Okay, I’ll admit it. I didn’t think it would be possible–given the way I feel about former LAPD Police Chief William Bratton, but I have to say, I’ve taken a keen liking to LAPD Chief-Designate Charlie Beck.
I pride myself on being able to reader bullshiters from the jump. I have to say, Beck didn’t come of as one. He came across as sincere, humble, and ready to do the job. Now that I think about it, maybe a little too humble in the shadows of former Police Chief Bratton, who, while I championed him, like the Mayor, Bratton never met a news camera he didn’t like. I’m just saying. Beck on the other hand, seems like he doesn’t care too much for the spotlight. He better get used to it.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Chief Beck one on one last Friday at LAPD’s new headquarters, which oddly, I’ve gotten to know my way around quite well, to point that I’ve claimed A031 as my official parking space (note to LAPD, stencil Jasmyne’s name over this parking space). I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I digressed.
As I was saying, I sat down one-on-one with LAPD Chief-Designate Charlie Beck to discuss GRYD, the LAPD’s intervention and prevention programs, police misconduct and what residents can expect from their new Police Chief on these issues.
Beck, L.A.’s 55th Police Chief hadn’t made the big move to the 10th floor of the LAPD’s brand spanking new headquarters. When he does, he’ll move into an office fit for a president, complete with a balcony that overlooks Los Angeles and could easily house a decent sized swimming pool and still have room for deck chairs and more.
Still on the 6th floor in the detectives division, Beck, rushed in apologizing for being late. I was already impressed at his ability to get from Glendale to downtown Los Angeles in the four o’clock rush hour on a Friday no less in about than 15 minutes. Although I couldn’t confirm it, I think his driver used the police sirens. I mean really, it’s just not possible any other way.
With no time to spare, I jumped right into my questions for Beck. Hey—this man is about to become the Police Chief of the most notorious police department in the country, maybe even the world—I didn’t want to waste the man’s time.
Beck, 56, is credited with turning around the LAPD’s scandal ridden Rampart Division. He then later headed up the department’s South L.A. bureau increasing the department’s effectiveness and relationship with the community.
Born in Long Beach, California, Beck attended California State University at Long Beach. His father, also a Los Angeles Police officer retired in 1980 at the rank of Deputy Chief. His son will graduate from the LAPD police Academy on Dec. 4.
Deputy Chief Beck was appointed to the Department in March 1977 after serving two years in the Los Angeles Police Reserve Corps. He was promoted to Sergeant in June 1984, to Lieutenant in April 1993, to Captain in July 1999, Commander in April 2005, and to Deputy Chief in August 2006. As an officer, his patrol assignments have included Rampart, Southeast, Pacific and Hollywood Areas. As a sergeant, his assignments were Harbor and Southwest patrol, South Bureau C.R.A.S.H. and Internal Affairs Division.
Upon being promoted to captain, he was originally assigned as the Commanding Officer of Southeast Operations Support Division where he spent approximately two years before being transferred to Juvenile Division. As a Commander, he was the Assistant to the Director, Office of Operations. Upon being promoted to Deputy Chief, he assumed command of Operations – South Bureau.
Known for being tough on crime, when asked what the number one, two, and three crimes were right now in the City of Los Angeles, Beck answers, “Gang crime, gang crime, and gang crime because that’s what drives crime in Los Angeles. Over 50% of our homicides are gang relates. Homicides are traditionally a crime of passion. These are not crimes of passion, they are crimes of deliberant intent based on affiliation of a rival. Through intelligent policing, we can affect gang crime.”
Beck admits that he is tough in crime, but that he’s open to any and all ideas to make like better for people in Los Angeles.
“I am tough on crime. I am very tough on crime. But I am also somebody that understands that arrests and hardcore policing are not the only way to solve problems. I think that if you ask anybody in South Los Angeles about how they’ve seen policing change over the last several years—especially when I was there, is the involvement of intervention. The involvement of group of people that can affect the outcomes of crime in different ways. And I am all for that.”
On L.A.’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program, Beck champions the program.
