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Interview Highlights: LAPD Chief Beck on AirTalk discusses deployments, community discord

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles, California.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles, California.

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To combat a spike in crime, upwards of 2,500 LAPD officers must be hired by 2020, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told City Councilmembers yesterday.

Lawmakers asked about the 2015 crime numbers which saw homicides rise 8.8 percent, total violent crimes jump by 20.3 percent, and property crimes increase by 10.7 percent.  

Separately, Beck is arguing that crime-watchers are wrong about any so-called Ferguson effect in Los Angeles - the theory that police are withdrawing from protecting communities due to public outrage that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

Writing in an LA Times opinion piece last week, Beck states: "The events in Ferguson highlighted how many communities in America do not believe that the police are using their authority fairly and legitimately. This perception — and in some unfortunate cases, reality — has created a barrier to cooperation between cops and residents to combating crime. That is the real Ferguson effect." Are weaker links with LA communities contributing to more crime?

Interview Highlights

Question: Well I'm sure you thoroughly enjoyed yesterday's meeting of the LA City Council Public Safety Committee where there were (sic) a lot said about the deployment of officers and rising crime in the city. First of all do you think that meeting in which your deployment of officers came under criticism, do you think the meeting accomplished anything?

Well Larry I don't think the Council was criticizing the deployment they just want information and so we try give it to them. Ya know everybody is entitled to know what their police department is doing to a certain extent and we wanna make sure the council knows what we're doing to what is a state rise in crime not just in the City of Los Angeles but every major city in the state of California is dealing with a crime rise. Some much more significant than the city of Los Angeles.

You said that you think the department needs to grow with its sworn officers force up about 2500 officers by 2020, right now you're having trouble aren't you recruiting enough officers just to get them qualified for the department, how tough would it be to add 2500 additional cops?

Well it would be a lot of work. Obviously the city would have to commit to it .... We'd have to schedule funding for it over time. Of course you know you can't increase them all at once. That would be not only foolhardy - because we want to pick the right people and train them correctly -  but also not feasible because you can't put that many people through the pipeline. But to give you an idea why I think we need to grow the police department: it's not only to deal with the changes in state law that put so many more criminals on the street, Prop 47; it's not only to deal with the increase in the homeless population in the City of Los Angeles -  almost 14 percent increase this year-; it's not only to deal with the expanded threat of terrorism which I think you know is something we have to recognize takes a lot of resource, it is to be able to police this city in a way that we all want to be policed; in a way that values interaction over just blind response to 911; in a way that builds partnerships in a way where people can know the police officers that work their neighborhood. You know the problem with a small police department is that you have to be everywhere at once, and so you have no continuity of officers many times within small neighborhoods. And that is one of the most successful strategies we have is to have the same cops in the same neighborhood building relationships.

If you were to have the same number of officers per capita as cities like Chicago and New York, how many officers would Los Angeles have?

Well Chicago and New York and Philadelphia - the other three big three major urban centers - all have around 45 officers per 10,000 population. The City of Los Angeles, the LAPD has 25 per 10,000, so we would need almost twice as many officers to meet their level of deployment, I don't think -- (over-talking)

And this is a city much more spread out than those cities.

I think this is arguably a much more difficult city to police uh then those - just geographically, if not through population, if not through ya know the multi-cultures that the City of Los Angeles has. So, a lot of challenges. I don't think we need to be twice the size that we are. I try to be reasonable about this. I recognize that ya know this is a time of tough financial situation and that we have to be measured in what we want to do. And I don't propose doing this all at once, I propose thinking about it as an incremental increase over the years to get us where we need to be. And probably I won't be the chief when we reach that number but we should start planning for that.

I wanna go back to yesterday's public safety meeting of the City Council, this was called for by the Police Protective League - the union. And uh to paraphrase their criticism, they're not happy about the officers you took off of patrol and put into the mobile Metropolitan Division to go to hot spots. They don't seem to be happy about the number of officers assigned to work on the body-cam program. So what's your argument back against that criticism of deployment?

Well ya know I've been a successful police chief in Los Angeles for seven years now. We've had 12 straight years of crime decline using deployment strategies much like this. Metropolitan Division was increased in size over this past year, but we had decreased it when we were in the Great Recession and were having to send officers home rather than pay them overtime and now it's time to increase it. And that is partially due to: the increase in crime, increase in violent crime; our desire and our need to respond to spikes in violent crime across the city; but also our need to respond to terrorist incidents. And ya know our patrol officers are gonna be the first responders to incidents of terrorism in Los Angeles, but the second responders will take over, especially the aggravated circumstance of barricades or hostages is Metropolitan Division. And I have to have a robust tool to meet the challenges of the city. Ya know, I have a lot of responsibilities. One of them is 911 response which is our patrol force, but the other is terrorism response and the other is making sure that this is as safe of a city as it can possibly be. And I do want to remind folks that this year we did see an increase in crime, or actually [2015] saw an increase in crime compared to [2014], but we're still at levels, safety levels that are unique in my lifetime. The past five years have been the safest five years since I've been alive and that's a long time.

On whether the crime increase will continue:

I think that we have not fixed the core issues. The increase in crime is easily, well not easily, is traced to several core issues and one of them, I think, is Prop 47's inability to come through with its promise to supply treatment rather than jail. And the other is an increase in homelessness; increase in gang violence. Until we address these core issues, we are going to be struggling with this. And that is one of the reasons why I think we need to not only be strategic in how we deploy our resources which Metropolitan Division is one of those. But also think about growing the police department because identifying these problems is not going to make them go away. Identifying these problems just gets us started in making them go away.

Are you getting any traction on rehabilitation programs out of Prop 47?

You know the state has identified some monies and is in the process of evaluating their distribution. And ya know I'm hoping that it won't be too little too late. And ya know we're working with the state and I believe they know what our challenges are. Now whether they'll meet those challenges, we'll see.

Listen to the rest of the interview by clicking the "play" button.


Charlie Beck, Chief, Los Angeles Police Department. He tweets from @LAPDChiefBeck