New LAPD chief's challenge: build on Bratton's legacy

The three finalists for the post – all from within the LAPD – have big shoes to fill with the departure of William Bratton, who is credited with turning the force around.

Reed Saxon/AP
Outgoing Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton greets command staff at an 'End Of Watch' ceremony, at police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday. Bratton officially left the LAPD on Saturday.

The biggest challenges facing the next police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), to be announced Tuesday, will be to find his own voice – and to finish the reforms started by outgoing chief William Bratton, say community activists, city officials, and police watchdog groups.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will announce his choice from among three finalists, ending a three-month national search that saw the Police Commission interviewing 13 candidates including 11 from the LAPD command staff.

Mr. Bratton had urged the mayor and the Police Commission to name his successor from within the department.

"The fact that all of these [finalists] are white males and that there has been no uproar from the black community or outcries from the Hispanic community speaks volumes as to their high quality," says Najee Ali, a well-known activist with a history of running afoul of the department. Mr. Ali says he and other community leaders will be comfortable with whoever replaces Bratton as long as that person continues implementing his reforms, including the use of CompStat computers – which helped LAPD target problem areas – and the push toward community policing, and ending racial profiling and police abuse.

"The biggest challenge for Bratton's successor will be to fill the shoes of what many consider to be the greatest and most popular chief in LAPD history who single-handedly brought new reforms to a troubled, beleaguered department," says Ali.

The three finalists are Los Angeles Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, a 32-year-veteran who is considered front runner by most LAPD insiders, Assistant Police Chief Jim McDonnell, a 28-year veteran currently second in command to Bratton, and Deputy Chief Michel Moore, also a 28-year veteran.

Mr. Beck is head of detectives, and recently accompanied Bratton to Australia help select the LAPD's latest patrol car. Beck was also tapped to head a top task force seeking to solve a growing problem with erroneous fingerprint identifications.

Mr. McDonnell became acting chief during Bratton's many trips away from Los Angeles, and is considered a self-effacing professional who detailed and implemented Bratton's reforms even after being passed up for the top job when Bratton was chosen in 2002.

And Mr. Moore is a Medal of Valor recipient considered by City Councilman Dennis Zine – who has police experience – to be the best, hands-on talent in the department. Moore also is credited with lowering crime every year for the seven years he was head of the massive San Fernando Valley section, including a 28 percent drop in violent crime.

When Bratton was chosen in 2002, it seemed important that the police chief come from outside the department to institute needed reforms. But now it is considered better for the new chief to come from within the force to continue those reforms.

"Regardless of the person selected to serve as a chief of police, the person must understand the law enforcement culture and find workable solutions so as to transform the culture at the same time," says Rande Matteson, professor of criminal justice at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla. Either way, the new chief will have his work cut out for him because of the position's high profile and politics, he says.

"The [police] chief will find pockets of resistance and cynicism from a range of personnel, union issues, the community at large, the judiciary, the media and the internal political structure that appointed the chief."

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