Op-Ed: Reappoint Charlie Beck as police chief
Should Charlie Beck be reappointed? Yes. But that answer would be expected from someone the chief has called his partner in police reform for 12 years.
Here is why the rest of you should also want Chief Beck reappointed.
We’ve all read the recent sensationalized headlines over donated horses and insufficiently harsh discipline. But these things are not grounds for dismissing one of the most important chiefs — along with William H. Parker and William J. Bratton — in the Los Angeles Police Department’s history.
On the horse deal, it involved private funds and the LAPD came out ahead. Enough said. And when it comes to punishing officers, I have learned to trust Beck’s judgment, even when I disagree with the penalty. He is trying to create cops with humane and empathetic mind-sets, and that requires that they, too, are treated humanely. Beck knows that you can kill the spirit of a good cop with overly harsh punishment. That isn’t to say, however, that he’s overly soft. If an officer commits what Beck calls a “bad heart” offense or one that is abusive of the public, he fires the officer immediately.
And what exactly has Chief Beck accomplished? Bratton turned the ship around, recruiting top brass into his vision of public trust policing. Beck has had the tough job of pushing that vision deeper down into the ranks of the LAPD, and he has succeeded. More and more, officers see themselves as builders of the community instead of its enforcers.
That’s not just humane policing; it’s good policing. Crime has continued to drop, gang crime is down, and Beck has hit every major performance target, despite a significantly reduced budget. Los Angeles has not seen crime rates like this since the 1950s, and that’s at a time when Chicago and other major cities are experiencing surges in shootings.
Here’s my favorite example of the Beck approach. In 2011, after hearing of a Korean American family that had been tortured by the Grape Street Crips in the Jordan Downs housing project, Beck pledged to end gang terror for public housing residents. And he was determined to accomplish that goal without alienating or brutalizing the projects’ low-income residents.
Today, the cutting-edge, specialized unit he created — the Community Safety Partnership Police — operates in four historically gang-controlled developments: Ramona Gardens, Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts and Nickerson Gardens. Partnership police are not rewarded for the numbers of arrests they make. They get credit, however, for demonstrating how they avoided arresting a kid, how they created soccer leagues, helped residents create a farmers market, helped elders get bifocals, got computers for local students, arranged for diabetes treatment, cleaned up a dangerous alley or took kids to the beach for the first time in their lives. In other words, Beck has created a specialized unit that achieves trust through service. And with that trust and backing from the residents, this LAPD unit has substantially reduced gang crime in the areas where it operates.
Indeed, Nickerson Gardens has gone two years without a homicide — which is like a brothel going without sex acts for two years. But perhaps the best example of the unit’s success could be seen during the grim days when former officer Christopher Dorner was rampaging through Southern California killing police officers in a revenge spree. When members of the Blood Bounty Hunters gang of Nickerson Gardens learned that Dorner intended to kill the captain of the Community Safety Partnership unit, they offered to protect him and his family. When I asked these gangsters why they would volunteer to protect an LAPD captain, they said that they still hated LAPD cops, but that the captain had helped their grandparents, their mamas, their parents and their kids, and they didn’t want him to die.
Beck has done an excellent job reducing crime, a good job in getting LAPD officers to see themselves as humane members of the community and an outstanding job of pushing relationship-based policing. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there’s no room for improvement.
On treatment of skid row residents and the homeless, for example, I give the department a D-minus. We have come a long way on police reform, but we still have a long way to go. There is no doubt in my mind that Beck is the leader we need for this phase of reform.
In his second term he should seek closer coordination with the Police Commission; mandate humane policing that does not traumatize and humiliate residents of skid row and the homeless; document and expand Community Safety Partnership policing; improve gang intervention; and make sure capable officers are brought along to continue the Bratton/Beck reforms.
Beck is not perfect. But as someone who sued the LAPD for 15 years and then worked closely with it on police reform under Bratton, I know the leadership of LAPD well. Beck is a singularly good leader who believes wholeheartedly in humane, constitutional, public-trust policing. He needs more time to lock in the changes he has instituted and to move the department into the new policing. We are lucky to have him and should reconfirm his appointment as chief of LAPD.
Connie Rice is a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles.
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