If you’re passing through downtown Los Angeles in the coming days, be warned of increased danger. I’m not talking about the terrible traffic, the squalid conditions on Skid Row, or even the violent crime (aggravated assaults up 139 percent in 2018 over the same period last year). All of that is child’s play compared to the bloodbath about to break out at the intersection of First and Main Streets, which you would be wise to avoid until at least June.
And why is this intersection, with City Hall on one side of the street and LAPD headquarters on the other, so perilous? Because in both of these buildings, in the offices of their most powerful occupants, the long knives are being unsheathed for the coming frenzy of backstabbing and bloodletting.
Charlie Beck, chief of the LAPD for the last eight years, has announced his intent to retire in June, when he turns 65. And now all the people who will seek to replace him, along with their retinues of toadies, lackeys, and hangers-on, will soon set to the task of elevating their own status while tearing down the competition.
People unfamiliar with how police departments work may be surprised to learn there are three basic types of police officers: slugs, real cops and climbers. The slugs are those who are content to show up to work every day and collect their paychecks every other week while having little interest in exerting themselves in the cause of safer streets. They do the absolute minimum expected of them, and when some dangerous situation arises, if they’re found in the vicinity at all it will be as far away from the center of action as they can place themselves.
Real cops, who can be found in patrol, detectives, and in some non-administrative specialized units, are those who get down in the muck and mire of law enforcement that the slugs so assiduously avoid. They put their hearts into the work and take pride in bringing lawbreakers to justice. And, to the amazement of the slugs, they enjoy it.
Then there are the climbers, who, while having a superficial resemblance to the first two groups, have little in common with either of them. Like the slugs, climbers have little aptitude or enthusiasm for the grit and tumult of police work. But unlike the slugs, whose laziness most often relegates them to patrol or some mind-numbing inside job for their entire careers, the climbers are industrious in their quest to escape all that grit and tumult via advancement up the ranks. After completing some minimal time in patrol, they scurry into administrative jobs where they spend their time studying for promotional exams and avoiding contact with real cops. You’ve heard the old saw about those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. In police work there is a corollary: Those who can, do; those who can’t, get promoted. This is often achieved by subverting any peers vying for the same rank.
In any police department, each step up the promotional ladder takes one farther away from police work and closer to politics, a talent for which is required if one hopes to reach the upper levels of the org chart. (This helps to explain why I, in more than 30 years with the LAPD, didn’t rise above the rank of sergeant.) And in a city like Los Angeles, the police chief is by far more politician than police officer.
So it has been with Charlie Beck, who was widely admired among real cops even as he advanced to the rank of deputy chief under William Bratton. That admiration all but disappeared when Beck succeeded Bratton as chief in 2009. It soon became apparent that Beck was willing to adapt his opinions so as to conform with those of his political patrons, former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current mayor Eric Garcetti, both of whom are ardent leftists.
Anyone wishing to succeed Beck as chief must adapt his opinions in a similar fashion, that is if he has not already done so. If one becomes chief by pleasing the mayor, one becomes a deputy chief by pleasing the chief, which is why the command staff of the LAPD is largely stocked with sycophantic climbers, sprinkled among whom is a handful of real cops who somehow made it through undetected.
Beck’s retirement announcement was greeted in predictable fashion, with various interest groups calling for a member of this or that ethnic group or gender to succeed Beck. City councilman Joe Buscaino, a former LAPD officer, took to Twitter to express his preference for a woman. The Los Angeles Times of course raised identity politics, speculating Jan. 19 on “whether the department should be led by an insider or an outsider, someone who will keep the department on the same path or radically change its course, or someone who reflects the diversity of Los Angeles — perhaps a Latino, or an Asian American.” Tellingly, no one quoted in the story expressed a desire to appoint the most qualified candidate.
Most qualified? That’s so 20th century. It won’t be a factor in naming the next chief. The eventual selectee will have triumphed through some combination of the right ethnic and gender profile and an ability to survive the knife fight about to begin. What fun it will be to watch.