The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday appointed Charlie Beck to a second term as chief of the city’s police department.
With Beck enjoying the strong support of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appointed the commissioners and made clear in recent weeks that he wanted Beck to remain, the panel’s 4-1 vote was widely anticipated.
Calling Beck “a man who has been a distinguished part of this department for 37 years,” commission President Steve Soboroff highlighted the city’s low crime levels under the chief, including a reduction in gang crime, and his success strengthening the LAPD’s ties to various communities.
“When crimes hit record lows and positive community partnerships hit records highs, good things happen,” Soboroff said. “For my vote, the positives far outweigh the negatives.”
At a news conference after the vote, Garcetti praised Beck's work as chief, saying, "Today’s LAPD is leap years ahead of where we were."
The decision to keep Beck for a second five-year term, however, was not a rubber stamp. In comments made before they cast their votes, some commissioners credited Beck with his accomplishments as chief, but expressed concerns about his leadership style and said they expected him to make improvements quickly.
Commissioner Robert Saltzman, who cast the lone vote against Beck, said the chief had “fallen short of the commission's expectations” in some areas.
The pointed comments punctuated several tough months for Beck, in which he has endured criticism from commissioners and rank-and-file officers, who have objected to what they see as his uneven approach to disciplining officers. Commissioners also have questioned whether Beck is committed to working closely with his civilian bosses.
At the news conference with Garcetti, Beck reflected on the rough run-up to Tuesday's vote.
“The reappointment process was much more difficult than I anticipated," he said. "Just like anything that is difficult, it builds character. Just like anything that is difficult, it teaches lessons. And believe me, I learned lessons.”
The recent turmoil muddied what had been a largely successful first term for Beck at the head of the nation’s third-largest police department.
Under Beck’s command, the LAPD has posted statistics showing continued drops in overall crime and dramatic declines in gang crime. The chief is also credited for keeping the agency on an even keel in the wake of considerable budget cuts that included the near elimination of cash payments to officers for working overtime.
In many ways Beck also picked up the mantle of his predecessor, William Bratton. In particular, Beck built on Bratton’s success building the LAPD’s ties to poor and minority communities, where the police had long been distrusted as abusive and corrupt.
Saying she “wholeheartedly” supported a second term for Beck, Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, highlighted Beck’s close working relationship with unions in the city. “On behalf of labor, I want to say we have never had the level of trust … we do today with Chief Beck.”
As recently as January, Beck was viewed by most to be a shoo-in to win reappointment. But in February the stretch of trouble began when he drew a rare public rebuke from Garcetti and Commission President Steve Soboroff for choosing not to seriously punish a group of officers involved in a badly flawed shooting.
Things got worse for Beck in the coming months. He angered commissioners and officers by refusing to fire a well-connected officer, who was caught on tape uttering racial slurs about a black man and later denied it. Beck stood by the decision, but it brought to the surface a deep well of discontent among officers who say the chief does not mete out punishments consistently.
In their comments before the vote, several commissioners mentioned the questions surrounding Beck’s handling of discipline. Addressing Beck directly, Soboroff said, “Officer morale … must be improved.”
The chief’s relationship with the commission also became strained, in particular when it came to light that officers assigned to some of the city’s roughest neighborhoods had tampered with video equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored.
Commission members angrily demanded to know why they had been kept in the dark about the tampering. Beck had seemed to work easily with previous commissioners, but the episode tainted his relationship with new members of the panel whom Garcetti had appointed. Increasingly, they were troubled by what they saw as Beck’s reluctance to include them in serious matters.
After giving assurances that he would improve, Beck seemed back on track for a smooth reappointment. But he came under scrutiny again in recent weeks for two cases involving his daughter, an LAPD officer. In particular, Beck drew the renewed ire of commissioners for failing to alert them that the department had purchased a horse from the chief’s daughter, who is assigned to the LAPD’s equestrian unit.
When pressed to explain the purchase, Beck at first insisted he had recused himself entirely from the decision, but backtracked when documents surfaced showing he had actually approved the deal.
Complicating matters for Beck was a Times investigation this week showing the department had understated violent-crime levels during a recent one-year period. The findings prompted the commission’s inspector general to launch a broad inquiry into the accuracy of the LAPD’s crime statistics in recent years.
At times the steady barrage of controversies rattled Beck, who seemed to bristle at the challenges to his authority and flashed a rarely seen anger over the stories regarding his daughter.
He blamed some of revelations on detractors who were trying to undermine his reappointment bid.
With the vote now behind him, Beck struck a more conciliatory tone.
“As we move forward, perhaps most importantly, we put aside the politics and the drama and the in-fighting that became a hallmark of this reappointment process,” he said, adding that he wanted to “move forward as a great police department in unity.”
Times staff writer Ben Poston contributed to this report.
Twitter: @joelrubinCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
3 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly said that the Los Angeles Police Department is the nation's second-largest. It is the third-largest.
1:48 p.m.: This post has been updated with quotes from Garcetti and Beck.
12:18 p.m.: This post has been updated with quotes from Police Commission members.