Opinion Editorial

Reappoint Chief Beck? Yes

Chief Beck has been steady and effective leader of the LAPD. He should be reappointed to another 5-year term
Although Chief Beck deserves reappointment, there's still room for improvement in the LAPD

At the beginning of the year, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck would be reappointed for a second five-year term. He's led the department during a remarkable period of safety and stability. Crime has continued to fall under his watch. The department has grown increasingly diverse and has forged stronger ties with the black and Latino communities with which it historically had troubled relations. There's been significantly less gang violence during the Beck years, and the LAPD has largely avoided major controversies or scandals.

In recent months, some bumps in the road have emerged: several cases of questionable officer discipline, as well as complaints by members of the civilian Police Commission that they were being kept in the dark about instances of police misconduct. As a result, Beck's cakewalk to reappointment became, instead, a months-long period of scrutiny and evaluation. And that's fine with us. The reappointment process is the only formal opportunity for the Police Commission and the public to assess the chief, who is arguably one of the most powerful public officials in the city. It's also a chance to look at the department's performance and direction. Has the LAPD maintained the hard-fought reforms put in place under the federal consent decree, which was lifted several years ago? Are officers viewed as partners or overseers in high-crime communities? Are the LAPD's crime suppression tactics reasonable and even-handed?

We think the conclusion is clear: Beck has earned another five-year term, and the Police Commission should reappoint him to the job.

Just look at the numbers. Crime in the city has decreased for 11 years in a row, beginning under the previous chief, William J. Bratton, and continuing for the last five years under Beck. It's true that L.A. has benefited from a long-term trend in which cities across the country are becoming safer, but that doesn't negate the impact that smart policing and good management have had here. In fact, Los Angeles has continued to cut crime even as other cities, such as Chicago, have experienced a resurgence in homicides and gang violence. While overall crime in L.A. was down in the first six months of this year, it should be noted that there was a small increase in violent crime, due partly to a rise in aggravated assaults. If Beck is reappointed, he will be under tremendous pressure to turn that around.

Beck should get extra credit for keeping crime low even though he has had, on average, significantly fewer officers on duty each day than his predecessor did, as a result of budget cuts that forced officers to stay home rather than be paid overtime.

Beck has also used good judgment in high-profile situations. For example, while the Occupy encampments in New York, Oakland and elsewhere led to clashes with police, Beck took a nonconfrontational approach that largely avoided violence even when the protesters had to be cleared from City Hall's lawn. Beck has also cultivated strong relationships in L.A.'s cultural and political communities; when the LAPD was given two drones this year, department brass quickly reached out to civil liberties groups to seek input on how to protect privacy if the unmanned aircraft are used.

This is not to say that Beck is above criticism. In recent months, some weaknesses in his management style have become apparent; left unchecked, they could undermine some of the tremendous improvements of the last decade. There is, for instance, a widespread perception in the department that Beck, who has the final say on discipline of officers, has been unfair in meting out punishment — too harsh on some unlucky officers and too easy on favored employees. In one case, Beck overruled a panel's recommendation that he fire an officer caught lying to investigators — an officer who also happened to be the nephew of a former deputy chief.

Beck also faced some discontent inside and outside the department when he returned eight officers to duty even though they had violated policy by carelessly firing more than 100 rounds at two women delivering newspapers during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last year.

Beck has repeatedly chosen to retrain officers rather than fire them for mistakes on the job, including out-of-policy shootings that killed or injured people. He was challenged publicly on this in 2012 by members of the Police Commission, who said his seemingly lenient punishments could send the wrong message to officers. Two years later, the police officers' union and a new civilian panel appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti also expressed concern about uneven discipline. If reappointed, Beck must address lingering perceptions of leniency and favoritism. He should lay out clear standards for discipline so officers know what to expect and so commissioners can hold him accountable if he deviates from his own policy.

Beck has had at times a strained relationship with the five-member Police Commission, which he reports to. Some commissioners complain that the chief has neglected to alert them to significant problems or decisions, such as Beck's choice not to investigate which South L.A. division officers were responsible for tampering with patrol cars' recording equipment, apparently in order to avoid being monitored. If he is reappointed, Beck must be consistently open and communicative with the commission so the public can have confidence that the chief and the LAPD are being held accountable.

These are criticisms that should not be ignored, but none is so significant that it should jeopardize Beck's position. He has been a steady, sober and effective chief, and The Times urges that he be reappointed.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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