Advertisement

A closer look at the three finalists for LAPD chief

A closer look at the three finalists for LAPD chief
The three finalists for Los Angeles police chief are Robert Arcos, left, Michel Moore and Bill Scott. (Los Angeles Times)

As young cops, the three finalists for chief of the Los Angeles Police Department were taught a harsh style of policing that emphasized crackdowns and arrests.

They have since disavowed that strategy, rising through the ranks of a department that has recast itself as a kinder, gentler LAPD. All three use similar catchphrases: building ties with residents, investing in youth sports and academic programs, assuring immigrants that the LAPD wants to help them, not deport them.

Advertisement

But for the official making the selection, Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is considering a run for president, each of the veteran cops brings political benefits.

Robert Arcos would be the first Latino police chief of a city that is nearly 50% Latino. Bill Scott, who left the LAPD to lead the troubled San Francisco Police Department, is African American and a familiar face in South Los Angeles.

Michel Moore, whose father was a Basque immigrant, was already in the top echelons of the LAPD when the other two candidates were appointed to their first station commands. LAPD insiders say his breadth of experience and mastery of subjects from crime statistics to budgets are second to none.

Arcos has the backing of some powerful Latino politicians, while a coalition of African American pastors and community activists is supporting Scott.

Garcetti received the names of the three finalists, chosen by the city’s civilian Police Commission from a field of 31 applicants, on May 4. He has said that he expects to pick the new chief by the end of the month, if not sooner — well in advance of Chief Charlie Beck’s June 27 retirement. The City Council will then vote on Garcetti’s choice.

In selecting three men with decades of experience in the LAPD, the commission signaled its desire to stay the course set by Beck and his predecessor, William Bratton, who remade the department under a federal consent decree. Among the challenges the new chief will face: how to improve relationships with some black and Latino residents, who are critical of fatal police shootings and complain about bearing the brunt of the LAPD’s enforcement operations.

Garcetti has said he wants to choose the best leader and is not aiming for a demographic first. Several City Council members had indicated that it was time for the leader of one of the largest police departments in the country to be a woman. But former Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, who was among five candidates interviewed by the commission, did not make the final three.

“It’s a nice, diverse pool, with the exception of no female,” said Fernando Guerra, a professor at Loyola Marymount University and director of the school’s Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles. “It reflects L.A., and it reflects the new LAPD.”

Robert Arcos
Robert Arcos (Los Angeles Times)
Robert Arcos

Arcos, 57, moved to L.A. from Texas with his mother and four younger siblings when he was 10. The family eventually settled in Atwater Village, then a working-class, mostly minority community where young men faced pressure to join gangs. His mother struggled financially, sometimes relying on food stamps.

Later, as a sergeant at the station that polices his old neighborhood, Arcos ran into childhood friends who had been arrested by his colleagues.

“My story is very similar to many of the kids in underserved communities,” Arcos said. “That gives me a connection and empathy to realize where people are when they’re at their most vulnerable and low.”

Scott Kroeber was the captain of the elite Metropolitan Division in 2005, when Arcos came in as a lieutenant charged with implementing changes recommended by top brass.

Kroeber remembers Arcos as a “people-oriented” manager who cared so much about his police officers that he would agonize over what degree of discipline to give them. As an outsider to Metro’s insular culture, Arcos did not force the changes down officers’ throats and gradually won them over.

“He’s that rare individual who strikes the happy medium — we need to go there, and let’s bring people along to do it willingly,” said Kroeber, who retired in 2013.

Advertisement

After his Metro assignment, Arcos made captain, serving as second-in-command at Olympic Division and then the officer in charge at 77th. Beck promoted him quickly to commander. He worked at administrative services and Central Bureau before taking charge of Central in 2016 as a deputy chief.

At Central, which includes downtown and Northeast L.A., Arcos often manages large street demonstrations. The area is also the epicenter of L.A.’s worsening homelessness crisis.

As chief, Arcos said, he would enhance the department’s de-escalation training so officers make different choices in a situation where “you can shoot, but should you?”

“It’s time for another cultural shift,” Arcos said. “Our policies have to reflect the community’s values.”

Arcos is a third-generation Mexican American who understands some Spanish but does not speak it fluently.

At a time when “the Trump administration has declared war on our immigrant communities,” Arcos is a “once in a lifetime” leader who has “challenged the status quo and embraced modern, non-traditional policing,” City Councilman Gil Cedillo wrote in an endorsement letter to Garcetti, which was also signed by former council members Gloria Molina, Richard Alatorre, Mike Hernandez and Ed Reyes.

