Identity Politics Brushed Aside in LAPD Chief Selection

The waiting and speculation are over: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has selected Deputy Chief Charlie Beck to succeed William Bratton as chief of the LAPD.

Beck, 56, is a 32-year veteran of the department, and he was rumored to be the front-runner for the job ever since Bratton announced in August that he would be stepping down with three years remaining on his five-year contract. But even though Beck was believed to have the job in the bag, having received Bratton’s non-public endorsement as well as that of many business and community leaders, for those of us near the bottom of the LAPD’s chain of command there was nonetheless an element of suspense leading up to Tuesday’s official announcement.

Beck was one of three finalists for the job, the other two being Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, who served as Bratton’s second in command, and Deputy Chief Michel Moore, the commanding officer of department operations in the San Fernando Valley (not to be confused with the similarly named rotund purveyor of pseudo-documentaries). Several other high-ranking LAPD officers and two police chiefs from other cities had applied for the job, but they all were eliminated through a winnowing process that included an initial screen-down by the city’s personnel department and a series of interviews with the five civilian police commissioners. Finally, Mayor Villaraigosa interviewed each of the three finalists twice over the the last week, signaling what may have been genuine indecision but, depending on whose account you believe, may instead have been a pretense of objectivity for a decision actually made long ago.

But no matter, for from the day Bratton announced he was pulling up stakes and heading back to New York, it was felt throughout the LAPD that if his successor was anyone other than Beck or McDonnell the rank and file would have viewed the selection process with suspicion. Both are well respected in the department, bringing them in sharp distinction from nearly all of their peers. But popularity with the troops has been known to be a hindrance to advancement within the LAPD. In 1997, for example, Bernard Parks was selected over Mark Kroeker, who was favored by an overwhelming majority of the rank and file.  Parks’s tenure was a disaster, marked by scandal, plummeting morale, and rising crime, and one assumes Villaraigosa gave Beck’s reputation within the department as much weight as he did his various endorsements.