The timing was perfect.
Three weeks ago, when LAPD Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell agreed to speak to my Tuesday night class of Annenberg grad students about policing in general and about the job of LAPD Chief in particular, none of us had any idea that the short list of candidates to succeed Bill Bratton would be announced five minutes after McDonnell was scheduled to arrive in our USC classroom at 5 p.m..
In other words, Chief McDonnell himself would have gotten the fateful thumbs up or thumbs down telephone call right about the time he would leaving his office on the 10th floor of the new police headquarters to come to us. Or worse, maybe the mayor would call McDonnell when he was somewhere en route from Spring Street to campus in in his black Yukon.
For the sake of all concerned, my class and I really, really hoped that our scheduled guest was going to be on the commission’s list of three.
Jim McDonnell was always considered to be one of the front runners. But city politics can be quirky. And one never knew. I spent much of the morning Tuesday, on the phone with people from the police commission and the mayor’s office, getting updates as the commission continued to dither and ran late with it’s decision. I wanted to get a definitive read from somebody about whether our classroom guest was going to be sad or happy when he arrived.
Of course, as we now all know McDonnell was on the list—along with Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, and Deputy Chief Michel Moore, who oversees department’s Valley Bureau. (Just before I passed the field where the USC marching band was practicing on my way to the building that houses my classroom, I got the needed message, “The answer is ‘happy,'” my informant told me.)
According to what was billed as leaked insider information reported by KNX radio and a local TV station, McDonnell was first on the commission’s list, with Beck and Moore following after, in that order.
So, as luck would have it, the journalism class got what I believe was the first full length interview with any of the candidates since the selection process began, and certainly the first since since the finalists were named. We were all pretty excited.
Chief McDonnell talked with the students for more than an hour, answering their questions press-conference style. On a day as significantly eventful as Tuesday, another man might have canceled, but instead McDonnell graciously seemed to delight in the opportunity to talk with a bunch of smart journalism students.
He spoke about topics as varied as why he thought he’d make a good chief, about the way helicopters are best used in policing, about the different elements that must be present if we are to lessen LA’s gang violence, about California’s prisoner reentry problem, about how to create better relations with LA’s urban communities—and about the single principle that most guides him.
There was more. The group of young reporters asked an array of skillful questions and McDonnell gave thoughtful and informative answers. But the class members are each writing up news stories based on the interview, so I’d prefer to wait for their insights rather than muddying the water with my own.
The mayor told the candidates he will interview each of them over the next three days (Beck, Wednesday, McDonnell, Thursday, Moore, Friday) and make his decision by Monday.
In the meantime, we’ll be watching and waiting (and analyzing and handicapping).