In 2006, while Arcos was a lieutenant in Metro, his daughter Chelsea killed two people in a drunk driving accident on the 5 Freeway. The LAPD launched an Internal Affairs investigation into an allegation that Arcos asked the probation department to alter a report in his daughter’s favor. The investigation eventually cleared Arcos, and he denies wrongdoing.

David Pokorny, the lead California Highway Patrol investigator in the case, said he has no proof that Arcos put pressure on the probation department. But in an interview with The Times last week, he called the Internal Affairs investigation a “massive coverup.” Pokorny, who is now retired, said that investigators never interviewed him, even though he was central to the case.

After Pokorny warned Chelsea Arcos’ attorney that the probation report was flawed, the attorney never presented it in court, Pokorny told The Times.

Chelsea Arcos was convicted of two counts of vehicular manslaughter, among other crimes, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

“I never tried to mitigate it, minimize it or excuse it,” Robert Arcos said of his daughter’s actions. “She got what she deserved.”

In 2015, after her release from prison, Chelsea Arcos pleaded no contest to driving under the influence in another incident and was sentenced to an alcohol treatment program and 60 days in jail. Her previous convictions could not legally be used to upgrade the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony, said a spokeswoman from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

Advertisement

The other driver, who was not seriously hurt, filed a lawsuit in January that includes Robert Arcos and his wife as defendants and alleges Arcos used his position to get his daughter a light sentence.

Arcos’ attorney has moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the parents are not legally liable for their daughter’s actions.

“I had nothing to do with it. I had no influence. She’s an adult,” Arcos said.

Arcos and his wife have spoken at high schools about their daughter’s experience. At the LAPD, Arco has warned police officers who have gotten DUIs about the devastating consequences of drinking and driving.

“I never want anybody to experience this, as a parent, a sibling, a close friend, ever,” he said.

Michel Moore
Michel Moore (Los Angeles Times)
Michel Moore

Moore, 57, was among the finalists for LAPD chief in 2009. The Police Commission ranked him highest of the three, but Beck got the job. Moore has made no secret about his desire to lead a police department and was recently a finalist for the top jobs in Dallas and San Diego.

As a boy growing up with six siblings, Moore moved constantly while his parents looked for work. He remembers a Christmas night in Flint, Mich., when officials came to repossess the family station wagon. In Arkansas, his stepfather suggested that he stop using his Basque last name, Sanchotena, because of the racial prejudice there. He has been Michel Moore ever since, with “Michel” pronounced like “Michael.”

Moore, who is listed as Hispanic on department rosters, said he identifies as the son of an immigrant and views policing through that lens. Otherwise, he said, he is “one of billions.”

As a young police officer, Moore pulled the trigger in two fatal shootings. At that point, he said, he was happy to join the department’s DARE program and teach kids about the dangers of drugs. Later, as a sergeant, Moore got his first taste of the wonky data crunching he would become known for, creating the department’s first automated crime-mapping system.

After stints in internal affairs, Wilshire Division and vice, he was tapped to lead Rampart Division in 1998, the day after Rafael Perez was arrested in a corruption scandal that came to define the department. Officers in Rampart thought Perez was wrongly accused, Moore said. As a newly minted captain, he had to persuade them to abandon the “Rampart way” and start doing things the LAPD way.

Under Bratton, Moore was deputy chief of West Bureau and then Valley Bureau. In 2010, Beck promoted him to assistant chief — a rung below chief. He rotated through special operations, which includes detectives, counterterrorism and SWAT; administrative services, including the behind-the-scenes realms of budget, personnel and training; and his current position, patrol operations.

Moore is by all accounts a demanding boss who expects his subordinates to be as versed in every detail as he is. Whether you view Moore as a driven leader or a micromanager depends on whether you are ready to rise to his level, said Capt. Jay Roberts, who was Moore’s adjutant.

“He taught me about juggling 1,600 balls at the same time,” Roberts said. “I was kept on my toes for three years — he held me accountable.”

At the LAPD’s weekly Compstat meetings, Moore asks detailed questions of station captains but does not humiliate them. He emails the topics he will cover — whether robberies, burglaries or auto thefts — to the captains in advance. He said he wants to work with them to find solutions to seemingly impossible problems.

“As a former captain, I have an appreciation for the pressures and challenges they’re under,” Moore said. “I’ve seen other people putting on Compstat … and embarrassing the hell out of the captains.”

