Fierce competition for LAPD interim chief is like ‘Game of Thrones,’ insiders say
An interim Los Angeles police chief could be named as early as this week, as city decision-makers are beginning to feel the crunch of picking a temporary successor for outgoing leader Michel Moore, who is set to depart at the end of the month.
The Board of Police Commissioners, the LAPD’s civilian policymaking body, is set to discuss the hiring of an interim chief at its regular weekly meeting Tuesday at police headquarters. After hearing from members of the public, the commission will go into closed session for “Discussion and possible Board action” on the matter, according to an agenda posted Friday.
If a decision isn’t announced Tuesday, one almost certainly will be in the coming days as the clock continues to tick on finding a replacement for Moore, who will step down roughly a year into what was set to be his second five-year term. Moore had said he planned to serve for two or three years, and he will remain on as a consultant for the next few months while the city conducts a nationwide search to find a permanent replacement.
For all the gains women in the LAPD have made in recent decades, they remain underrepresented in the upper reaches of the department.
The unexpected timing of Moore’s announcement left the Police Commission scrambling to select a replacement to take over what is considered as one of the most high-profile and challenging jobs in law enforcement, leading the nation’s third-largest police department. The appointment will be made by the five-member commission, with input from Mayor Karen Bass, whose office did not provide comment Monday.
Inside LAPD headquarters, Moore’s retirement has set off a round of jockeying and politicking that is so intense that some department insiders are calling it “Game of Thrones,” after the hit HBO series about the palace intrigue behind warring kingdoms.
According to multiple department sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the selection process, the field of internal and external candidates competing for the job has been winnowed after the Police Commission received cover letters and resumes from some members of the command staff.
Rob Saltzman, a former police commissioner, told The Times that the commission will probably look for someone to step in immediately to “stabilize the department.” That means someone with the political acumen and managerial skills who can step in on Day One and manage the three major department offices: operations, special operations and support services, he said.
“So the kinds of operational questions that come up on a regular basis, difficult operations situations, how much resources to assign,” Saltzman said, in addition to decisions related to use of force and officer discipline. “Then there are lots of personnel issues, there’ll be discipline issues, potentially promotions that the chief needs to deal with that cannot just sit waiting for a permanent chief.”
Deputy Chief Michael Rimkunas, one of the two internal candidates said to be on the shortlist, said he was interviewed for an hour by commissioners after applying for the job, which he described as a smooth process.
“The Police Commission has done a good job; I think they’re doing their due diligence about the other candidates,” said Rimkunas, a 29-year department veteran who runs the Professional Standards Bureau.
L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia released the results of a months-long review of the Air Support Division, questioning ‘whether the LAPD has justified the need for the program’s current size and scope.’
“The interim chief is there to provide stability and support in order to get that done,” he said. “It’s more collaboration with the Board of Police Commissioners, with the mayor, conducting an assessment of how things are going, instilling morale, making sure we’re holding folks accountable, being transparent with the community.”
The other internal candidate, department sources said, is Assistant Chief Dominic Choi, who was recently elevated to the post to replace the outgoing Robert Marino. Choi did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Among the “outside” candidates who have been interviewed, according to LAPD sources, all have worked for the department at one time or another.
One of them is Sandy Jo MacArthur, who came up through the department during a period of upheaval in the late 1990s and eventually rose to the rank of assistant chief. MacArthur retired in 2015 but still serves as a reserve officer. She is currently working with the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, which studies crime and policing. She previously interviewed for the police chief job in 2018, which eventually went to Moore. If she were picked for the interim role this time around, she would become the first woman to lead the department.
“It’s been an interesting process, and I think that the people that I understand are in the group are all really good people,” MacArthur said when reached by phone Monday. “So I think that they’ve got a good pool to choose from.”
The candidate with the most leadership experience is former Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. He has also been away from the department the longest, having left in 2010 to become police chief in Long Beach. Four years later, he was elected sheriff, taking over the largest non-municipal law enforcement agency in the country. He and MacArthur both helped the LAPD implement a consent decree that largely resulted from the Rampart corruption scandal of the late 1990s.
Also in the mix, according to multiple sources, is Bob Green, a former LAPD deputy chief. He did not respond to a call seeking comment.
In announcing his departure, Moore said he was proud of his career at the department and had made the decision to leave in order to spend more time with his family.
Moore has endured a series of department controversies in recent months, including a string of officer misconduct incidents and a whistleblower complaint alleging that two detectives were ordered to investigate Bass shortly after her election. Moore vehemently denied the allegations.
Two detectives have filed complaints alleging that shortly after Bass was elected, Chief Michel Moore requested an inquiry into the USC scholarship. Moore denied the allegations.
Prognosticators say that picking a chief is one of the most consequential decisions a mayor makes, and Bass may decide to appoint a woman or a Latino for the first time in the department’s long history.
Paula Minor, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and a regular presence at commission meetings, said she had little faith that a change at the top would be enough to fix some of the LAPD’s “systemic issues.” As critical as she was of Moore’s leadership, she conceded that even he at times appeared helpless in addressing a deeply entrenched culture of impunity and “the heavy, heavy influence” of the police union.
“What type of individual you select may not make a significant difference in the outcome or the changes that you need in the department,” Minor said.
At the same time, she said, a change at the top would be a step toward rooting out “a level of incompetence that’s kind of just tolerated.”
Times editor Cindy Chang contributed to this report.
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