“I’ve worked with the Mayor’s office to get the Gang Reduction Youth Development office off the ground—to fund intervention groups. I see them as a big part of it—on a couple of different levels. I like solutions that work in a multiplicity of ways. And intervention works for me on a number of things. First, it reduces gang violence, obviously. For the creation of peace between rival gangs is their bread and butter. But also it builds trust, because when people see me working with gang intervention folks, when people see me working with civil rights advocates, they go well look they have a working relationship. Now we don’t do the same thing. They don’t work for me. They’re not my informants. Nothing like that. But they see that we have a mutual respect and that allows people to bridge the respect over to the Los Angeles Police Department.”
Seemingly humble, shy, and a bit reserved when discussing his own accomplishments, L.A.’s soon to be Police Chief understands that he is a figurehead for the department.
“This is not about Charlie Beck. Charlie Beck is a figurehead for the Los Angles Police Department. And that’s the important thing—not about how people feel about Charlie Beck, but how they feel about the Los Angeles Police Department. I want them to feel ownership of this organization. I want when a black and white drives down the street that people go there goes our police department. Now we’re not gonna always do what people think is the right thing. And when we don’t then I’ll deal with that. But I want people to feel like there’s people that care about the community. There’s people who are dedicated to doing the right thing. Now do things always come out right? No, they just don’t. It’s a tough business with a lot of variables and bad things happen. But it’s how you deal with them and what things you do to make sure that a minimum number of them occur. The way I work is that I always put money in the bank. And that means that I build trust because I know that I am going to have to take money out of the bank once in a while, but I always want to have more in than I took out.”
With over 400 gangs in Los Angeles County, a big focus of the LAPD’s gang work is the issue of prevention and intervention. Under former Police Chief William Bratton, gang related crimes dropped 34.1%.
“I think that we’re on the right road on intervention and the Los Angeles Police Department’s prevention programs are good. We’re a law enforcement organization so we can’t build prevention programs that address all of the needs. We just can’t. We’re physically capable of doing that we’re just not big enough to do our law enforcement tasks and then run youth programs for every child that needs it in the whole city. That has to be other people’s responsibility and we have to help them with it. You know it has to be the responsibility of the schools. It has to be the responsibility of the community. It has to be the responsibility of the agencies whose sole purpose is to work with youth. We have to help them. Sometimes we have to accept our role so that we don’t spread ourselves so thin that we can’t do what we’re really supposed to be doing. And nobody should take that to mean that we’re going to reduce what we’re already doing with youth but we can’t wrap our arms around every young person in Los Angeles. That’s not our job. They have parents. There are organizations that are specifically tasked and funded to do this.”
Beck continues by explaining that the current LAPD model of intervention is working.
“We have a good model. We need to keep pushing that model. We need to finish the intervention academy. We need to get the city to put some more money into to. We need to have certification programs within the city that professionalize the vocation. What I think we need to do a better job on is re-entry. Re-entry is huge especially facing the State’s budget crisis and the pending release of thousands of inmates. They gotta have a place to go. We can’t just pull our heads under the cover say well I guess we’ll jut have to re-arrest them. That’s not what we have to do. That’s just a revolving door. That’s not what I’m interested in. We have to re-entry strategies that work. Now again, there are agencies that tasked with that as their primary duty—probation, parole, youth camps—we have to work with them. I see the police department as the glue that holds everything together because we’re so invested in the outcomes. There are good intervention programs, but they’re not run by the city, they’re not run by the State, they’re run by the 400 gangs that terrorize Los Angeles. When a young man or woman comes out of prison, there is somebody that’s waiting for them and it’s their old street gang. And they come back out with increased status, with a ready support system, and they’ll take them right back in and we have to be there instead. When I say we, I don’t mean the Los Angeles Police Department per se, I mean the community at large.”
Beck is big on community involvement and input at all levels.
