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Published on August 7th, 2014 | by Zamná Ávila

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Beck in the Crossfire

Accessing Police Reforms, Leadership and the Contract

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

It’s never been easy for the average citizen of Los Angeles to know for sure what’s happening behind the badge at the Los Angeles Police Department.

For decades, the LAPD’s public image of Sgt. Joe Friday and all the hundreds of other cop shows hid the reality behind the badge.  Rarely does the general public ever get to see the inner workings of the police department until something happens like the Rampart scandal, the Christopher Dorner manhunt or the release of the Rodney King video. We’ve been told repeatedly that all of those things are in the past since the advent of the federal consent decree and the mandated reforms of the past decade.

There are two issues before the City of Los Angeles, both of which come with significant consequences. One is the reappointment of Chief Charlie Beck for a second five-year term and the other is the contract with the Police Officer’s Union, which recently was voted down by the rank-and-file.

It would seem that these two were separate but equally important decisions—violent  crime continues its trend down while the city’s finances are tending to be getting better—but they may not be. The curious part about the recent revelations regarding Beck’s command of LAPD is that in years gone by the “thin blue line” of silence would have protected Beck or any other officer from outside criticism.

Not so today. Disgruntled officers in the force are willing to risk both position and career advancement to challenge Beck’s leadership, particularly as it relates to real or perceived favoritism in the disciplinary process.  LAPD Capt. Peter Whittingham’s letter to the Police Commission, as our front page story notes, is a testament of that willingness.

Most of what has come out in the media was revealed first by Los Angeles journalist-blogger Jasmyne Cannick, who originally posted Whittingham’s letter and then posted other stories not found in the Los Angeles Times.

She has also posted other information even more damning than the next, if found to be true, with such headlines as “False and Misleading Statements Regarding ‘My Little Pony-gate’ (the story of LAPD’s purchase of Beck’s daughter Brandi Scimone’s personal horse by way of Los Angeles Police Foundation), “LAPD Captain Arrested for DUI” and “LAPD Officer Pens Anonymous Letter on the State of the Department” and others.

Cannick’s reporting has caused such a storm that Beck angrily lashed out on the reporting on Scimone, saying he’s able to take the criticism, but leave his family out of it! But the real question is whether or not will Beck survive this performance review and what damage or good will come to the department because of it?

There’s some speculation amongst LAPD insiders that if there was a simultaneous vote on retaining Beck as chief and a vote on the new contract by the rank and file, Beck would be voted down and the contract would pass.  This would seem to put Mayor Eric Garcetti and the rest of the Los Angeles City Council in an awkward position, seeing as how they are politically pro-union and supportive of the city’s “first responders,” yet still needing to balance the city’s budget.

Charges of nepotism have also been leveled at the the hiring practices of the Los Angeles Fire Department recently, leading to a leadership change and a hiring freeze. Are we looking at the same scenario with the police?

What concerns me most is that if any of these allegations are true, what does it say about the reforms that both Beck and his predecessor William Bratton promised the City of Los Angeles? Is the LAPD backsliding into a version of its past?

I recently had the pleasure of running into the retired captain of Harbor Division, Bob McVey, who held that post for some 10 years during the late 1980s and early 90s. He still lives here and has fond memories of junior officer Joe Buscaino.

When I asked him about his time on the force, he recounted a story about the time Chief Daryl Gates came to San Pedro.

“I told him he may be the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, but I’m the chief of the San Pedro police,” McVey said with a laugh. McVey said that in the old days it was pretty much true.

To some extent it still is. The Harbor Area, in its agreement to be annexed by the City of Los Angeles, was promised both local police and fire protection along with a local courthouse.  Now, as you may recall from my previous columns, the courthouse is closed and may never be reopened because of a lot of mismanagement by the Administrative Office of Justice. We still have a police station, except  they don’t have enough officers to man the jail.

This past year, I came across a report detailing the city’s legal settlements on behalf of the LAPD. The total dollar amount of those lawsuits was $200 million. Of those lawsuits, almost 48 percent were brought by LAPD personnel against the department. This leads me to believe that much of Cannick’s reporting on unfair and biased actions by the LAPD are true.

Her reports also would lead me to believe that there is some disconnect between the upper command’s professed zeal to implement “constitutional policing” and the resistance of patrol officers to understand precisely what that actually means. Clearly,the LAPD needs strong and trusted leadership and it’s becoming very unclear whether Charlie Beck is the man for the job.

 

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