Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Cop in Los Angeles Today?

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Having retired from the Los Angeles Police Department some years ago, I often look at the day’s news and ask, “How can anyone be expected to do that job today?” The latest inspiration for this question came Friday with the news that two Los Angeles city councilmen are trying to make it easier for the LAPD chief to fire officers accused of misconduct.


Some background is called for here. Under the Los Angeles city charter, LAPD officers can only be fired after being found guilty of misconduct at a “Board of Rights,” a quasi-judicial proceeding at which someone from Internal Affairs acts as a prosecutor and presents evidence to a three-member panel. The accused officer is represented by an attorney or someone from within the department who is allowed to cross examine witnesses and question evidence. Until 1992, these boards were made up of LAPD officers at the rank of captain or above. An amendment to the charter was approved by city voters that year, the effect of which was to replace one board member with a civilian. In 2017, voters passed another charter amendment giving accused officers the option of having their cases heard by three civilians.

The result, critics say, has been more leniency toward accused officers, with some boards finding officers not guilty of charges and others imposing penalties less than termination on officers who are found guilty. This has rankled some, including current LAPD chief Michel Moore and city councilmen Tim McOsker and Hugo Soto-Martinez, who share the opinion that when the chief has come to the conclusion that an officer should be sacked, that should be the end of the discussion.

“I think everyone understands that in the egregious cases,” says Councilman McOsker, “the chief of police should be able to fire an officer,”

No, Mr. McOsker, not everyone.


More background: In 1992, in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the riots it engendered, Los Angeles voters passed Proposition F, which removed civil service protection from the LAPD chief, who at the time was Daryl Gates. Gates had fallen into disfavor among media and political elites in Los Angeles and was forced out. His successors have been, to varying degrees, politicians as much as police officers. Some, like the current one, much more so.

LAPD chiefs are now selected by the five-member civilian police commission, whose members are selected by the mayor. In recent years, the selection criteria for commissioner would not appear to include any expertise in law enforcement, but rather merely how each member can be said to represent some segment on the all-important “diversity” spectrum. A chief is appointed to a five-year term, with the police commission having the option of reappointing him to a second term if a majority so chooses.

The result is that what LAPD officers have leading their department is a politician in uniform, one who was selected by politicians initially and who is beholden to them for his recent reappointment to the position, for which his total compensation comes to $494,615.05.

So the question arises: What would Michel Moore, or any police chief, be willing to do to maintain that well-paid position? If some police encounter were to arouse the ire of the anti-cop mob, would he be willing to summarily fire a cop or two so as to appease that mob? The prudent bettor says, yes, he would.


And keep in mind that the upper ranks of the LAPD are largely populated by people who achieved their positions by demonstrating their willingness to please the chief and thereby please his political masters. If the Board of Rights system is maintained but returned to the hands of LAPD brass, how many of them would be willing to go against the chief’s expressed desires and acquit an officer, or impose some penalty less than termination on one who has been found guilty? Not many.

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Which brings us to the cops on the street, not a single one of whom today goes through his 10- or 12-hour shift without fearing that he, should an arrest go wrong and rouse the mob, will become the next YouTube villain and be put through the kind of Kafka-esque ordeal already endured by others.

The streets of Los Angeles are already in chaos. It will only get worse if the cops are made even more fearful of doing their job.


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