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Anxiety and grief cloud graduation ceremony for Los Angeles police recruits

Less than 12 hours after a sniper killed several police officers in Dallas, three dozen fresh-faced recruits sat solemnly in dark-blue uniforms outside the Los Angeles Police Department’s downtown headquarters, staring straight ahead during a graduation ceremony marking the end of their journey to become fully fledged cops. 

“Today was supposed to be a happy day,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti told them. “But we come here today with tears in our hearts, with hearts that are broken.”

Full coverage: Dallas police shooting >>

Thursday night’s attack in Dallas hung over the LAPD’s graduation ceremony Friday morning, the pomp and circumstance clouded by concern.

One veteran officer’s eyes welled with tears as he talked about the attack. A graduate called the shooting “heartbreaking.” All officers, including those about to join the LAPD, wore black mourning bands across their badges.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said those bands were a “symbol of a breakdown.”

“We have separated. We have broken into tribes,” Beck told his newest officers. “We must move beyond that.”

Beck frequently referenced Dallas — where a dozen police officers were shot, five fatally — in his remarks to the city’s 37 new police officers, saying he was overcome with “sorrow and rage” when he learned of the attack. The chief was solemn as he spoke, with what have become normal themes of his graduation speeches — the national conversation about policing, the need to build relationships within the city, the character he expects of his officers — underscored by a call for national unity.

Don’t retreat, Beck told his officers. Don’t pick a side. The dialogue, he said, “cannot break down.”

“You join a profession today that is at a very difficult crossroads,” Beck said. “We will move forward … reaching across the aisle, reaching across the divide, recognizing that we have so much more in common than we do in difference. That’s the kind of police department I want to lead. That is what I demand of each of you.”

The recruits are bound for either the LAPD or the city’s airport police agency.

The chief ended his speech as he ends all of his graduation speeches — even though, he said, Friday’s graduation was “vastly different.” He turned to the families of the LAPD’s newest officers, acknowledging the fear and worry they carried and making a promise: As long as the officers protect and serve the city, he will protect and serve them.

“Don’t be afraid,” Beck told their families. “Be proud.”

Later in the day, Beck recorded a message that was sent to officers across the department, an effort to reassure the rank and file. A copy of the almost three-minute recording was reviewed by The Times.

“I know all of you are hurting right now,” the chief began. “What we saw happen in Dallas has got to impact you.”

Beck stressed that officer safety remained his “No. 1 priority.” He mentioned a “huge outpouring” of support for the LAPD in the wake of the Dallas attack, including support from a pair of rappers who met with the chief and mayor Friday morning. The chief told officers that it was time to start a conversation not just about policing, but about violence in general.

”But I need to remind you: The world is watching,” he said. “The world is watching how law enforcement will react to this. I need you to be professional. I need you to show empathy for people. I need you to do the right thing.”

”Take care of yourself,” the chief ended. “Be safe. Do the right thing.”

kate.mather@latimes.com

For more LAPD and crime news, follow me on Twitter: @katemather

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UPDATES:

4:56 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about a recording LAPD Chief Charlie Beck sent  to officers Friday afternoon.

This article was originally published at 2:23 p.m.

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