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Ask the Chief

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck talks to members of the media in front of City Hall in downtown in the early hours of November 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck talks to members of the media in front of City Hall in downtown in the early hours of November 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.
Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images

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Fourteen hundred police officers with batons and riot gear marched into the park in front of Los Angeles City Hall in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, November 30th to evict Occupy protesters who had been camping there for weeks; this was just one of numerous incidents that have kept the LAPD and Chief Charlie Beck busier than usual lately.

To clear the Occupy camp, the LAPD abandoned classic strategies and designed a crowd control plan that was unique to the downtown site. Beck said police knew they did not want to merely push the protestors out because, as he explained, “the last thing we wanted was to be chasing them through the streets.” Accordingly, the police executed a strategy that would ideally divide and isolate protesters and minimize conflict. The department also used undercover officers in the weeks leading up to the raid in order to obtain inside information from protesters regarding any potential complications such as planned violent resistance. In an apparent retaliation for the LAPD raid, CabinCr3w, a hacker group associated with Anonymous, posted the names, addresses, emails, and other personal information (including family members) of between 40 and 50 LAPD officers on the internet. On another note, the towing and impound practices of cars belonging to unlicensed drivers is under scrutiny and texting while driving increased 50 percent over the last year, adding to the already maddening traffic in L.A. Taking time out of his busy schedule, Chief Beck joins us for our regular Q&A on these issues and more.

Here's what the chief had to say:

On the shooting on Sunset and Vine:
"That was extremely tragic. No police officer comes to work wanting to have to take another person's life, but that's exactly what occurred to three of my police officers this past Friday."

"Unfortunately, when somebody is killed, there's always a theory about why they did what they did, especially something that is as nonsensical as this – walking down the middle of what might be one of the most famous and busiest intersections in the world, firing a semi-automatic pistol randomly at cars. People always try to attach logic to illogical actions and I try to explain to folks you just can’t understand why these things occur because you don’t have the mind frame of that individual."

On clearing out the Occupy L.A. encampment:
"This was quite a bit different than McCarthur park, not only in its result but also in the amount of planning — the work prior that went into it. The Occupy L.A. folks had been in the park for 60 days, and during the entire 60 days we had several various captains stationed there with them ... there was a lot of time building a relationship."

"When you have large-scale police action, you have to have some ability to restrict access in order to be successful at it. ... We wanted the media to have access ... we do this very commonly in many, many instances where we don't have the space or the ability to let everybody in," he said. "It wasn't in any means trying to control the message, it was all about trying to make sure that we do this as safely as we could do it."

"If people have an instance where officers did something they weren't supposed to do, we would be more than happy to look into this. But I have to remind people that they exercised their option to be arrested, and arrest means taking physical custody of an individual and denying their freedom. That's what arrest is, and most of the complaints have been about the exact process I just described."

"I didn't want to arrest that many people."

On the unauthorized release of officers’ personal information:
"There were individuals who got multiple calls at home, their families received harassing phone calls, and many of these individuals had nothing to do with the occupy protests. If somebody wants to seek retribution against the police official responsible for the occupy protests, well that's me. It's not any of those other people who were selected."

On 30-day impounds of vehicles for unlicensed drivers:
"We're trying to find a more reasonable avenue towards the impounding of vehicles. The 30-day hold provision of the vehicle code was enacted many years ago, actually, when people from other countries could get drivers licenses. I don't really think the intent was to hold cars for 30-days."

"It's not that we're ignoring that statute, it's that we're discussing the use of a different impound statute which is totally usable and permissible for unlicensed drivers who have never had a prior conviction for the same offense."

"We're not only putting that forward in the police commission, but we'll be take them to city council ... if people want to weigh in, they're more than welcome to do so. I'll take that into consideration before I modify the procedures that we use."

On gun control:
"I am an advocate of gun control. I have stood over far too many dead young men to believe that everybody needs to be armed in the city of Los Angeles."


Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles Police Department