Charlie Beck

LAPD Chief, NYPD Commissioner Working to Mend the Relationship Between Cops and Marginalized Communities…and More


Across the country, controversial shootings of men of color by law enforcement officers, and the mass shootings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, have left police-community relations particularly tense. For months, Los Angeles Black Lives Matter activists have been regularly protesting at the LA Police Commission’s weekly meetings, calling for the resignation of LA Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Protesters’ cries grew louder this month when the commission found the fatal South LA shooting of a woman named Redel Jones to be within policy. (Read more about the shooting: here.)

During a monthly conversation with host Larry Mantle on KPCC’s AirTalk, Chief Beck talked about the state of policing in LA and what’s being done to improve the LAPD’s relationship with the community it serves.

Beck talked about attending a White House meeting to discuss race and policing with President Barack Obama, law enforcement leaders, local officials, activists, and others. Beck said at the White House meeting, attendees from both sides of the debate were receptive and empathetic, rather than “people pontificating, only presenting their point of view and not listening to other people,”—the sort of candid dialogue that he believes is missing from the national discussion.

“Nobody strives for empathy, nobody tries to understand the view of others,” Beck said. “Everybody just go to their polarized opposites. We’ll never get closer to a solution if people try to do that.”

The police chief also talked about officer training, body-worn cameras, racial bias and uses of force, his #StoptheViolence campaign with rapper the Game, and law enforcement’s disparate impact in communities that are underserved in every way.

The communities where LAPD officers make the most stops and arrests are the places with the highest crime rates, Beck said. Those communities also have the “highest rate of unemployment, lowest rate of high school graduation rate, worst rate of pre-school entry, worst housing market,” Beck continued. “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.”

For more of Beck’s AirTalk discussion, head over to KPCC.


In New York City, NYPD police commissioner, William J. Bratton, is also trying to navigate the task of improving trust and accountability between cops and minority communities, as he nears the end of his policing career.

Bill Bratton, who was LAPD chief from 2002-2009, steered a department mired in misconduct and use of force scandals through a fundamental culture change.

Bratton reiterated that he will retire by the end of 2017, after more than 45 years in law enforcement. Until then, the commissioner is focusing on ways to heal racial tension between cops and citizens through a neighborhood policing program and other efforts. One step toward that goal will be finding the best way to educate officers about their implicit bias, Bratton said.

(You can read more about Bratton and the legacy he will leave behind—including the controversial “broken windows” method of policing—here.)

The New York Times’ Al Baker and J. David Goodman have the story. Here’s a clip:

“We’re in uncharted waters here, at this particular point in time in American policing,” Mr. Bratton said on a Sunday morning CBS News program after three Baton Rouge officers were killed by a black gunman who, officials said, explicitly targeted officers.

Across the country, officers have been newly on guard.

In New York, Mr. Bratton’s policing reforms were paired with the most significant militarization of the city’s officers in its history — changes, aimed at combating terrorism, that began last year. Hundreds of new specialized officers were outfitted with body armor and assault rifles. At the same time, others were added to precincts to buttress the neighborhood policing plan.

These two tracks in New York reflect the goals of many American police departments today: arming up for any eventuality, anywhere in the city (an active shooter, a coordinated terror attack), while, at the local level, toning down the everyday encounters between officers and civilians.

“His essence is to read the horizon,” Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group, said of Mr. Bratton.

Aides praise Mr. Bratton’s flexibility, his willingness to revisit an approach to tailor it to the times. But he can also be rigid and prone to doubling down on provocative public statements.

That has caused some grumbling at City Hall, where aides to Mr. de Blasio have watched Mr. Bratton attract unwelcome press — denigrating rap artists, linking marijuana and violence, accusing Black Lives Matter protesters of bigotry for their broad-brush approach to police.

And for all the talk of the unique role the police can play in healing old racial tensions, Mr. Bratton is frank that officers cannot do it alone. He said on Thursday that the department was “struggling, struggling,” with how to teach its officers about their “implicit bias,” the often subconscious racial baggage they may carry.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. The ultimate goal is to open officers’ minds to others’ perspectives, Mr. Bratton said. “That includes opening up my own mind.”

