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Crime & Justice

LAPD Chief Beck on property seizures, the police shooting of the unarmed Walter DeLeon and more

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck speaks at a media briefing.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck speaks at a media briefing.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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After a court injunction barring the LAPD from seizing homeless people's property, and as the Los Angeles City Council tries to remedy the growing problem, how are police officers balancing safety issues?

Chief Charlie Beck joined AirTalk to discuss the perpetual negotiations over how to address homeless encampments throughout the city.

A different kind of property seizure is once again being allowed by the Department of Justice. The controversial asset forfeiture program allows local police to keep a majority of assets seized during criminal investigations — even without a conviction. How will the LAPD approach asset forfeiture as many regions consider bans on the practice?

Plus, the L.A. City Council might press pause on the department's final purchases of body-worn cameras. As reported by the L.A. Times, Councilmember Mitch Englander is concerned about the pricetag and whether the bidding process found the best cost savings.

What is Chief Beck's response to a possible delay in implementing department-wide body-worn cameras? We discussed license plate readers, crime numbers and frustrated efforts to combat extremist terror recruits.

Interview highlights

On Tuesday, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin released an audit claiming 458 administrative positions better suited for employees are staffed by able-bodied sworn officers. These jobs are in areas like managing social media accounts, maintaining equipment rooms and keeping track of documents. Galperin claims that having lower-paid civilian workers in those jobs would be more efficient. You could get more cops on the street. Do you agree?

Beck: I agree with the general premise. We may differ over certain positions whether or not they would be better served with civilian employees, but the bottom line is that we haven’t been able to hire [a sufficient number of] civilian employees since the recession, and because of that, we’ve had to put police officers in jobs that have to be done ... When you’re unable to hire civilians, you have to use what you have... We’ve asked, over the years, to hire more civilians. Particularly our jailers. We have almost 100 police officers in a job that we reclassified years ago to be a civilian position... We agree and we hope that the city’s budget will allow us to do that.

How did the imbalance in the positions occur?

Beck: After the recession, the city had to make tough choices, and one of those choices was to reduce the civilian workforce... Right now, I have over 500 civilian jobs that are unfilled. So, we were able to hire sworn [police officers] because everybody understands that, and unfortunately, we got to the point where some of the jobs just had to be done.

On Tuesday, the police commission unanimously found the police shooting of an unarmed man on Los Feliz Boulevard was justified. Walter DeLeon was seriously wounded by Officer Cairo Palacios. The police report claims Officer Palacios and several witnesses thought DeLeon was pointing a gun. He had a towel wrapped around his hand. His attorney Mark Geragos says the shooting was without justification. What is your response to that claim versus what the commission found yesterday?

Beck: Well the plaintiff’s attorney is going to say what the plaintiff’s attorney says. They serve their own self interests. What Mr. Geragos says makes no difference to me. But what does make a difference to me is what the facts show. And in this case, it wasn’t just several witnesses, it was 11 witnesses that also believed that this individual was armed based on the way he acted. Not only that, but we have a 911 call on tape, made from a cell phone and at that site ... So CHP dispatch gets a call from a [reputable] citizen that says, “I have just talked to a man who says to call 911. He has a gun. Call the police,” and described [DeLeon]. So I don’t know what was in [DeLeon’s] mind. I don’t know why he did these things. But I do know that the officers were confronted with what they believed to be a lethal situation and they protected themselves as best they could.

Last week, a preliminary injunction was issued against seizing and destroying homeless people’s property without sufficient notice. The injunction applies to the Skid Row area. What are your officers and sanitation officials doing, along Skid Row, with homeless people’s belongings?

Beck: We have a couple of options. One, if [the property is] dangerous or the kind of thing that’s a biohazard, we can obviously remove those, and we have well-trained sanitation engineers that can make that judgement. The other thing is, if we give sufficient notice, we can remove them, so we’ve determined that sufficient notice is 24 hours. If they’re attached to public structures such as a fence or a building, we can demand that those be taken down. If they are tent structures that are erected between the hours of 6 a.m. and, I believe it's 9 p.m., we can have those laid flat and stored away. So if you go to Skid Row now you see a little sense of order starting to take place. This has been the great back-and-forth over the last 10 years now, trying to balance the needs of the city ... with the needs of the homeless.


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

This story has been updated.