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Crime & Justice

Chief Beck: Here are the qualities LA’s next police chief should have

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles, California on October 20, 2014.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles, California on October 20, 2014.

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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck surprised many in January when he announced he will be retiring in June, nearly a year and a half before his current term as police chief is supposed to end.

When Beck was appointed chief of police in 2009, the LAPD was facing substantial financial restraints and a recovering reputation as it completed anticorruption measures required by the federal government after the Rampart scandal in the late 1990s.

Recently, the department has faced different challenges as trust in police diminished nationwide in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and numerous highly publicized officer-involved civilian deaths.

The LAPD has been the subject of its own controversial officer-involved shootings, which have also played a hand in the lengthy debate over when and how the department should release officer body cam footage from similar critical incidents.

When Chief Beck joined AirTalk for his monthly check-in, we asked him why he decided to leave his post early, which qualities he considers the most important for his successor to have and whether he’ll be consulted at all in the selection process.

Interview Highlights

On his unexpected decision to retire a year and a half before his term is up:

It’s always a tough decision when to leave. I don’t do the job for my own gratification, I do it for the organization. This organization’s been part of my life since the day I was born, literally, and it’s very important to me what happens in it and to it when I’m gone, so I’ve always wanted to pick the right time to go, and I think a couple of things influenced me on this.

One of them was that I think we have the right people in place to make a good decision about who will be the next chief, and then I also think we have a good pool of candidates available from within the department and also recently retired from the department, so that there’ll be good continuity in the processes that both Bill Bratton and I have put into place.

So, you know, timing is everything. It’s not quite two years early, it’s a year and five months early — but I think if I waited longer, it would be more difficult for the city to get the right chief.

On why he thinks the next chief should have a history of working in the LAPD:

For police management, generally when things are going well, it makes sense to stay — if you have proper candidates — it makes sense to stay within, because it supports the ongoing efforts of the current people in the department. Generally, when you go outside it’s because either you don’t have any good candidates available on the inside or there’s a crisis that demands changed leadership, and that changed leadership isn’t always best done from somebody that grew up in the organization.

So, I mean, every organization requires different timing. I think the chief has to be the right chief for his or her time in history. That’s the most important thing. I don’t think that I would have been the right choice in 2002, when Bratton became chief, and I think that I was good choice in 2009 when I became chief.

I think there was a big difference in the needs of the organization at the time, and that’s what you’re looking for, is a chief that fulfills the needs of the organization and the city.

On the qualities he thinks it’s most important for his successor to have:

You need somebody that engenders trust outside and inside the department. You need somebody that is good as a spokesperson for the department, is good with the media and is thoughtful about what he or she says. You need somebody that is well-grounded in policing, that isn’t going to need a lot of outside help to make the nuts-and-bolts type decisions that a chief has to make regarding law enforcement and those kind of things.

So, you know, it’s a difficult job and I think it’s been more difficult over the last couple of years than it has in the past decade or so, because of the national conversation and some really horrific things that have happened in other departments that reflect badly on the profession.

On how the next chief can attract qualified and diverse recruits:

To push some light on this, right now the Los Angeles Police Department is larger than it’s ever been: 10,088 police officers. We’ve never been bigger than that, and actually this is the largest we’ve ever been so, you know, we are getting enough recruits.

I think that we need to continue to strive for diversity. I encourage folks that bring a different face than is commonly thought of to policing to apply, and we do a number of outreach efforts to make sure that happens. But, you know, the reality is that we are able to hire qualified candidates, but – to your point – I think it’s important that we continue outreach so we get a diverse field.

On the prominent presence of Latino officers in the LAPD:

It’s actually right at 48 percent, which is coincidentally exactly the population breakdown of the city of Los Angeles. We will soon be a majority Latino, and as a matter of fact, I haven’t checked in the last couple of weeks, so we may be now.

I mean, that demographic is very attracted to policing for a number of reasons. It is an excellent pathway to middle America, you know, to the middle class, and has been for a number of groups that are first- or second-generation immigrants over history.

You know the stereotypical Irish cop? Well that was because that was an immigrant group that was trying to move up into the middle class, and that’s traditionally been the role of policing, and I think that we should celebrate that. That’s a great thing.

On the department’s gender, ethnicity and veteran status demographic breakdown:

We’re about 20 percent vets, about 20 percent female. Almost half Hispanic, about 10 percent African-American and almost 10 percent Asian/Pacific Islander — so pretty diverse.

On how many Latino officers can speak Spanish well enough to communicate with L.A.’s Spanish-speaking community:

Well, enough that it isn’t a big issue with us anymore. You know, for years, trying to get enough officers that spoke Spanish or Korean or any of the many many languages that are commonly spoken in Los Angeles was difficult.

But our diversity is such that now it isn’t that hard. So I can’t give you that percentage, but I can tell you that we used to have a pay incentive for speaking Spanish, and now it’s so common that it’s almost a moot point.

On if there’s a strong likelihood that L.A.’s next chief of police will be a woman:

Oh, absolutely, and I won’t get into individuals — I don’t think that’s appropriate, particularly during this election process — but there are a number of candidates, more than one, that are female… just happen to be female and are eminently qualified to do the job, so I think that that may be something that happens.

On whether he expects the Police Commission to consult him during their review and recommendation process for the next chief:

Well, I expect it because that’s what they’ve said. Both the mayor and the Commission have said that they will talk to me, listen to me. One of the things about being around for as long as I have is almost, well, anybody that could be a serious candidate is somebody I know and have known for decades, and have known either not only as the chief, but as a peer and sometimes even as a subordinate. You learn a lot about people when they don’t work for you, so I have a lot of detail on all the candidates.

Other topics discussed include:


Charlie Beck, chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Department; last month, he announced his retirement; his last day as chief will be June 27, his 65th birthday

This story has been updated.