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Crime & Justice

LAPD Chief Beck on violence involving cops across the nation

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti watches as police chief Charlie Beck addresses the media with rappers The Game (2/L) and Snoop Dogg (R) at LAPD headquarters on July 8, 2016.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti watches as police chief Charlie Beck addresses the media with rappers The Game (2/L) and Snoop Dogg (R) at LAPD headquarters on July 8, 2016.

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In the aftermath of deadly attacks against law enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, plus more controversial fatal shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck joined AirTalk to discuss tensions running high.

In Los Angeles itself, Black Lives Matters protesters have been calling for the resignation of Beck — calls that grew louder after the police commission ruled the fatal shooting of Redel Jones in South L.A. to be "in policy." Beck also delivered a message in D.C. recently when President Barack Obama convened a meeting involving police officials, activists, academics and elected officials, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Beck also updated listeners on his #StopTheViolence campaign, extra patrols in South L.A. after a spike in homicides and shootings and the city council's approval of a body cameras program.

Interview highlights

Some terrible news has happened. Baton Rouge, the Dallas killing — one officer called in last time describing his experience as an LAPD officer and a black man.

Chief Charlie Beck: All of us feel deep deep sorrow in the pit of our stomach over this. You go to work to try to do the right thing, and through no fault of your own, you become the target for what you have chosen to do for a living, by the way a noble thing to do for a living.  As as some people feel that they targeted for race, gender and orientation, to be targeted straight for wearing this uniform, for the vast, 99 percent honorable reasons. It’s gut-wrenching. And people take this very personally. This could be your brother, sister. This could be your friend. This could be you.  So it’s very difficult. 

Have you changed any of the procedures out of concerns for officers' safety ?

Well, we did initially. We have put more helicopters up to provide additional vantage points, not only that, but direction and a layer of safety for officers. We assigned additional metropolitan units and patrol divisions to back up calls. We didn't really know the scope of the incident, particularly in Baton Rouge. We did all of that. We are screening our calls better. Things that we typically do. But most of that has returned to a normal level now. Our officers are trained to work safe. We put two people to a car for a reason. We have sufficient units at the most dangerous parts of the city  to make sure there's always backup. Those things are important.  We’ve actually added some overtime for the summer to make sure we have adequate staffing. Those things will keep cops safe and we'll continue to do that. 

You went back to DC and met with President Obama to talk about police-community relations, or the in the ways leaders talked about conflicts between police and community members.

I think everybody got to make some good points. We addressed what’s missing now that is dialogue. Instead of people pontificating, only presenting their point of view and not listen to other people. We had a good opportunity on people on spectrum -- elected officials, activists, law enforcement, clergies, all to comment and put forth their point of view and hopefully everybody understood each other a little better. I think that's what's missing in the national conversation.  Nobody strive for empathy, nobody tries to understand the view of others.  Everybody just go to their polarized opposites. We’ll never get closer to a solution if people try to do that.  One of the things we have to do is all of us needs to talk about it, all of us needs to work through, particularly minority community issues and talk about them in real terms. 

What specific messages do you want to deliver in D.C. that you thought was missing from the conversation that others needed to hear? 

One is that you cannot expect the police department to work in communities that are under-served by the economy,  housing, employment and education and have disparate impact through all those aspects of community and then think that law enforcement will stand alone and not have an disparate impact there. In communities where police make the most arrest, make the most stops, and there’s the most crime, they are also the place with highest rate of unemployment, lowest rate of high school graduation rate, worst rate of pre-school entry, worst housing market. There are layers and layers and layers of failure in delivery of services and disparate impact. And yet, somehow, policing is expected to be completely different. First you have to recognize that. More crime means more resources, that's how the police office work.  And for high level of violent crime, there needs to be 2 to 3 times more resources than areas that enjoy a safer situation. We talked about the need for discussion, which I think is very important. Then there’s leadership, right now we are seeing that folks that don’t want to lead through this. And the President echoed those sentiments. He talked about the multiple societal delivery. That is also the cause of conflict with police. The second part of the message, and this hits me the hardest, is that America has a violent problem. We are the most violent first world society on the planet. The level of homicide in places like Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and France, they are infinitesimal compared to what we deal with in the United States. You can't expect a society that rely on violence so heavily to be policed without using some level of force and conflict. We see folks with guns, knives, and bad intentions. And that's an unfortunate reality of policing in America. When we look at ourselves, we look through the mirror of policing, and we don't like what we see. Well, it's not the police you are seeing, it's ourselves. 

Some argue the media has a selective focus on police shooting on black men, that creates a false narrative of police bias that isn't statistically supported.  When you factor in crime rate, the racial differential disappears. Do you agree with that view?

When you police communities that are violent, you are going to be exposed to more violence. And you are more likely to have to respond with violence. That is the unfortunate reality. In our communities where we have very little violence levels, we have very little police use of force levels. Conversely, in areas with higher level of violence we have higher use of force levels. That doesn't seem to be disparate treatment, that's just to respond to the different areas that we serve. Nobody should take this as saying we are perfect and the police use of force is optimal and we can't do better and all of that. I want us to do better and I want us to come up with other avenues to address folks with mental illness and with blunt weapons. But the reality is that until we can control violence at all levels, we'll never be able to use the level of force we would like. 

The narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement is that law enforcement generally treats African American men in a racist way. There's a racially based differential in how African American men are perceived by law enforcement, how they are treated than a white person of the same demographic. Do you disagree with that narrative? 

I cannot speak for all of policing, I can only speak for Los Angeles. And of course we are a big police department, second largest city in the America. We take biased policing very seriously.  We have implicit-bias training for all our employees. We strive to treat everyone equally and I think we do a good job of it. Are we perfect at it? No. But we are working on it. I think everyone recognizes that's the goal and there are consequences to not working towards that goal. I see things across the nation the same things you see.   We make every effort to make sure we treat people fairly and regardless of skin color . I think  if you see our use of force, I think that bears that out. Last year, we had 48 officer involved shootings. That's a lot, but remember, we make over a million contacts a year and arrest over 10,000 folks over a year. A vast majority of them have absolutely no use of force involved what so ever. If I recall, the African American percentage of that is 20 percent, which, if you look at our contact ratio and policing ratio and the demographic of the city, it's actually a little bit less than you might expect. 

Do you ever take into account the race and ethnicity  of officers in terms their assigned communities?


We almost exactly reflect the community we serve. Even at the management levels, we are majority of minorities at LAPD. In regard to assigning people based on their race, that in itself is discrimination against our employees. We generally assign folks to based on their preference. We try to make everybody be able to work closer to home. But I think the real test is to look at the police cars when they drive by you, look at the two officers in the police cars. It's largely female, largely Hispanics, we have many African Americans. We have a good cross-section. 


Charlie Beck, Chief, Los Angeles Police Department. He tweets from @LAPDChiefBeck