Concerns about nepotism, favoritism, and the unfair treatment of some employees have been a silent topic of discussion among LAPD employees of all ranks ever since Chief Charlie Beck was appointed in 2009. Those silent discussions were elevated to a collective cry for help by LAPD officers over the past two weeks. The fear however, is that the officers’ message may have gotten lost among the salacious headlines, the slicing and dicing tactics of “cover and concealment” by the Chief, and the many rumors in social media.
The specific details of the recent headlined events are not relevant at this time. The critical issue for the commissioners must be the character of Chief Beck: Has he compromised his credibility to such an extent that now makes him a liability to the department? Has he lost the trust and respect of his employees? Has he abused his authority as Chief of Police, and if so, should the commissioners consider the concept of “Negligent Retention?” Can Chief Beck be trusted to be fair and impartial in adjudicating complaints involving honesty and integrity? To answer these questions, and to ensure that the critical facts are not confused, overlooked, or suppressed, here are the relevant issues that the commissioners must address:
In the reported matter of the sergeant who had inappropriate relations with his subordinate employees: Did the Chief, implicitly or otherwise, influence the outcome of that case? In the case of Officer Hillman, what message did the Chief send to minority communities when he reduced the penalty of an officer who made false statements and racist remarks? Did the Chief consider all the facts in that case, when he publicly refused to watch the video of the incident? Like Officer Hillman, who may no longer testify in a court of law, the Chief’s credibility is so damaged that the public will now view everything he says with skepticism.
On the matter of the Chief’s daughter selling her horse to the LAPD Mounted Unit, why was the Chief so adamant in the denial of his involvement? Would he have voluntarily admitted to his involvement, had it not been reported in the press? What message will the commission send to the officers if they accept the Chief’s explanation that he made a mistake? Is it reasonable for anyone, including the Chief, not to have seen the conflict of interest in this transaction from the inception? Based upon his now admitted role in the matter, the Chief has raised serious concerns about his own ethical conduct. This was not merely a serious lapse in judgment; it was a betrayal of trust at the highest level. LAPD employees are prohibited from accepting gratuity to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. The Chief sets the tone for the department, and the officers are expected to model his behavior; the Chief cannot be held to a lower standard than his officers.
The Chief recently declared, “I will continue to work with the commissioners to increase the department’s transparency.” The problem with this declaration is that this has been his commitment from day one. From the inception of his appointment in 2009, as reported in the press, he vowed to focus on “more transparency as LAPD Chief.” Although he did not “provide specifics about how he would improve transparency, he said it was a goal.”
Instead of a goal, this commitment to transparency has been reduced to a mere catch phrase, more talk than action. The Chief has repeated his so-called commitment to transparency several times between his appointment and the latest incident. Based upon his failures in the past, the Police Commission should be very skeptical about the sincerity of his pledge to be more transparent in the future.
In making his case, the Chief appears to be appealing for understanding, if not empathy, from the all of us who are parents because of what he perceived to be an attack on his family, who he felt did not deserve the level of scrutiny that is expected of him. This response from the Chief is particularly troubling, because it discloses the Chief’s inability to separate his “daughter” from “an LAPD employee,” who has engaged in questionable conduct. It is true that “anyone can make a mistake.” However, if the Police Commission accepts the Chief’s misrepresentation of his involvement in the horse incident as a mere mistake, it runs the risk of defending civil claims from hundreds of employees who have been terminated for making similar “mistakes.
It is well appreciated that this is a very difficult decision for the Police Commission. The fact that Chief Beck is a “good guy,” and has a charming and charismatic personality makes it even that more difficult. However, among the many attributes of an effective leader, honesty and integrity trumps charisma. By his conduct, Chief Beck has betrayed the trust of his employees, he has compromised the credibility of the disciplinary system, and based upon his conduct, he may have now become a detriment and a liability to the Los Angeles Police Department.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times on November 6, 2009, during a Q&A with theTimes Editorial Board, Chief Beck said, “A leader can never become more important than the organization,” and “If I ever become a detriment to this department because of my personality, because of something I did, then I’m gone.”
I think the majority of LAPD employees would say that we are now at that place and time, and it would be in the best interest of the department for Chief Beck to keep his promise.
Captain Peter Whittingham is a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.