Thursday's ceremonial swearing-in of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck assembled the department’s diehard defenders, and its toughest critics. That reflects what many people regard as one of Beck’s most important talents.
Charlie Beck’s been on the job for more than two weeks. The ceremony was just that – a symbolic acknowledgment of his ascension to chief.
But it brought together not just political, police and community leaders, but a few old adversaries from the past.
“I don’t want it to go un-noted that my first accomplishment as chief of police is having Daryl Gates and Tom Hayden on the same podium," quipped Beck during his speech.
"There’s been no lightning bolts, no untold drama, so I think that the next five years will be easy after that," said Beck as he and the crowd laughed.
Former State Senator Tom Hayden, who entered politics as a student activist, has long blasted the LAPD as a brutal domestic occupying force.
Daryl Gates served as LAPD chief from 1978 until he was forced out after the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed.
Gates is a Beck family friend who worked with the new chief’s father – a retired deputy chief. In a shot at former Chief Bill Bratton, who came from the East Coast, Gates praised the appointment of Beck, a 32-year LAPD veteran.
“I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see a real LAPD guy as chief," said Gates. "Charlie will be, I guarantee you, will be a fine chief of police.”
Hayden stood next to Gates. He said he liked the new chief’s promotion of more community-friendly policing.
"That's why I’m supportive of Chief Beck. I think he needs to continue the process of reform and that includes working with the communities."
Gates interrupted: "See, right there I disagree. What the hell do we need reform for?”
Hayden: "Well, you’re from the old era."
Gates wouldn't let up. “Reform from what? This is the greatest police department in the country – doesn’t make any sense," said the old chief.
In his speech, Beck spoke of burying the ghosts of the LAPD’s past. That past sometimes included excessive use of force against racial minorities – behavior some observers say Gates permitted.
“That’s just is not true, that’s not true," said Gates. "We had a very small police department. We had lousy equipment. Proposition 13 had set in. We didn’t have any overtime. We had a tough time. But we produced more than any other police department in the country.”
What's Gates think of the LAPD's current focus on more community friendly policing?
“Well if you have enough people, you can be very friendly.”
Beck sidestepped the question of whether he was reforming a department culture encouraged in part by Daryl Gates.
“While I will say that obviously the change following Rodney King and with Chief Gates was a very traumatic time for the police department, it’s not only his fault and it may not even be his fault," Beck said. "You can’t take people out of history and put them in the present day and expect it to fit.”
It was a diplomatic answer from a man who once belonged to the notorious anti-gang CRASH unit himself, and who civil rights activists now consider a reformer – a man with close ties to the past, on whom many pin their hopes for the future of the LAPD.