Villaraigosa selects Beck to be next LAPD chief

by Joel Rubin and Phil Willon (LA Times)
November 3, 2009


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has selected Charlie Beck, a 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department with strong support from rank-and-file officers and civil rights advocates alike, to serve as the next chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, The Times has learned.

The choice, which the mayor is expected to announce at a press conference Wednesday morning, comes at a time of uncertainty for the department with its budget battered by the city’s fiscal crisis and morale of rank-and-file officers wavering in the face of a new contract that offers no pay raise.

Beck, 56, has risen quickly through the department’s command ranks in recent years and was widely viewed as the favorite to be tapped as the mayor’s nominee. From his success rehabilitating the LAPD’s Rampart Division, which had been at the center of a corruption scandal, and later as head of the department’s forces in South L.A., Beck has managed to earn praise from both cops and onetime critics of the LAPD for blending a tough stance on crime with a progressive approach to bettering the LAPD’s relationship with city residents.

Beck declined to comment when reached on the phone. Several sources close to the selection process confirmed the decision.

Villaraigosa chose Beck nearly three months after Police Chief William J. Bratton abruptly announced his plan to step down after seven years in which he oversaw dramatic declines in crime and had improved long-strained relations between the police and minority communities. Bratton left office Saturday and Beck’s appointment must still be ratified by the City Council in a vote expected in the coming weeks, although no serious opposition is anticipated.

Beck faces the difficult task of sustaining his predecessor’s hard-won gains.

Villaraigosa in recent days described the appointment as perhaps the most important decision he will make as mayor, and it appeared to be a difficult one for him. He met for several hours last week with Beck and the other two finalists for the job, Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell and Deputy Chief Michel Moore, and then summoned the three again Sunday afternoon.

Villaraigosa had sought the advice of numerous elected officials and others. On Saturday, he met with Council President Eric Garcetti, along with other council members, and spent Sunday morning chatting with church leaders around the city. He is keenly aware that after inheriting Bratton, the new chief’s success or failure could weigh heavily on his effectiveness governing Los Angeles, just as it did for Los Angeles’ three previous mayors.

Beck’s five-year term would run to 2014, one year after Villaraigosa will be forced out of office by term limits.

“You want a strong leader, but I’m not looking for bravado. I think you can be a quietly strong leader,” Villaraigosa said, discussing the qualities he was looking for during an interview last week. “I think it’s important that the chief is someone who has an ability to project calm during crisis. That’s essential for a department of this size in a city exposed to so many major incidents.”

The mayor has wrestled with the decision for a week, since the Los Angeles Police Commission forwarded the names of the three finalists, each of them respected veteran LAPD commanders whom Bratton tutored and promoted to the department’s high ranks.

“The mayor gave this a very detailed, thorough and complete analysis,” Councilman Dennis Zine said Sunday afternoon. “It’s not an easy decision. All these men are very qualified.”

Beck has the unenviable task of following a chief who earned a reputation as one of the country’s leading law enforcement minds, implementing a crime-fighting strategy built around an obsessive focus on crime data that pinpointed areas of Los Angeles in need of additional police officers. Crime rates have fallen every year since Bratton’s arrival.

Because of that success, the mayor and City Council leaders mostly tolerated Bratton’s brash style and churlish politics — last spring, Bratton threatened to remove officers from the Westside when that area’s councilman voted to halt police hiring because of the city budget crisis.

Beck should not expect the same latitude.

“There’s only one Bill Bratton and he certainly has his good points, but there were some things that I felt were counterproductive,” Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents San Pedro and a portion of South Los Angeles, said earlier. “I think you can get the same results with the council with good communication and understanding.”

Bratton also benefited from Villaraigosa’s relentless push to add hundreds of officers to the department, an effort the council indirectly supported by tripling trash fees. But the city’s current precarious finances have put an end to the hiring binge.

This year, the department’s budget was slashed by $60 million, and hiring was reduced to replace only those officers who retire or resign. As a result, November’s Police Academy class was canceled. Under the terms of a new contract with the city’s police union, officers also will forgo cost-of-living increases for two years and instead of being paid overtime, many will be forced to take extra days off — meaning fewer police patrolling the streets.

This comes as Los Angeles may see an increase in the number of convicted felons on local streets. In response to California’s recent budget crisis, the California Legislature voted to slash $1 billion in funding for the state prison system and impose measures projected to reduce the prison population by more than 20,000 inmates over two years. Included in those cuts is a loss of $250 million for inmate rehabilitation services, including substance abuse programs, which experts said increases the likelihood that offenders will commit more crimes.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, who represents a portion of the northeast San Fernando Valley, said the new chief can overcome those potential setbacks by embracing alternative programs for combating crime, including prevention intervention programs for street gangs and prisoner reentry.

“They’ve come a long way in the last few years when it comes to the top brass, and more of the line officers in understanding those roles, but at the same time the new chief is going to have to expand on that, not abandon it,” Cardenas said in an interview before Beck was chosen.

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