Despite criticism, LAPD Chief Michel Moore maintains support in political circles
In the political sea change that has occurred in Los Angeles since the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, few top officials have come under more scrutiny than Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore.
Black Lives Matter activists have called for his ouster as part of a larger movement to defund the Los Angeles Police Department and enact sweeping reforms. But at City Hall and in other corridors of power in L.A. politics, Moore continues to enjoy wide public backing, with officials pointing to the 40-year veteran’s record of implementing reforms.
“Bringing about a fairer society isn’t just a job for one person — it’s for all of us — but Chief Moore is a critical leader in this work,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement to The Times.
“I think he’s not just the best person [for the job] in Los Angeles, but the best person in the country,” said Commissioner Steve Soboroff of the department’s civilian Police Commission.
Activists and many protesters could not disagree more.
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, which has long objected to Moore’s leadership and is suing the Police Department over its recent protest tactics, said Moore told protesters they had the right to be in the street to demand change over recent police killings of Black people, then ordered a violent crackdown with batons and foam and sponge bullets that left many peaceful protesters badly injured.
He also has presided over a department that has disproportionately pulled over and searched Black and Latino drivers, and illegitimately entered people into a gang database, Abdullah noted.
“You have elected officials on one side who are measuring things politically, and then you have the people of Los Angeles on the other side who are looking at the quality of the job and the unwillingness to engage in the real, transformative change that is required,” Abdullah said. “Michel Moore has demonstrated his loyalty to Garcetti, and that’s the most important thing rather than the job being the most important thing. We want the job to be the most important thing.”
Activists’ criticisms notwithstanding, the more positive consensus in L.A. political circles — at least among those officials who have made their views known — bodes well for Moore, as, under the City Charter it is the mayor, the Police Commission and the City Council who control the police chief’s fate. The commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor, controls one mechanism for removal, and the council controls the other.
“He has repeatedly expressed his willingness to lead the LAPD to implement the reforms that residents and leaders are calling for,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, whose Fairfax district was the scene of some of the largest protests, most devastating property damage and most brutal LAPD enforcement tactics.
Neither body has discussed removing Moore, who took charge of the department in 2018. Some members have acknowledged concerns about his recent performance, but say they trust him to evaluate any shortcomings and improve.
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, whose district takes in Hollywood, Silver Lake and Glassell Park, said criticisms from reform advocates “are understandable,” but that Moore “has been responsive to his critics.”
“This moment demands that we all hold ourselves to a new, higher standard,” he said.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents neighborhoods in the West San Fernando Valley, said he has seen footage and heard stories from Angelenos who were at recent protests “that are truly disturbing,” but he stands behind Moore.
“The systemic change needed to address institutional racism in police departments needs chiefs who are willing to acknowledge mistakes and missteps and be the change we need to see,” he said. “I have confidence in Chief Moore to lead this department, but tough conversations and, more importantly, actions must happen.”
Some other council and Police Commission members have not responded to requests for comment on Moore.
The support comes amid public outcry calling for his removal. Dozens of residents have called in to legislative hearings and every Police Commission meeting in the last month to demand Moore be fired. It also comes as the department faces a class-action lawsuit and other litigation over its handling of the protests, and as multiple surveys are being circulated by labor groups to gauge sentiment among officers about the direction in which the department is headed under Moore’s leadership.
According to a command staff member with access to results for one survey, only 25% of officers who had responded as of July 7 believed Moore’s response during the recent protests and unrest was adequate, and only 30% felt supported by Moore.
Police union officials say many officers believe Moore abandoned them by bowing to activists and the politicians who back them.
“We’ve worked well with the Chief over the past two years. However, most front-line officers hoped that he would have stood up for our officers and the department publicly while city politicians slashed our budget, cut hundreds of officers, and distorted the department’s substantial progress on enacting meaningful police reform,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
Activists say Moore talks the talk of reform but often doubles back on his own progressive-minded pronouncements to defend the overpolicing of Black and brown communities and other reprehensible police practices.
Officials who continue to back Moore are disingenuous about their desire to see true change in the department, activists say, and should look more to Moore’s actions than his rhetoric.
Amid the current “Defund Police” movement, for example, Moore has professed a desire to see a portion of police work shifted to other trained professionals, including mental health providers, which is a key demand of activists. But he also has argued against cuts to the police budget needed to make that possible, activists say.
Moore himself has had moments of introspection, in which the weight of the current movement for police reform has made him wonder whether his time at the top was running short.
Amid a barrage of criticism and calls for his firing during a Police Commission meeting last month, Moore got a text message from Soboroff — first obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting — in which Soboroff suggested the critics couldn’t be reasoned with.
“So sad. So mean so angry,” Soboroff wrote.
Moore quickly wrote back to say they “must listen and remain resolved” — and that he, too, could “see the need to change” leadership at the LAPD if calls for his head grew.
“Not aware of [an] incident of civil unrest to this degree in which the top elected officials and for that matter the cop aren’t needed to exit to reset,” Moore wrote.
The blunt assessment was one based on history, which has seen leaders of major police departments across the country resign or get pushed out in the wake of big protests and civil disturbances, Moore said in an interview with The Times. But it was no capitulation to resign.
Moore said he wants to be part of the broader public safety solution being sought by activists and protesters, and to make the LAPD a shining example of progressive policing nationally.
“These are hard days. These are troubling and uncertain times,” Moore said. “But I also know that I want to be a part — and I see us being a part — of leading in law enforcement and in 21st century policing across America.”
Having headed up every major division of the LAPD over his nearly 40 years on the force, Moore said he brings a “steady hand” and “credibility” to the LAPD at a time when both are needed badly. He said he has shown an ability to “reconcile differences” rather than get into fights with people who don’t immediately see eye to eye with him.
He believes he can give officers “confidence that we have a path forward, that we are an agency to be proud of.” He said he knows that “a significant number of them may be demoralized, disheartened under a lot of pressure and underappreciated,” but that they should know that he has their backs and recognizes all of their hard work improving the department in recent years.
Garcetti said he first met Moore when Moore was “cleaning up” the department after officers were caught framing civilians in the late 1990s, and made him chief because “he has proven throughout his career that he is a reformer, unafraid to take difficult steps forward.”
Garcetti said the LAPD needs that type of leader now.
Garcetti also faced calls from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles to fire Moore’s predecessor, Charlie Beck, over police killings.
Since then, the city’s arrest of homeless people, police use of force, and gentrification have made the mayor a target of left-wing activists. Those activists have also been critical of Moore.
But Garcetti defends Moore, just as he stuck by Beck.
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.
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