He is counting on the neighborhood policing plan to take hold and improve police-community relations. Under the leadership of Chief James P. O’Neill, the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer and a possible successor to Mr. Bratton, the program is being expanded across the city. Among the smaller changes aimed at making police precincts more welcoming: Six have added A.T.M.s for officers and the community to share.


This week in South LA, two incidents—one that infuriated community members, and the other that earned LAPD officers gratitude from onlookers—just 12 hours apart underscored the duality of policing in America today.

On Monday night, LAPD officers shot and killed an 18-year-old, after the young man reportedly shot at the officers, wounding one. On Tuesday, several officers were working their way through the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts, trying to talk with residents angry about the death of yet another young black man at the hands of law enforcement.

While officers were walking through the housing project and talking with the residents, they heard shouting. The officers ran down the street to the source of the yelling, and found a young man on the ground struggling to breathe. The group of six officers worked quickly, trying to revive the man, pumping his chest and performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until an ambulance arrived. One of the officers tore off part of her uniform to use as cloth to clean the vomit out of the man’s mouth.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the two incidents. Here’s a clip:

The fast-moving drama in Nickerson Gardens underscored the complicated duality of modern-day policing. Twelve hours before, the police killing of a black 18-year-old had infuriated the neighborhood. That anger, however, melted away — at least temporarily — when officers ran to another black man who needed help.

“If those officers never came,” one woman remarked after an ambulance arrived, “he probably wouldn’t be here.”


Thompson, the officer who spent Tuesday trying to calm tempers, is one of the officers focused on Nickerson Gardens. At one point on Tuesday, he approached Risher, explaining the lengthy investigation that would follow his son’s death and telling him to reach out if he had any questions.

“Hang in there, man,” Thompson said.

“They’re all upset and frustrated — as they should be. It’s a soul lost,” Thompson told a Times reporter. “I just try to help them.”

A half-hour later, Thompson was one of the officers desperately trying to save the unconscious man in the parking lot. He and others tried to resuscitate the man mouth-to-mouth, pausing to spit out the vomit they had cleared from his throat.

Paramedics arrived to take the man to a hospital. One officer turned to the crowd that had been watching.

“They got a pulse,” he said.


A Native American 19-year-old in Oregon faces a year in federal prison for possessing a gram of weed (one-twenty-eighth of what 21-year-olds can legally possess in Oregon).

The Guardian’s Sam Levin has Devontre Thomas’ story, which points a spotlight on the issue of continued targeting of people of color by federal agencies in the failed—yet persisting—war on drugs. Thomas’ case also points to major (and underreported) problems with the way the feds enforce laws among Native populations. Here’s a clip:

Devontre Thomas, a Native American 19-year-old, is accused of possessing a small amount of weed – enough for about one joint – and will face a federal trial that advocates say is a waste of resources and a stark reminder that US law enforcement agencies continue to target people of color for low-level pot offenses.

The one-count charge brought by the US attorney’s office – which could also result in a $1,000 fine – is the latest illustration of growing tensions in US laws on marijuana. The drug is sold recreationally in four states but remains outlawed at the federal level.

The government’s decision to file charges against Thomas, which criminal justice experts say is a perplexing move that directly contradicts federal guidelines, has also raised questions about how the US Department of Justice enforces laws on Native American territories.

“I can’t figure out why they are going after this youth. It literally makes no sense,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. “I find it really hard to believe this should merit the concern of the US attorney. It’s really heartbreaking.”

1 Comment

  • “The government’s decision to file charges against Thomas,……is a perplexing move that directly contradicts federal guidelines,….
    “I can’t figure out why they are going after this youth. It literally makes no sense,” said Mat dos Santos”

    Its not very difficult to figure out why it makes perfect sense for the Obama Administration to go after a kid in Oregon for having a joint.
    They want to fire up the age 18-40 Bernie Sanders demographic and motivate them to participate in the November election.

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