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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and The Framing of A Legacy

Is Chief Beck’s legacy one of reducing homicides to under 300 per year, or is it one that saw his department continually lead all US police departments in the killings of its residents?

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck hug after Beck announced his retirement effective June of this year. The moment occured after a press conference where the mayor and chief announced a reduction in certain crimes, like homicide, in the city during the past year. Los Angeles, CA 1/018/2018 (Photo by John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

On Friday January 19th, standing alongside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at a press conference to speak about crime statistics, Police Chief Charlie Beck surprised the crowd by announcing he will step down in June. Gasps were heard, as apparently even his closest aides didn’t know about the announcement, made almost a full two years before the end of his term. Beck has led the LAPD since 2009, and while he has time and again repeated his intention to stay through the end of his second term, an unrelenting Black Lives Matter Los Angeles led campaign demanding Mayor Garcetti fire him had reached a fever pitch by the time of his abrupt resignation.

Mayor Garcetti had nothing but praise for Chief Beck at the press conference, saying: “I’ve seen him embrace, in tough times, the steady path of reforms even when there’s criticism from both sides saying stop or accelerate.” Garcetti added: “He has been the right chief at the right time.”

At the first Los Angeles Police Commission meeting following his announcement, Beck proudly touted a drastic reduction in homicides and an ever-blossoming relationship of trust with the community. The five Mayor-appointed civilian members of the Police Commission then followed Beck’s statement with their own adoration; Commission president Steve Soboroff declaring that Beck “has helped to make the LAPD the preeminent law enforcement agency in the world.”

But what shapes a legacy? Is Chief Beck’s legacy one of reducing homicides to under 300 per year, or is it one that saw his department continually lead all US police departments in the killings of its residents? Is it one of photo ops and community BBQs, or is it his promise to protect police officers “like the vests that they wear” when they kill city residents?

Chief Beck has overseen drastically expanded use of surveillance technologies and data gathering of Los Angeles citizens, from license plate readers to cell tower mimicking StingRays to drones. In 2014, officers in the South LA bureau patrol division disabled their in-vehicle camera systems and Beck and LA Police Commission President Soboroff kept it from the public. One of Beck’s own captains is accusing department higher ups of misrepresenting violent crime statistics, and the LAPD cadet program under Beck saw police vehicle thefts, joy rides, and the rape of a 15-year-old by one of his officers.

Some may choose to believe that the police chief of the 3rd largest department in the country, who repeatedly stated his intention of staying through his second term, actually made the decision himself to step down two years early. Others may believe that Mayor Garcetti, under considerable pressure from Black Lives Matter activists and other community members, realized that Beck had increasingly become a liability and forced him out, putting the Mayor in the unique position, as he sets his sights on higher office, to potentially replace Beck with the first woman or Latino to head the LAPD.

For years, operating under a public relations veneer of community policing and outreach and with the tacit support of an in-words-only civilian oversight Police Commission, Beck oversaw scandal, protected problem officers, expanded surveillance programs and over-criminalized predominantly Black and Brown communities, all while his LAPD led all US police departments in the killing of residents in at least 6 of his 8 years at the helm.

This is his legacy.

Adam Smith is a member of White People 4 Black Lives.

White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL) is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.awarela.org