LAPD on Edge: Who Will Be the Next Police Chief?

The city of Los Angeles is in the final process of selecting a new police chief to succeed William Bratton, who steps down on October 31. Many of us who serve at the lower ranks of the LAPD are understandably a bit on edge as we await the announcement, as we know very well that the process, fraught with politics as it is, is not designed to produce the most capable leader for the 10,000-officer department. Rather, it is designed to produce a police chief who suits the needs and desires of the mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.

The five members of the civilian police commission -- mayoral appointees all -- have just concluded interviews with the remaining applicants, i.e., those who survived the screen-down process conducted by the city’s Personnel Department. The commission will soon submit the names of three finalists to the mayor, who will then choose the new chief from among them. Those left under consideration include most of the LAPD’s upper command staff as well as two police chiefs from other cities whose identities have been closely guarded.

For his part, Bratton has recommended that his successor be chosen from among his own subordinates. Unlike when Bratton was appointed in 2002, when the department was reeling from the effects of ten years of ineffective leadership, today there is little impetus for bringing in an outsider to head the department. It makes no sense to suggest that while the LAPD has for the most part been a success story for these seven years under Bratton, with crime decreasing and public approval increasing, none of the men and women whom he has placed in positions of authority is qualified to take his place.

But knowing that our next chief will in all likelihood be someone familiar to us does not necessarily put us at our ease, for we know that while there are senior officers within the department who have earned the respect of the rank and file, there are others at whom we look in amazement as we mutter to ourselves, “What were they smoking when they promoted these people?”

As cops everywhere know, there is a vast chasm between rank-and-file officers and those who serve as administrators. Those on either side of this chasm are mystified by and sometimes contemptuous of their counterparts on the opposite side. The cop in the squad car drives by police headquarters and wonders why anyone would want to be cooped up in an office all day, while the guy behind the desk looks out the window and wonders why anyone would want to spend twenty years or more with a black-and-white strapped to his rear end. This chasm was vividly illustrated just this week here in Los Angeles in an incident reported to me by several colleagues.