Beck marks one year as LAPD chief

File photo: Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announces the 2009 crime statistics for Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2010.
File photo: Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announces the 2009 crime statistics for Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2010.
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Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck marked a year on the job Wednesday with a news conference about his record so far. He touted lower crime and better community relations as accomplishments.

One of the more surprising crime stories in Los Angeles in recent years has been the lower crime rate — even as economic stability deteriorated for many people. Beck took note of this at police headquarters when he assessed his first year as the man with four stars on his collar.

“This is not the right climate in which to reduce crime," Beck said. "Unemployment is up. Many people feel disenfranchised by the system.”

In many big American cities, crime is up.

In LA this year compared to last, serious crime is down 7 percent, gang crime is down 12 percent, and homicides are down 10 percent.

“We’re going to have this historic record law homicide rate this year — knock on wood there — because we still have a month and a half to go," he said.

The chief said crime reduction’s one of his biggest accomplishments — even if he may be enjoying some of the momentum created by his predecessor Bill Bratton.

Beck was a student of Bratton, and as the old chief did, Beck credited a variety of factors for the lower crime rate: community policing, better use of crime mapping, more efficient deployment, expanded use of DNA technology, and help from federal law enforcement agencies.

Unlike Bratton, the low-key Beck indicated that he wasn’t inclined to even hold a news conference marking his first year as the top cop. That was the media savvy Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s idea, and the mayor took the opportunity to praise the work of the chief he picked.

“These are staggering statistics that are even more remarkable in a time of unprecedented budget constraints," Villaraigosa said.

While the mayor and City Council have maintained the size of the LAPD, they’ve cut back drastically on overtime. That’s required Beck to shift officers from specialized units such as gangs and narcotics into patrol duty. Police officials estimate they’ve still lost the equivalent of about 350 patrol officers.

The department issued a slick eight-page glossy listing accomplishments under Beck’s watch, from terrorism prevention to media availability. But Beck said his most important work involves moving the LAPD toward what he calls more constitutional policing.

“Every place I go and every speech I make, I talk about constitutional policing," he said. "I talk about doing things the right way for the right reasons. I talk about the fact that you can’t break the law to enforce the law. I talk about policing depends on the public trust.”

The federal government continues to watch the LAPD after suing it for civil rights violations a decade ago. Just a few days ago the Department of Justice raised concerns about racially biased policing, based on an incident in which an officer said he couldn’t do his job without racially profiling people.

In the tradition of LA police chiefs, Beck shot back.

“D.O.J.’s criticism is about cases that preceded me as chief of police," Beck said. "And we have changed the way we investigate those cases, we have changed the people that do those investigations. We’ve made those investigations much more exhaustive than they were in the past.”

At the same time, Beck said some cops may still have some learning to do.

“You know, I still need to drive the message home to the rank and file so that they have the same feeling about how they do their jobs that I do.”

Asked whether he’s had any fun on the job, Beck at first pointed to lowering the murder rate.

Later, the 57-year-old avid motocross rider said he was thrilled a few weeks ago to have navigated the department’s obstacle course one more time for certification as a motorcycle cop.