Charlie Beck's first year as top cop at the LAPD has been trial by fire, to say the least. He was dropped into the gig by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the bottom of the nation's second-worst economy in history, and in the wake of one of the city's most-celebrated chiefs, William Bratton.
Big shoes. Tough road. And from day one things never got easy for him.
Some on the City Council threatened not only to freeze hiring but to cut the ranks of the LAPD amid a historic budget crunch at City Hall. Beck ended up with normal hiring but curtailed overtime that the police union argues has effectively taken cops off the streets.
And, under Beck's watch, the department has been plagued with incidents of questionable policing, tragic character on the force and major events that stretched the limits of the troops:
–Two officers died in off-duty DUI accidents.
-As a result of the city's budget crunch, Beck made the controversial move of redeploying officers from specialized units to street beats.
-A detective was charged on suspicion of grand theft after he allegedly took $30,000 in taxpayer dollars intended for witness relocation.
-Police have been caught on tape behaving in less-than-noble ways, including one officer who called a photog a “fruitcake,” and a cop who threw a kick at a bicycle rider during a Critical Mass ride. (The guy who took video of that incident later claimed officers tackled him and tried to stomp his video-capable iPhone).
-In spring and early summer the department struggled with a slight uptick in murders — the first increase since before Bratton's days.
-In June Lakers fans rioted. Cops did not Rodney King anyone.
-An officer was arrested on suspicion of distributing methamphetamine.
-Fifteen cops opened fire on a suspect in August.
-Officers fired bean bag rounds at a suicidal porn star who was on the edge of a cliff, hastening a fatal plunge caught on video.
-And who could forget the fatal shooting of Manuel Jamines in September. The day laborer was threatening people with a bloody knife, but the shooting unleashed discontent in the immigrant community of Westlake and inspired three days of unrest there.
-Finally, just this week it came to light that the U.S. Justice Department, which for years practically owned the LAPD under a federal consent decree with roots in the Rampart Scandal, is unhappy with the department's attitude toward racial profiling. It caught a cop on tape saying, “I couldn't do my job without racially profiling.”
Of course, not every cop, not every stat, not every comment is under Beck's control. And in some cases — such as the Jamines shooting — he argued (rightly so) that the department was just.
At first it seemed like so many officers were getting in trouble it was some kind of statement about their respect for Beck.
But Beck held his head up, weathered the storm, appeased critics — from bike activists to immigrant-rights folks — and made a lot of friends and admirers.
Former Police Commission president and prospective mayoral candidate Rick Caruso told the Weekly, “Charlie has accomplished great things in difficult economic times. He's done a phenomenal job in reducing crime — with a focus on gangs.”
Wednesday morning Mayor Villaraigosa was set to sing Beck's praises as a press conference. A statement from his office foreshadowed the love to come:
… Chief Beck has redeployed officers from specialized units to local divisions to enhance patrol capabilities throughout the City. This reallocation of officers has been a key factor in the continued reduction in crime during a time of budget constraints that has halted the department's growth and removed officers from the street.
The mayor's office also stated that “crime has continued to drop to historic lows throughout the city” — a dubious claim.
Nonetheless, the streets are indeed calm, officers are generally respected, and Angelenos mostly feel safe. That's about as much as you can ask from a chief.