chief. As commander of the Detective Bureau, he is a popular figure with the rank-and-file, who generally view him as a serious crime-fighter, and with the city's civil rights leaders, who hold him up as a progressive thinker on community relations and police conduct.
McDonnell, 50, has served in the department for 28 years and, in addition to Bratton, has been the public face of the LAPD for several years in his role as chief of staff. Widely respected in the department and beyond, he was a candidate for chief in 2002 and Bratton went on to use an extensive plan developed by McDonnell as a blueprint for reshaping the department. With Bratton's frequent trips out of town, McDonnell has often been called to stand in as chief.
That Beck and McDonnell made the cut came as little surprise to most LAPD observers, as both have been considered front-runners for the post since Bratton announced his decision to step down last month. The selection of Moore was more unexpected, because of his relatively low profile in the department compared to the other two finalists and because of the others who were passed over.
Left out of the finalist group was Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, an influential commander who oversees the department's Office of Operations and was viewed as a strong contender for the job. Paysinger is also the LAPD's highest-ranking African American officer. Assistant Chief Sharon Papa, who oversees support services and is the department's highest-ranking female, was also thought to have a shot at making the final list.
Having worked with each of the finalists, Villaraigosa is familiar with them, but said he will try to extinguish any preconceived notions. Villaraigosa said the interviews will be critical to his deliberations because he will get a chance to "look them in the eyeball."
"One of the things I loved about Bill Bratton is that, when he told me something, I could take it to the bank," Villaraigosa said. "The next chief has got to be someone that I trust."