Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced Friday that he will retire this summer, ending an eight-year tenure in which he shepherded the department through crippling budget woes, a stubborn uptick in crime and a national outcry over police killings of black men.
Beck, who followed his father’s footsteps in joining the LAPD and forged a career that spanned four decades, made the abrupt announcement during a news conference Friday with Mayor Eric Garcetti to discuss the city’s crime trends, drawing gasps from some in the room.
The chief grew teary-eyed as he talked about his decision to retire, drawing a pat on the back from Garcetti. The timing was right for many reasons, Beck said. He felt the right city leaders were in place to choose from a “great generation of leaders.” And, he said, he would be able to spend more time with his family, particularly his young grandsons.
“One of the secrets of bull riding is knowing when to get off the bull,” Beck said. “And I think this is the right time to get off the bull.”
Garcetti praised Beck’s leadership, calling him “one of the most humanistic people I know.”
“I’ve seen him negotiate to help immigrant organizations make sure that the people they represent aren’t living in fear. I’ve seen him embrace, in tough times, the steady path of reforms even when there’s criticism from both sides saying stop or accelerate,” Garcetti said. “He has been the right chief at the right time.”
The plain-spoken, down-to-earth Beck took over the LAPD from William J. Bratton, a brash outsider who remains one of law enforcement’s most prominent figures. Beck earned a reputation as a “cop’s cop,” someone who knew the job inside and out.
Beck’s tenure was marked by controversy over his approach to disciplining officers, protests over police shootings and continuing distrust of the department among the city’s African American residents. He presided over the department when Christopher Dorner, a rogue ex-LAPD officer, went on a deadly rampage in 2013 targeting cops and their families — marking some of the darkest days of Beck’s time as chief. More recently, his refusal to help federal authorities in the fight against illegal immigration won him praise from California politicians and immigrants-rights advocates while putting him at odds with the Trump administration.
Insiders have long speculated that Beck would step down before the end of his second, and final, term as chief. Beck kept his decision close to his chest, he said, telling only his highest-ranking officers minutes before Friday’s news conference. Other commanders, who attended what they thought would be a routine briefing about crime, said they were shocked by the news.
Deputy Chief Dennis Kato said he tried to keep the surprise from showing on his face when he heard the announcement.
”Everything comes from his heart. You know all his intentions are pure,” he said of Beck. “He’s been consistent from day one, from when he was a captain.”
Beck will step down on June 27, his 65th birthday. He plans to work to the end, he said, forgoing the need for an interim chief.
He was sworn in as chief in 2009, an appointee of then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who had the backing of the rank-and-file and civil rights advocates. It was the capstone of an unexpected career for Beck, who initially aspired to be a professional motocross racer before becoming a police officer.
Beck’s deep family connections to the LAPD — two of his children are also on the force — have influenced his often-paternalistic view of the department and its officers.
“I am not a member of the LAPD. I am the LAPD,” he said. “It is my DNA.”
He joined the department during a strikingly different era of policing, becoming an officer just a year before Daryl F. Gates — a name that for many is synonymous with the LAPD's aggressive, racially charged past — was sworn in as chief. Beck’s career will end at a time when officers are expected to be guardians, not warriors, and police seek strong, trusting relationships with their communities.
Beck has witnessed some of the most defining moments in the LAPD’s past: the 1992 riots that erupted after the officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted, the Rampart corruption scandal, and the federal consent decree that followed.
“The whole decade of the ’90s was devastating to the city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department, and part of the reason it was devastating to the city was the Los Angeles Police Department,” he said in an interview Friday. “That really formed my beliefs in policing. I swore to myself that if I ever got in a position of significant authority, that I would never let this happen again.”
As Beck rose through the ranks, he made his mark by rehabilitating the scandal-plagued Rampart Division and forging better relationships with residents as he oversaw officers in South L.A.
Beck helped transform the LAPD from an occupying force to a department that builds trust with residents in high-crime areas, said Connie Rice, a veteran civil rights attorney who was once a harsh critic of the department.
“It was extremely important that the chief who followed Bratton understand in his DNA, down to the bone, that he had to get the LAPD’s future, and that future did not lie with warrior policing,” Rice said.
Beck inherited a daunting fiscal situation when he became chief, and earned respect as he guided the department through budget cuts that all but eliminated overtime cash and strained resources.
”He did a damn good job of working with the budget,” said Craig Lally, the president of the union representing the LAPD’s rank and file.
Beck also led the LAPD to the end of a 12-year consent decree, pushing the department over the finish line by rolling out final reforms.
After a steady first term, Beck faced tough questions from police commissioners as they weighed his reappointment in 2014. On their list of concerns: his approval of the LAPD’s purchase of his daughter’s horse, and discipline of officers that many felt was inconsistent and too lenient.
Most recently, Beck has led the LAPD during another transformational moment in policing. Amid national criticism of how law enforcement officers use force, particularly against African Americans, Los Angeles witnessed protests over shootings by LAPD officers, and the department drew fierce criticism from local members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some of those activists celebrated Beck’s retirement Friday, declaring victory outside the department’s downtown headquarters.
”This is long overdue,” said General Jeff Page, a skid row activist. “Adios, Charlie Beck.”
Like agencies across the country, the LAPD has worked to reduce shootings by officers through revamped training and policies, and rolled out new technology such as body cameras in hopes of building public trust.
Matt Johnson, the vice president of the Police Commission, praised Beck’s leadership in implementing those new changes and expanding community policing efforts.
”Chief Beck has been a true partner, a good friend,” Johnson said in a statement.
It is unclear who will replace Beck as the city’s next police chief, a decision that will be made by Garcetti after the Police Commission presents him with top candidates. Beck said he believes his successor should come from within the department, or someone who recently left it.
Steve Soboroff, the commission’s president, said the civilian oversight panel would hold community meetings to collect public input. Beck — and his institutional knowledge — would be difficult to replace, he added.
”What I will miss about him is 40 years of boots on the ground,” Soboroff said. “He’s a cop’s cop. He knows policing.”
Beck, however, has repeatedly talked about the importance of the LAPD as a whole, beyond whoever happens to be chief. One of his goals as chief, he said, was to ensure that officers did the right thing because they were supposed to — not because the head of the department told them to.