“There are some good things going on in South Bureau they need to bigger, we need to be more vigorous. We need to work with people like the Urban League to help us with job creation. We need to really push forward on the tax benefits on hiring people with criminal records. There are ways to do this, but we just need to be creative about it and it has to be something that everybody focuses on. I can’t emphasize this enough. It can’t just be me. It can’t just be the police department. Everybody that goes to those meetings has to look at each and say okay—we’re going to do something positive for these young men and women that are coming out of prison. We’re going to reach our hands out. Now if they wont take them well then I understand that. I know what to do with that. That’s my job. But we have to give them the opportunity to change their lives.”
On the issue of Black verses brown crime and vice-versa, Beck set the record straight.
“You have to be very factual about it. Do we have problems with it? Yes. Is it at the level the media portrays? No. And you have to be careful not to create hysteria over this. The reality is that young Black men kill young Black men and young brown men kill young brown men. That’s the 80 percentile or higher of the crimes committed. The vast majority of the time, the person that kills, robs you, or does any other violence to you, looks a lot like you. Not always, but the vast majority. And in many cases just lives a few blocks away. And that’s the reality of Los Angeles.”
Under Beck’s leadership, residents can expect to have police misconduct complaints fully investigated.
“Complaints of racial bias have to be thoroughly investigated. In the past we have not done as good a job as we could have. When bias policing is the basis of a complaint I am going to expect it to be investigated by Internal Affairs, investigated completely and investigated thoroughly. Then I expect that it will be adjudicated in a mature way by someone who understands both sides of the issue. I also want to make sure that we continue a program where in cases that are likely not to have a resolution because there is no independent witness that the complainant and the officer get to meet and have a discussion. A lot of times these things are about conflicts between people and when each party gets a chance to talk about it, there’s a better feeling of being able to address issues and maybe a learning point on both sides.”
In addition, Beck says that in-car video is coming to the Southwest Bureau and surrounding bureaus in the near future and that he says will go a long way to breaking some of the stereotypes on both sides.
Beck says that he plans to continue what Bratton started and that includes different policing styles in different parts of the city. He’ll continue “Cops on the Dots,” putting the resources of the LAPD in the hottest parts of the city to make sure that those areas get special attention to help lower the crimes levels.
“The reality is that we don’t have we don’t have enough resources to cover everything. We are an understaffed police department. We have a much lower ration of police to residents than Chicago and New York—than any major city. So because of that you have to focus resources where the problem is.”
Beck says that if he’s appointed as LAPD’s new chief that doesn’t mean that everything is going to change.
“I’ve been a part of what we’ve been doing. So were the other candidates. It’s been working. We’ve made tremendous progress. Now I’m not going to do it exactly like Bill Bratton because I can’t, I’m me. I have a different way of looking at things because we come from different places. I am a more bottom up guy, while he’s a more top down guy. I’m not going to make dramatic changes because things are working.”
One of those changes will be a less political police chief for the LAPD. Police Chief Beck says that the public shouldn’t expect to see him in a blazer and a tie anytime soon or endorsing candidates for office.
“You will generally see me in uniform—especially at first because I think that one of things you have to do is get people’s mental picture of you. I’ve been a Los Angeles police officer all of my adult life basically and I want people to think of me this way and then I also want the rank and file to think of me as one of theirs. And that’s important on a lot of levels. It’s important because that’s how you affect changes and behavior. It’s important so that that’s how you get credibility so that when you have bad news, people understand that it’s the news that’s bad and not the person that’s delivering the news.”
“I just want for police officers to drive down the street and for people to say I’m glad they’re out here.”
And has quietly and quickly as he entered the room, he was gone and rushed of to his next meeting.
Beck has some big shoes to fill no doubt, but after meeting and speaking one on one with him, I think the LAPD is going to be okay. I wasn’t that sure beforehand, but I can tell you that Beck is if nothing else a sincere and humble guy with big ideas and has a passion for a job in a city that at times is one heartbeat away from a full on race riot. A job that most of us wouldn’t take on for any amount of money.
Already confirmed by the LA City Council’s public safety committee, the full council is expected to weigh in on his appointment early next week making it official.
H/t: Mary Grady