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OP-ED: Los Angeles Hunts For Police Chief With the “Right Stuff”

Joe Domanick
Written by Joe Domanick

When Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck retires in June, he’ll leave to his successor the best police department in the city’s history—-one that’s no longer the hated, pugnacious symbol of repression it used to be, or a primary instigator of the class and race volatility that once made the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) infamous throughout the world, and ignited two of the bloodiest American riots of the 20th century.

The principal reason for the old LAPD’s notorious reputation was myopic, insular leadership — sometimes megalomaniacal, sometimes self-serving, and often deadly racist. The principal reason for its current achievements is leadership again, but of an entirely different kind.

As the Los Angeles Police Commission and Mayor Eric Garcetti begin the selection of a new chief, they must find a candidate who checks a lot of challenging boxes. The best and worst in the department’s modern history provide a template — a set of qualities to shun and characteristics to seek.

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck (2009-2018)

All it would take to undo much of the trust and goodwill earned by the LAPD over the past 15 years, for example, is a string of controversial incidents in one of its volatile divisions that could provoke a riot—if it’s badly handled by a new chief without the “right stuff.”

Searching for a chief with the right stuff begins with selecting someone with the right temperament and experience. In Los Angeles, that means someone with a cosmopolitan understanding of their city’s extraordinarily diverse population, and a keen awareness of how each police division needs to be individually policed to meet the expectations of today’s politically aware and vocal city dwellers—especially communities of color.

But it also means understanding what went wrong—and right—with previous appointments.

Take, for instance, the LAPD’s William H. Parker.

Chief from 1950-1966, Bill Parker was at first an exemplary chief for his time and place, but it didn’t last. He was a military man. When he took over, the force was mired in on-the-take corruption. He made any violation a career-ending sin, and honesty an essential virtue in new recruits, steps New York and Chicago didn’t take until decades later.

L.A. Police Chief William Parket (1950-1966), via Wikipedia

But by the 1960s, Parker’s deficits were showing. He was autocratic; and worst of all, deeply racist. He denounced the “wild tribes from Mexico” pouring into his city and devised the intrusive, often brutal “occupying force” policing strategy in black L.A. that ignited the Watts riots in 1965 and haunts the department still.

As the city’s African American newspaper, The Sentinel put it: “Hardly a day passes without…physical evidence of beatings [in the black community by LA cops.]…led by a chief who has shown an unbelievable contempt for our Negro and Mexican American communities.” (Los Angeles Sentinel, 8/17/61)

Ed Davis, chief from 1969-1978, and later a California state senator (1980-1992), shared Parker’s world view and many of his most egregious leadership qualities. But the bullying manner in which he dealt with conflict and adversity should be a red flag to anyone choosing a new chief. Smart, big and mean, Davis utterly, uncompromisingly, believed the LAPD should be accountable only to him. His go-to response to any perceived criticism was to declare war.

L.A. Police Chief Ed Davis (1969-1978), via Wikipedia.

For example when a TV reporter decided to investigate a raft of bad LAPD shootings, Davis ordered the reporter’s head shot placed on the targets at the Police Academy’s shooting range, and stickers with his last name pasted on patrol-car rear bumpers: ” [Wayne] Satz Sucks.”

As Davis’ immediate predecessor, Chief Tom Redden pointed out: “When Ed Davis fought with everybody, the cop on the street thought he could fight with anyone, too.”

And that’s what L.A. cops did over the ensuing decades. They copied his behavior and, in the process incited trouble and anger.

Daryl Gates (1978-92) had just about every red-flag quality the city should avoid in a new chief: intransigence, narrow-mindedness, arrogance. He saw his troops as his only constituency and he defended and ultimately encouraged them no matter how outrageous their behavior.

L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates (1978-1992), via Wikipedia

Gates’ LAPD was the culmination of the sins of Parker and Davis. He simply didn’t care that vast numbers of Angelenos hated the department and felt impotent to change it. Just as Parker’s force helped precipitate the Watts riots a generation earlier, Gates’ LAPD laid the foundations for 1992’s explosive insurrection.

