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Chief Concerns

November 1, 2009

LAPD - image temporarily unavailableAs we speak, our fearless mayor Tony V. is faced with a choice whose consequences may be arresting. No, not which newscaster to have his next affair with. It’s picking LA’s next chief of police.

The long and frequently corrupt history of Law enforcement in Los Angeles is well known and celebrated in local lore. The earliest LA peacekeeping forces were the volunteer Los Angeles Rangers and Los Angeles City Guard, neither of which were able to make much of a difference in frontier LA’s lawless society. In the 1860s, fearful French nationals living in LA called upon the French army to help restore order to the city; being the French Army, they also had little effect. Eventually a paid police force was established, which almost immediately devolved into corrupt dealings: The police’s first city marshal was shot by a deputy a year after taking office in a dispute over a reward. Los Angeles would have 15 more city marshals over the next 20 years. As the city became better established, police leaders’ careers became more stable. With that stability came a steady string of scandals and corrupt dealings. There was the wrongful commission of Christine Collins (of “Changeling” fame) to an insane asylum at the behest of Police brass, the anti communist “Red Squads” of the 30s, the mishandling of the Zoot Suit Riots in the 40s, the “Bloody Christmas” scandal in 1951, the dubious shooting of seven unarmed members of the Nation of Islam in 1962, the systematic homophobia of officers under chief Edward Davis, and the wrongful arrest of baseball player Joe Morgan. And who can forget the Rodney King incident (which sparked the city’s worst riot), or the 2001 Rampart scandal?

William Bratton, the soon to be departed current chief, did succeed in lowering crime in the city and bolstering the agency’s tarnished image after the Rampart incident. He is generally viewed favorably, and to his credit he has been a proficient chief, albeit one who is prone to taking extended vacations. Yet his tenure was not without its share of controversy: the 2007 MacArthur Park Rallies resulted in a wave of police beatings that many considered to be an excessive use of force.

Now Bratton’s about to take off, and Tony’s got a choice between three LAPD high-ups: Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck and Deputy Chief Michel Moore (no word as to whether he’s seen Capitalism: A Love Story). But not to worry, these three guys are all pretty much the same; by all accounts, whichever one takes office would most likely end up being an effective Bratton Jr. – though some fear* that Moore’s Gallic first name is an indication that he might invite the French Army over for a homecoming. The fact that all three are white has raised some concern in light of LA’s troubled history with race-based violence. However, their selection by a racially diverse panel should lay those fears to rest.

In a city as large as LA, the unfortunate truth is there will always be some crime. And an even less fortunate truth is that the city’s historic troubles with gang violence continue to be an issue today. But if Tony V.’s pick can continue Bratton’s record – and discontinue his tendency to take off months at a time for vacation – we can hope for future where crime is less of a problem in Los Angeles.

*OK, so no one has actually been worried about this. But they should be.

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