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LAPD's New Police Chief Charlie Beck: Reformer or Redeemer?

Was Beck truly the best man for the job, or a nice parting gift to Bratton and a pacification gift the Police Protection League. We certainly shouldn't be afraid to ask the question, as suspicious as it sounds.

The Los Angeles City Council confirmed the Los Angeles Police Department's newest police chief this week. Deputy Chief Charlie Beck will soon be sworn in as the 55th Chief of Police of the nation's controversial police department. Beck was viewed by many as a long shot (ranking third in the police commission's recommendation), given he had to jump over two more "hands-on" assistant chiefs, but was among the quiet favorites mentioned early in the selection process by the former chief, William Bratton.


Yet he emerged in the top three candidates as the one most likely to keep morale high and receive the support of the rank and file. Those are often code words used to mean acceptance by the Police Protective League that pretty much has the red stamp one needs to be named Chief these days. That he was heavily lobbied for internally, but ranked last externally, raises some conflictions as to how Mayor Villaraigosa -- a big fan of Bratton's -- came to his decision.

Was Beck truly the best man for the job, or a nice parting gift to Bratton and a pacification gift the PPL. We certainly shouldn't be afraid to ask the question, as suspicious as it sounds. If someone wants to get defensive about it, then we really have a reason to see the pick as suspect. That's just the kind of relationship the black community has with LAPD, "reply but verify." So we are just trying to verify. We will concede that Beck is inheriting a different LAPD. William Bratton certainly isn't leaving us your father's LAPD, as Mayor Villaraigosa likes to say, but he isn't leaving us one with federal oversight either.

We now have to wonder what kind of an LAPD we would have, without a celebrity police chief and without an inspector general reporting LAPD reform to the federal government. Will Chief Beck continue a forward reform, or will we see the LAPD's past of abuse and misconduct redeemed? These are not questions that should be taken for granted when you understand the LAPD's culture conflicts.

It's not that we don't want to give Charlie Beck a chance. In fact, we're going to. But let's have the conversation around what reform has really looked like in LAPD. Yes, this appears to be a kinder, gentler LAPD but not really. It still rejects racial profiling, puts officers' right above community rights and settling large lawsuits. It is still "just experimenting" with community policing, and sees "donuts with Dads" as a role modeling intervention for community violence.

It's still tough to get the tough questions answered, and the ones that would answer those tough questions, namely Assistant Chiefs Earl Paysinger and Jim McDonnell, didn't make Chief. In fact, Paysinger, the one person our community has the most trust in, didn't even make the final cut, which was even troubling to Bratton, who publicly stated he was "disappointed" Paysinger didn't make the final three candidates. What better way to prick the community's "trust issues" with the department than to query the absence of the lead operations command of the department. I digress.

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We do know LAPD has had a period of regression. We saw it after Willie Williams, and we saw some of it even in the Bratton era. It never became an issue because the crime statistics dropped. We do know the PPL seems to have a great fascination with the "good ole days," trying to redeem them at every turn. America's "Redemption Periods" usually came after periods of social and economic reconstruction. "Redeemers" often led the cultural shift backwards, not forward, after a backlash occurred.

LAPD most certainly has had its backlash period, the most recent being during the 10-year "black chief" experiment of back-to-back terms of Williams and Bernard Parks. After the Rampart Division scandal broke, LAPD morale was at an all-time low. Bratton "redeeemed" some of LAPD's morale and gave it some of its swagger back, and the past raised its head a couple times. Bratton sided with the officers while stroking the community. He was a lot more media saavy than his predecessors, coming from New York and Boston, and a lot more willing to confront race -- at least as a discussion point. It don't know if Beck is so willing. But we're gonna find out.

We need to know if Beck is a reformer or a redeemer. That's a discussion that needs to take place sooner rather than later. The City of Los Angeles can't afford, nor condone, a backsliding LAPD. Just like Jim Crow, Jr. has a different tack than his father but the same goal and objective, we need to know if LAPD Jr. has a different mission, goal, and objective than LAPD Sr. did. If this isn't our father's LAPD, Charlie Beck is going to have to be the one that shows us that. I, for one, can't wait to see it. The truth is not in the ceremony, pomp, and circumstance. The truth will be in the delivery, whether it's forward or backward.


Anthony Asadullah Samad

Republished with permission from the Urban Issues Forum.