Willie Williams left his post as Philadelphia Police Commissioner to succeed Gates. The former Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Williams, who served from 1992 to 1997, was chosen because he was an outsider—the first in 40 years—and most explicitly, because he was African American. But he possessed none of the qualities needed to be the new reform chief of a riot-torn city.

He arrived knowing no one, trusting no one, and made no allies. Incurious and inept, he lacked the skills and energy to gain acceptance within the department or to reform it.

L.A. Police Chief Willie Williams (1992-1997), courtesy LAPD

Unceremoniously dismissed five years after being hired, Williams represented a missed opportunity for meaningful reform. The Williams lesson should be a warning to Los Angeles commissioners currently examining new applicants—as well as to other cities experiencing a change in senior police management.

Thoroughly vet your candidates;
Avoid choosing a chief because he or she is a symbol. (The job’s too big and important for that.)

Bernard Parks, who succeeded Williams in 1997, was also ill-suited for the job. Smart, and knowledgeable, the 32-year LAPD veteran knew his city, and was highly regarded by his own black community, downtown politicians and department insiders. But like his predecessors, he thought he could run the LAPD as his own private fiefdom, and treat critics and the press with disdain.

L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks (1997-2002), via Wikipedia

He also had a quality that must be avoided in a new chief.

He was imperious—headstrong and authoritarian. So thoroughly did his inappropriately harsh and indiscriminate discipline and top-down management alienate his troops, that they lost confidence in him. Parks never got it back, and thus could not continue as an effective leader.

The lesson was clear to Charlie Beck, who served under Parks as an ambitious young officer (and inherited his seat a decade and a half later). “The way a chief treats his cops is the way that they will treat the community,” Beck later told me. “If you treat cops like fools, or if you’re over-dependent on harsh discipline, that’s what they’ll learn [and act out] on the street.”

Becks immediate predecessor, Bill Bratton, changed the paradigm. As chief from 2002-2009, Bratton was confident, reform-minded, and willing to listen. He was an outsider and a reformer (Boston and New York) committed to rational, accountable, modern policing. He didn’t stick to an antiquated manual. He freed his field captains to tailor the organization of their divisions to different needs.

L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton (2002-2009). Photo by Policy Exchange via Flickr

He made the LAPD a thinking organization, unafraid to take the initiative.

Bratton added two must-have qualities to the chief checklist: He was flexible and innovative.

Finally, Charlie Beck.

The current chief, Charlie Beck — native Angeleno, 40-year LAPD veteran — cemented the reforms Bratton began. His temperament is the right model for the next chief. He has internalized the way the city works and his interpersonal skills have allowed him to forge ties with the liberal police commission, the conservative police union and the city’s diverse communities.

Chief Charlie Beck, June 2016, retirement party for former LAPD Assistant Chief, Earl Paysinger (WLA)

He won rank-and-file buy-in for body cameras and a new “de-escalated” shooting policy; he absorbed criticism without public rancor.

Los Angeles knows from experience how tenuous police-community goodwill can be in a city with deep racial and economic divides, competing stakeholders and a volatile crime rate. It’s next police chief must be strong but not authoritarian, confident but not arrogant, willing to reach out in all directions, committed to best practices and constant evolution.

Los Angeles knows from experience how tenuous police-community goodwill can be in a city with deep racial and economic divides, competing stakeholders and a volatile crime rate. It’s next police chief must be strong but not authoritarian, confident but not arrogant, willing to reach out in all directions, committed to best practices and constant evolution.[/caption]

History shows that Los Angeles pays if the wrong person runs the LAPD.

The lesson for the commission and the mayor is simple: Don’t screw this up.


Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, and West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, is the author of two books on the LAPD. His first book, “To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War on the City of Dreams,” was published in 1994. His latest book, “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing,” is now out in paperback.

This essay was previously published by The Crime Report and, in a different version, by the Los Angeles Times.

40 Comments

  • Still waiting to read something written by someone from John jay college that isn’t completely full of crap. That first paragraph is particularly awful, even for someone from John jay.

  • There was a sheriff’s candidate forum today at East Los Angeles College, and the incumbent McBuckles was a no-show. Second time, by the way. How much longer will he continue to assume the job belongs to him and not the electorate? Such arrogance knows no limits.

