New LAPD chief known for innovative approach to gang violence

Charlie Beck, a 30-year-plus LAPD veteran from a police family, is expected to carry on the reforms of his former boss and chief William Bratton.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (r.) talks with Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Charlie Beck at Getty House, the Mayors official residence in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, before a press conference where the Mayor will announce his choice of Beck to head the LAPD.
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LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, a three-decade veteran of the force, will succeed William Bratton as Chief of Police, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Tuesday. The mayor spent the better part of a 30-minute press conference Tuesday praising Mr. Beck's rise through the ranks to take charge of the Rampart Division, which was struggling with fallout from a 1999 corruption scandal.

"Chief Beck has been the leader within the LAPD in changing our approach to the way we address gangs and youth violence," Mr. Villaraigosa said. "He understands that you can't solve the gang problem just by locking up every kid, that we must use a comprehensive approach that includes tough enforcement while getting at the root causes that drive youth to gangs in the first place."

Beck was one of three finalists for the job, a widely-watched appointment in part because of the challenges of the high-profile post and the achievements of Mr. Bratton, who turned the force around during his seven-year tenure and brought crime down to new lows.

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Choking back tears several times, Mr. Beck read a brief statement, saying that for him, policing is not just a job but "in my blood." He introduced his father George Beck, a retired LAPD deputy chief, his daughter, patrol officer Brandi Scimone, his wife, Cindy a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy and his son, Martin, about to graduate from the Police Academy.

Beck is already known nationally, and has won over some of Los Angeles' toughest police critics. "I am very impressed with how Beck brought this city's warring Hispanic and black communities together in the aftermath of the Cheryl Green murder in 2006," says Najee Ali, one of the city's well-known black activists, referring to the 14-year-old African-American girl who was shot dead by members of a Latino gang. "He did it by remaining calm and using his personal communication skills to keep others calm. That incident could have torn this city apart."

But his strengths may bring some built-in weaknesses to watch for, say national criminologists.

"Specifically, because of his close personal relationship with Bratton, Charlie Beck could have strong potential to continue many of Bratton's popular programs and policies," says Kelly Welch of the Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. That could mean "a relatively smooth transition."

"The potential downside of this, of course, is that those who want dramatic changes may not see them," she adds.

Another concern, Dr. Welch says, could pertain to Beck "having assumed the position of deputy chief relatively recently; his experience may not be as relevant as that of other candidates."

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Click here to read more about how the previous LAPD chief, William Bratton, turned the force around.

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