Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck Thursday sought to allay concerns about increased crime, even as he shut down anti-gang units in some of the most violent areas of the city. The closings follow some officers’ refusal to sign financial disclosure forms mandated by a federal consent decree.
Beck said he’s closed two anti-gang units and plans to close two more in South L.A. and Highland Park.
“There are areas of concern and I don’t deny that," Beck said amid questions that the closures will give gangs free reign.
To counter those concerns, Beck said he is increasing the number of officers in those areas.
Still, dozens of specially trained officers will no longer focus exclusively on gangs. They won't have access to gang databases and will have to respond to regular radio calls.
At his monthly media briefing, Beck estimated that more than a quarter of the city’s 300 gang officers would refuse to submit to new financial disclosure requirements designed to root out corruption.
Officers worry that their financial information would get into the wrong hands. The chief counters that a federal consent decree signed after several LAPD scandals mandates the new disclosures, and that the information will be released to no one.
Narcotics officers also fall under the new rules, but nearly all of them have complied. They are accustomed to more scrutiny. They already undergo a polygraph test.
In addition, the narcotics unit is often a plainclothes assignment where cops set their own hours and go undercover. To many officers, it is a more coveted assignment than gang duty.
“Narcotics officers often see it as a career path from which they will retire," Beck said.
It's not the same for gang officers.
"They usually see their assignment as a piece of the beginning of their career, and they’ll move on to something else later.”
Narcotics officers also tend to be older and higher ranking. It may be easier for them to buck the wishes of the powerful union that represents cops. The Police Protective League has aggressively lobbied against the new rules, despite the police chief’s urgings.
“I was very clear with the union," Beck said. "I told them that you’re not increasing public safety in your opposition."
As dozens of officers leave gang units, Beck acknowledged that the biggest loss may be their intimate knowledge of specific gangs – who their leaders are and how they operate.
“I was a gang officer," the chief said. "It probably takes six months to a year before they are familiar with the specifics of the gangs in their area.”
It can take much longer to become a certified expert who can testify against gangs in court.
The chief said he’s promised no retaliation against gang cops to refuse to sign the financial disclosures and leave their units. He also expects them to help in the transition to new officers who are willing to follow the rules.
“There’s no indication to me that anybody is at all unwilling to help their replacements.”
That help may be key to the success of the gang units that Beck hopes to reconstitute in the summer, when gang crime tends to rise.