    • Maybe not so much arrogance as it is boredom. There is obviously no imminent threat to McDonnell’s throne thus freeing up his Saturday for something more meaningful. Let’s be honest here, whether you like him or not, McDonnell is the pick of the majority who are in powerful political places. Short of a scandal, he’s in again.

      • That is two big assumptions you’re making: that he’s already a household name and that he has increased support community wide. I’d say he’s losing in both categories. For sure he is no Block or Baca…

        • I agree with LATBG, it is upon us to make sure McBuckles does not get re-elected, all we have to do is speak up, tell our friends, family members anyone who can vote in LA County, what is happening. If we all did our part, by getting people involved, new voters registered, we can help to effect change…I got all my nieces and nephews whom just turned 18, registered to vote in the last few days. They know who to vote for, and I have asked them to get their friends involved as well. We can get rid of dirty politicians one vote at a time….let’s do it, get involved, and get people involved…https://lasd.news/2018/04/22/lindsey-and-villanueva-debate-in-east-la-but-mcdonnell-blows-off-the-aclu-npr-hosted-forum/

  • This is getting funnier by the minute. The website, “Therealjimmcdonnell.com” aka surruo, com, has just dropped all pretenses and shown their true colors. Lindsey’s facebook page has dozens of comments of his supporters showing their true colors as well. Lasd.news as well. What drove everyone over the top? There are a few theories, but it seems like a debate or two has caused a meltdown in the Lindsey camp. We’ve learned a few things about good ol’ Bob, and his devoted followers haven’t figured out that he’s actually a democrat, and a liberal one at that!

    Going through the recording of the first debate on Thursday, Lindsey proudly announced the support he’s received from some guy named Lee Baca. Isn’t that the felon who destroyed the lasd? In the second debate he announced his support of Trump, so now it’s getting confusing. A very conservative thing to do, but then he said he wouldn’t spend the money to rebuild central jail, but rather give it to social services, a very liberal thing to do. Does Lindsey know who he is or does it change depending on who asks? Or who is listening? So confusing. The NPR guy asked Bob if he supported the sanctuary state law, and Bob said yes, but it sure took him a while to say it. What do they call that, a shift shaper or something like that?

    Now it’s becoming clearer how Lindsey made his money, milking all the enablers of Moonbeam for all there worth. We can only hope he doesn’t milk his followers within the LASD as well.

    • Are you more concerned with a candidate’s “political party association” or getting a new Sheriff? Alex Villanueva is very much so backed by Democrats. If you don’t like Bob Lindsey then there’s Alex. Are you just popping off? Do you live in Los Angeles County? You have 4 choices >McDonnell, Villanueva, Lindsey or no vote at all.

      • If the election were held today – those would be the 4 choices.
        However, voting will not begin until May 7 – that is the first day the Registrar can send out absentee ballots.
        McDonnell, Villanueva and Ljndsey are the 3 candidates for Sheriff whose names are printed on the ballot.
        Voters also have the choice to vote for a write-in candidate.
        Although there are no write-in candidates for Sheriff at this point in time, that may change.
        Anyone seeking to challenge the 3 ballot candidates for Sheriff has until May 22 at 5:00p.m. to file with the County Registrar to be qualified for election by write-in votes.

    • @Fed up
      Your view on politics is the problem with this country right now. You feel that a liberal or conservative always have to a feel a certain way and fall in line with their camp. Maybe people have their own ideas and don’t want to always go in line with their party.

      As for those websites, yeah they probably are Lindsey run websites, but guess what all the stuff on them is true. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

      As for the Sheriff’s race, at least these two guys showed up. McDonnell must have been busy talking to Diana Teran about the next Deputy he could fire.

    • To Bob’s credit, regarding the sanctuary state issue, he has to be flexible, as the majority of people in the county support that, even if he does not like it, he has to compromise. I saw he compromised, not necessarily like it. Bob, in my opinion, did well, willing to compromise on issues that are important to the progressives in the county, nothing wrong with that. This not a liberal or conservative race, it is a race to get the crooked James McBuckles out of office.

