Op-Ed: What L.A. should look for in its next police chief and school superintendent

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Los Angeles is about to make its most important leadership hires in years: a new superintendent for the L.A. Unified School District, and a new chief for the Los Angeles Police Department.

For obvious reasons, each hire is significant to those institutions. What many people may not realize is that these two high-stakes decisions will set the tone in our city for the next decade.

Both of these institutions have been criticized for mismanagement and for their treatment of the city’s most disadvantaged families and neighborhoods. But by most measures, the LAUSD and the LAPD have been serving our communities better in recent years, and both are at a crossroads.


In public education, the debate over charter schools has been center stage for far too long. We are finally poised to move past that argument and prioritize the real needs of children and their families. To do this, we will need a superintendent who believes in the “whole child” approach to education and wants to invest in the long-term development of healthy, productive and successful adults.

The school district’s finances require attentive stewardship. Is it therefore equally important that our new superintendent be interested in building partnerships across the public and private sectors.

The new police chief will be responsible for leading the LAPD through the next phase of community policing. The outgoing chief, Charlie Beck, understood that “we cannot simply arrest our way” to public safety. The new chief should strive to go even further and make the LAPD a national model for community policing and explore other strategies that prioritize prevention over punishment.

Both institutions should prioritize candidates who see the value of diversity and inclusion.

Police brutality and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement have placed race and community trust at the center of debates over law enforcement reform. The responsibility of addressing racial bias in policing falls squarely on large urban police departments, including the LAPD. The new chief must embrace this challenge, not run from it.

Both the L.A. Unified School Board and the L.A. Police Commission would be wise to invite meaningful public input on the critically important qualities of finalist candidates. The Police Commission has already embarked on a search process that allows for community input. The LAUSD should do the same.


Both institutions should also prioritize candidates who see the value of diversity and inclusion. We will need a police chief who views grass-roots leaders and young people of color as assets and partners in public safety rather than enemies. To improve public safety, the police chief will need to view L.A.’s neighborhoods as more than just crime statistics. Similarly, to truly reform public education, we will need a superintendent who sees our children as more than just test scores.

A decade from now, L.A. will host the Olympics. We need to make critical decisions now about the city we would like visitors to see in 2028. These two hires are a good place to start.

Fred Ali is president and chief executive of the Weingart Foundation. Antonia Hernandez is president and CEO of the California Community Foundation. Robert K. Ross is president and CEO of the California Endowment.

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