Crime & Justice

Public offers 'quality' but not quantity with input on new LAPD chief

The LA Police Commission is holding a series of public meetings gathering residents' input on what they want to see in a new LAPD chief. This one at the Montecito Heights Senior Center attracted about 20 people.
The LA Police Commission is holding a series of public meetings gathering residents' input on what they want to see in a new LAPD chief. This one at the Montecito Heights Senior Center attracted about 20 people.
Frank Stoltze

The Los Angeles Police Commission held its fifth public meeting Wednesday night to hear from the city’s residents what kind of leader they want in their next chief of the LAPD. And like the first four, the event at the Montecito Heights Senior Center north of downtown attracted a relatively small crowd.

About 20 people showed up – barely equal to the number of police officers and commission staff on hand. Each meeting has attracted 25 to 35 people, said Commission Executive Director Richard Tefank.

“Getting folks out to meetings is always a challenge,” he said. “People have busy lives.”

The commission, which will recommend three finalists to Mayor Eric Garcetti, has created an online survey for people who want to express their views on the next chief. That survey is open until March 23.

Chief Charlie Beck is stepping down June 27th.

Tefank also pointed out the department is not mired in controversy right now. While there’s been an outcry over various officer-involved shootings and uses of force, there is no crisis that has attracted widespread attention.

“There is not that singular issue,” Tefank said.

One longtime resident who spoke at the meeting made the same observation.

“We’ve always selected a chief to respond to some crisis,” said Maria Lou Calanche. Without a burning issue, the city can be more reflective, she added.

“I think we have an opportunity to think about what we want for the future of LAPD,” said Calanche, who runs a non-profit organization.

For Luis Aguilar, that’s pretty simple.

“We need a bilingual chief," he said. "And someone that is a good person, not just a good chief.”

Aguilar also told police commissioners that he wants a chief who “pays attention to troop morale.”  Two of five commissioners have attended each public meeting.

Some said the panel should think about an older style of policing when searching for a chief. Claudia Agrath said the LAPD’s new leader needs to be like a retired cop she once knew, who always tried to help – not arrest – young gangsters.

“John Pedrosa would always be like, ‘where do they live, I’ll go talk to them, don’t worry about it,” she recalled. “They’re mostly younger guys and not intimidating at all,” she said with a chuckle.

Jasmin Barnes was also among the handful who spoke. She works with people who have been victims of domestic violence. Chief Charlie Beck has been helpful to her and other organizations, the department could do better, she said.

“We need a new chief that is sensitive to survivors of these types of crimes,” she said – someone who holds his command staff accountable on the issue so “they are forced to maintain relationships with advocates."

It’s often nearly impossible to conduct a community meeting about the LAPD without use of force coming up. And it did at this meeting.

“I’d like to have a police chief who will continue the development of the culture of constitutional policing,” said Mark Overstreet, who sits on the Hollenbeck Division Community Police Advisory Board.

Overstreet is a retired school teacher who described himself as the beneficiary of a deferred retirement package. He said it was too generous – and said the LAPD its deferred retirement program is draining the department of resources that should be spent elsewhere.

“It costs an awful a lot,” he said. “No offense to the policemen here – it’s a big burden on the city.”

Sandra Figueroa-Villa was one of two police commissioners who attended the meeting. She thought the LAPD was doing better in terms of community relations – but has found out otherwise during the public meetings.

“To my surprise, trust is a huge issue,” she told KPCC. “I think the political climate with ICE set us back a little bit,” referring to efforts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to work with local law enforcement to deport more people. The LAPD so far has resisted that effort.

At one point during the meeting, Commission President Steve Soboroff read some of his notes from other meetings: "I want a chief who is compassionate to the underserved..I want a chief who is technologically savvy..I want a chief who can say 'I'm sorry, I made a mistake."

Tefank called the various comments at the meetings useful – even if only a handful of city residents have spoken – and that the commission will use them to write the “help wanted” ad for the new chief.  

“The quality of the comments is what’s important to us, not necessarily the quantity of the comments,” he said.