  • McBuckles doesn’t even need to show up for anything. He will win just because he currently holds the office. Just look over the history of the office. Unfortunately for LASD, no good candidates for the position. Maybe a strong future leader will emerge through the promotional process, who isn’t one of the left over POS from the previous regime, who can challenge him on the next go around. Who knows what could happen. McBuckles could win, hold the office for three years, hand it down to the U.S. Like I said, no good prospects on the horizon.

    It will be interesting what happens with LAPD and their choices. Remember, this is California, they will all have a democratic agenda. All of us conservatives are completely out numbered and the have-nots what more from the haves.

    • That’s a pretty dumb analysis. Being an incumbent does not by definition equal 51% of the vote. McDonnell has no accomplishments, shallow political roots, no inherent base of actual votes, and a lot of former supporters now arrayed against him. Half of June’s likely voters probably don’t even know who the sheriff is. By your logic, nobody would ever lose an election. Elections are won by people actually showing up and filling in a circle. It actually does take a conscious effort.

      • When they are ready to mark their ballot, 100% of voters will know that McDonnell is the Sheriff.
        The occupation of a candidate is listed on the ballot following their name, for example –
        Jim McDonnell
        Sheriff…………………..[]

  • For the record, here are the results of the 2014 primary and money raised by each:

    Jim McDonnell 49.4% 760K
    Paul Tanaka 15.1% 900K
    Bob Olmsted 9.8% 335K
    James Hellmold 7.7% 440K
    Pat Gomez 6.6% 16K
    Todd Rogers 6.1% 190K
    Lou Vince 5.4% 24K

    From what we know so far, both Lindsey and McDonnell have roughly the same amount raised, 300K, albeit through entirely different paths. McDonnell is shaking down the usual suspects who curry favor with incumbency and do contracts with the county. Lindsey is using disgraced former sheriff Baca’s connections that greased his 16 year run. Villanueva’s paltry sum by comparison, 25K, is all family and friends. What we can learn from the 2014 race is that money doesn’t mean much in the big picture of the second largest media market in the country, unless you can blanket the air waves for weeks in a massive prime time media buy.

    Now in the other arena, endorsements, we have a curious inversion of the results. Villanueva is running away with the major endorsements, which based on his website and social media include:

    Los Angeles County Democratic Party
    Los Angeles County Young Democrats
    East Area Progressive Democrats
    Chicano Latino Caucus, California Democratic Party
    Walnut Valley Democratic Club
    Hubert H Humphrey Democratic Club
    Torrance Democratic Club
    North Valley Democratic Club
    West Hollywood Beverly Hills Democratic Club
    Stonewall Democratic Club
    Los Angeles Sheriff’s Professional Association

    Bob Lindsey has the following endorsements on his website:

    Steve, chief administrator
    Linda, former mayor and businesswoman
    Sammy, stunt car driver
    Deezer, rapper and actor

    The incumbent, Jim McDonnell, does not have any endorsements publicly available, however we can assume one for sure: Jackie Lacey, District Attorney

    This is going to be a crap shoot, but I’m guessing Villanueva is slowly but surely winning over the political establishment that McDonnell can no longer depend on, and Lindsey is running away with the NRA crowd. Now we have to wait and see what the LA Times decides to do, it will be entertaining…

    • It’ll be entertaining if ALADS endorses Alex. An extended olive branch would also include allowing ALL deputies including LASPA members to vote as to who they want as the next Sheriff. The division within the ranks only strengthens the incumbent. You’re correct about the whole election being crap shoot. Alads has to put pride aside.

      • ALADS will endorse Alex when hell freezes over. One, he’s not even a contender in this race. Two, he’s as viable as a station trustee and Three, no Deputy wants him to be the next Sheriff.

    • I have three hopes, one that either Bob or Alex take the primary, two that if they don’t, McBuckles does not get more than 50% of the vote, and three, if McBuckles does make it to the general election, that we all unite against him…

      • Hope and speculation won’t cut it. This is not a game. The way I see it, not enough complaints from the nucleus of the department to have a valid look-see outside of social media or blogisphere. Has there been a forum specifically for the deputies to air out? Has ALADS made an attempt to reach out to the troops? Like I said, very few complaints.

