Q&A: How L.A. plans to find its next police chief

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck converse at an LAPD graduation ceremony in 2014.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Mayor Eric Garcetti and his five appointees on the Police Commission have a daunting task ahead: finding L.A.’s next police chief.

As soon as Chief Charlie Beck announced his retirement in January, speculation about his successor began. Would it be an insider or an outsider? A man or, for the first time in the city’s history, a woman? Could L.A. see its first Latino police chief?

The next chief will lead the nation’s third-largest police department, one with a storied and sometimes troubled history. It is a pivotal moment in law enforcement, as years of national debate over shootings by officers, particularly of black men, have inspired changes at many agencies, including the LAPD.

Beck’s successor will inherit reforms already in the works at the LAPD, including attempts to reduce shootings by officers through new training and policies, and the rollout of new technology such as body cameras and drones. The next chief will also be tasked with tackling the city’s stubborn rise in crime and building trust in neighborhoods wary of the police.

The search rests with a Police Commission that is increasingly proactive in pushing reform, with the ultimate decision made by a mayor who some believe will soon run for president. It is one of the most closely watched calls Garcetti will make as the mayor of L.A.

But how does the process work?

How exactly does L.A. look for its next chief?

The process is laid out in the City Charter. The city will advertise the job, then the Personnel Department will narrow down the list of candidates to refer to the Police Commission, the five-person panel that oversees the LAPD. It is up to the Police Commission to give the mayor three top candidates, in ranked order. The mayor then picks a new chief from that list — unless he asks the commission for three additional candidates.

The City Council must then approve the mayor’s choice.

Steve Soboroff, the president of the Police Commission, said he and vice president Matt Johnson would serve as a subcommittee for the search. They will narrow down the list of candidates provided by the Personnel Department, he said. All five members of the Police Commission will then interview those candidates and give Garcetti the list of their top three.

Police commissioners Sandra Figueroa-Villa, left, Shane Murphy Goldsmith and Cynthia McClain-Hill at a 2016 meeting at City Hall.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

What happens next?

As it did before Beck was selected for the job, the Police Commission is holding meetings across the city to hear what the public is looking for in the new police chief.

“The reality is, we want a lot of input,” Soboroff said. “It will all be evaluated and considered as we do this process, not just as a box to check to say that we did it.”

The meetings will occur:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Wilmington Senior Center
  • Thursday, Feb. 15, at 6:30 p.m. at the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park
  • Saturday, Feb. 17, at 10 a.m. at Van Nuys City Hall
  • Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Edwin Markham Middle School in Watts
  • Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the Montecito Heights Senior Center
  • Saturday, Feb. 24, at 10 a.m. at the West L.A. Municipal Building in Sawtelle

Residents will also be able to weigh in online using a website the Police Commission said would be available later this month.

Then what?

Commissioners plan to incorporate that public feedback into the brochure advertising the job — their “help wanted” flier. Soboroff said he wanted to wait to finalize the flier until board members heard from the public.

“It’s not only my goal, it’s my expectation” to incorporate public input in the brochure, Soboroff said.

The reality is, we want a lot of input.

— Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission

When will the city have a new chief?

Sometime before June 27, the day Beck said he will retire. Beck has said he will work until that date — it was important to him, he said, to forgo the need for an interim chief.

Soboroff said he hoped to get a list of applicants from the Personnel Department by mid-April that he and Johnson will start whittling down. His goal, he said, is for the commission to start conducting interviews in early May.