Moore has been at the forefront of the LAPD’s efforts to reduce fatal shootings by encouraging officers to use Tasers and beanbag shotguns. He recently proposed a system to quantify positive community interactions such as public meetings and roll calls held on city streets.

“It’s not just enforcement — crime suppression, getting guns off the street,” Moore said. “It’s engagement — being in church pews, working foot beats.”

Moore, who lives in Santa Clarita, said he will move to L.A. if he becomes chief.

”To represent a city of 4 million, I think it speaks to being fully vested in the outcomes of what happens in the city,” he said.

The Political Action Committee of the Mexican American Bar Assn. has endorsed Moore as the most qualified candidate for police chief.

“The City of Los Angeles is made up of many diverse communities and Assistant Chief Moore has the knowledge, background, and expertise that is superior to any other candidate in working with all minority groups,” Felipe Plascencia, the group’s president, wrote in a letter to Garcetti.

A similarly named but unrelated group, the Mexican American Bar Assn., is supporting Arcos.

Bill Scott
Bill Scott (Los Angeles Times)
Bill Scott

Scott was raised in a military family, eventually settling in Birmingham, Ala. Some of his relatives who were active in the civil rights movement were sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs, he said in a 2015 interview with The Times. He kept that historical perspective in mind during his 27 years at the LAPD, particularly when managing volatile relationships between the police and the community in South L.A.

“You cannot say, ‘Forget it,’” Scott said. “An 82-year-old African American man grew up in a place where they had to live through some of the things that were happening 50 years ago. They aren’t going to forget that, and neither should we.”

When homicides skyrocketed in South L.A. in the beginning of 2016, Scott was among the architects of a command center that deployed Metropolitan Division officers to crime hot spots. On many nights, the officers were charged with stopping drivers who had committed traffic violations and then seeing if there was a legal reason to search for drugs or weapons.

That approach, coupled with cooperation from gang intervention workers to stop retaliatory killings, was necessary to reduce the violence, Scott said in a September 2016 interview with The Times, when he was deputy chief of South Bureau. But he also articulated the long-term cost of locking people up.

“If you are an 8-year-old depending on your father to provide for you, and now you see your father going away in handcuffs, who are you going to be mad at? Your father or the police officer who took him away?” he said.

Advertisement

When Scott left for San Francisco at the end of 2016, Beck praised his “tactical skills, intelligence and kindness.”

Scott is trying to turn around a department reeling from a racist text message scandal and the controversial police killing of a black man named Mario Woods.

Shortly before Scott’s arrival, the U.S. Department of Justice had released a study showing that San Francisco police disproportionately used force against minorities, also stopping and searching them more frequently than whites. Scott is working to implement reforms recommended by the Department of Justice and has pushed to arm all his officers with Tasers.

The San Francisco Police Department has about 2,000 officers, compared with 10,000 at the LAPD.

John Burris, a Bay Area civil rights attorney who represented Woods' relatives, said Scott has an open mind on officer discipline and has sometimes tussled with the city's combative police union.

“He came to meetings early and did not, like other chiefs in the past, automatically assume the police’s position," Burris said.

Roberts, the LAPD captain, described Scott as measured and low-key, with a management style that emphasizes collaboration.

“He holds you accountable but in a very friendly way — smiling, laughing, with humor built in,” Roberts said. “His strength is that people don’t have their guard up when they enter the room. He’s able to bridge gaps.”

At a news conference earlier this week, some African American community leaders said they were supporting Scott not because of his race but because he can connect with South L.A. residents and understand their uneasy relationship with the LAPD.

“No one knows South L.A. like Bill Scott does,” said Najee Ali, president of Project Islamic HOPE. “We want Chief Scott to come back home to his city and his community, because the city needs him and South L.A. needs him.”

Departing from recent precedent, Garcetti did not initially release the list of three finalists, citing respect for their confidentiality, but the names were reported by The Times using sources with knowledge of the process. The secrecy was seen by some observers as an attempt to protect Scott from a backlash in San Francisco. Scott has deflected questions about whether he applied for the job and has not responded to The Times’ requests for an interview.

“I’m a man of my word, first and foremost,” Scott told ABC7 San Francisco the day his appointment as chief was announced. “My intent is to be here as long as the city and the citizens and people will have me here, and to get the job done.”

But with Beck’s retirement and the death of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who appointed him, Scott’s ambitions turned back to Los Angeles.

Advertisement
Advertisement