        • You are right, I cannot speak for others, however, in my case I cannot publicly say what I know, it has to be done in the proper venue, the courthouse. If I was to say what I know here, the department would go after the people directly affected, they would look at all possible violations of policy and the law. If you know how the department operates, you should know deputies are forced to stay quiet or framed into an allegation of wrongdoing.

          ALADS is the one supposed to create the forum for deputies to air the issues out. Many deputies have reached out to ALADS complaining against the department, however, they remain silent, accomplices to what the sheriff does. ALADS seems to be another division of the sheriff’s department, not the advocate deputies pay for. If ALADS was a sheriff’s department division, I would say Ron is the division chief.

          Which causes me to wonder, is there any gain by the deputies running ALADS to remain silent or neutral when the sheriff is out of control? Does anyone know if the deputies who run ALADS later get something from the sheriff for remaining loyal to him? Or are they also afraid to go after the sheriff while running ALADS, knowing later they will be targets?

          Here is an example of why I suspect there is something fishy at ALADS, to select who ALADS endorses as sheriff, they want 33% of members to vote, however, to select ALADS board members, they do it with only 10% or something to that effect. I would say the board member spots should remain empty as well, until 33% of the membership votes, fair is fair.

          • The problem is Lindsey is as desperate to get ahold of ALADS’ money as Paul Tanaka was four years ago. They are running the exact same playbook, starting with running a slate against the current ALADS board that failed. Apparently while they were campaigning for board seats, they were handing out Lindsey bumper stickers. All you have to do is look at social media and the 24/7 campaign they are running against ALADS, Villanueva, and the incumbent. Some of the comments by Lindsey supporters unfortunately say more about themselves and his campaign than any valid opinions they may have.

            Then you have the two Lindsey websites, surruo.com and lasd.news, with a mixture of facts, fiction, and conjecture. The online poll is my particular favorite, the one where Villanueva sank to the bottom after he dared to criticize Lindsey. I think Putin runs better polls in Russia, LOL. ALADS and PPOA need to step up to the plate, no doubt, but it looks like Lindsey wants to be the new Paul Tanaka, complete with blind loyalists eager to do his bidding.

          • Again. The big question is will ALADS endorse Villanueva and will they give ballots to LASPA members when it gets down to the nitty gritty.

  • @ Joe NoBuckles: Valid assertion of ALADS with their silly-ass rules, made up as they go along. Mind you that ALADS is behind the eight ball, specifically next month as they negotiate our contracts for a 15th time and that’s with a Professional Negotiator. Then there’s ALADS vs Macias, which should be a doozy. Four years in the waiting and for what? Last but not least, who will be in the best interest to lead LASD? Regards.

  • This thread is so weird. Mostly a lot of Alex Villanueva (LATBG) talking about how great he is, only to be agreed with HAPPY @ LASPA (probably also Alex). Making declarations inside your own echo chamber doesn’t make those things so. Villanueva attacking Lindsey, and Lindsey’s backers attacking Villanueva is all so pointless and a waste of energy. The common goal is booting the common villain: McDonnell.

    Villanueva isn’t going to win but this is great experience and exposure for a future State Assembly run or something. His presence takes votes away from McDonnell, not really from Lindsey. Lindsey just has tons more grassroot support and money than Villanueva. And the more Villanueva snipes at Lindsey here/in general, the more Lindsey’s defenders are gonna aim squarely at him, damaging his future political prospects. So, stop it. I back Lindsey because I think he has a far better shot at delivering the RESULT we need; if Villanueva prevailed in a runoff, that would be awesome and I’d switch to him in a second. But neither, and neither’s camp, should be sniping at the other. It may be fun but it’s not helpful.

    • You make great points, however you should not disregard the points of LATBG or HAPPY@LASPA. The question concerning any opinions would be, is it true or does it have a ring of truth to it? I agree that the jabs and snipes between the challengers doesn’t help, also old wounds between unions is not helping. Either a united front or divided fall.

    • LASD DEM, you can try match names and identities all you want, but what’s your point? Surruo.com should be called Therealboblindsey.com. If you throw a blow expect something coming back, simple rule. Shall we inform both the voters and Villanueva that he’s not gonna win? I mean its a waste of time, right? Lets coronate Bob right now and the god squad as his posse. I don’t think Villanueva is gonna lose sleep over his future prospects. Such blind hatred, where does it come from?

      I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m pretty sure using a convicted felon as your advisor, you know the same dude who destroyed the lasd, is a selling point for your campaign. Trashing political parties is another strange move. Let’s see how it works for Lindsey. I do have one prediction: McDonnell will crush Lindsey in a runoff.

  • Wonder if ALADS President Ron Hernandez can take a page from Jeff Bell who is president of Browards Sheriff’s Association. No political prancing around, just straight to the point.

  • Well, here is the latest from Lindsey’s website, lasd.news. In his words:

    “For better or worse, the viability of political candidates in our country is gauged by how much money they are able to raise. The willingness of people like you and me to open our wallets, and give the fruits of our labor, is the primary measure of political support.
    And by that metric, Bob Lindsey is 30% ahead of Jim McDonnell, according to numbers posted to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s website late Friday.
    It’s hard to overstate how huge this is. Because by the conventional wisdom, against an incumbent not headed to federal prison, it shouldn’t even be a contest. And yet…
    For the period January 1, 2018 through April 21, 2018, Lindsey raised a total of $153,517 to McDonnell’s $112,294. Alex Villanueva, who is also running, clocked in at $12,866, thanks to 11 reported donors.” Source: https://lasd.news/

    Bob should realize that is not the only “metric” by which to measure campaign success or failure. Another one is not sticking your foot in your mouth, as he apparently is fond of doing. From the LACDP, they circulated a press release yesterday denouncing Lindsey for comments he made disparaging the largest political party in Los Angeles County, of which he is a member. In the words of Mark Gonzalez, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party:

    “Bob Lindsey made some incredibly unfounded claims at a debate with Alex Villanueva, the Democratic Party’s officially endorsed candidate for LA County Sherriff. Mr. Lindsey claimed that our Democratic Party is not the ‘real Democratic Party’ and that we a have very small membership in Los Angeles County. I’m not sure if Bob has picked up a newspaper or looked around Los Angeles in the last twenty years, but L.A. is a proud liberal Democratic stronghold and the LA County Democratic Party is not only the largest local political party in the nation, it is the largest local political organization of its kind in America. Lindsey can gloat all he wants about how he sent out an email that went to 2.5 million people, but we got news for Bob: The LA County Democratic Party has a membership that’s 2.7 million strong, and we are campaigning for our endorsed candidate for LA County Sherriff, Alex Villanueva.” Source: http://www.lacdp.org/los-angeles-county-democratic-party-statement-sherriffs-candidate-bob-lindsey-deriding-los-angeles-county-democratic-party/

    Apparently Alex isn’t rolling in cash like Bob, but he’s smart enough to know that he is campaigning to win the support of all voters, regardless of party affiliation, without disparaging any of them.

  • Fed Up, they way I understand your comments is that Villanueva should win, otherwise, you would be happier with McBuckles. I am supporting Lindsey because I feel his has the most pull and has shown he genuinely cares about the line deputy and the community.

    The problem is not Lyndsey, focus on McBuckles, the race is against McBuckles. I support Lindsey, but if Villanueva wins, I will then support him, whether he takes the whole thing in June, or goes up against McBuckles in November.

    I have been following both challengers’message, I saw it was Villanueva first attacking Lindsey at the debate, and introducing national partisan politics, it was a turn-off for me. However, if Villanueva defeats Lindsey and McBuckles, I still will be happy for him.

    • Actually, Lindsey’s website, surruo.com, launched the first official attack on April 13, 2018, when they claimed Villanueva played the race card: http://surruo.com/2018/04/13/candidate-for-sheriff-alex-villanueva-throws-out-the-race-card/ The debates were a week later, April 19 (WeHo) and April 21 (ELAC). If you followed social media from both candidates closely, Lindsey’s team of supporters have been relentlessly attacking Villanueva on every forum, which turned me off to Lindsey’s campaign being above the board. Does the voter at large care about these squabbles? Probably not. I agree with you, however McBuckles remains the problem.

      • Fed up, It does look how you say it. I hope both candidate’s followers unite against McBuckles, it would be an unbelievable, satisfying event watching him pack out of the HOJ.

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