LA’s Top Cops Show Their True Colors: Not Pretty

LA Top Cops“It should be clear to everyone that the LAPD and the criminal justice system will hold officers accountable for their actions when they operate outside the law​.​”—LAPD’s Charlie Beck, commenting on the sentencing of former officer Mary O’Callaghan

I’ve never bought into the notion that the while rest of the ​nation still has to suffer with abusive police practices and ​with recalcitrant, uninspired police leaders, sunny Los Angeles has been singularly blessed by enlightened law enforcement leadership. I am amazed, in fact, by how many LA progressives do seem to accept this narrative without question.

LA’s cop culture remains what it’s always been—tribal and brutal—whether it’s Bratton and Baca or Beck and McDonnell running our largest police agencies.

In my view, LA’s cop culture remains what it’s always been—tribal and brutal—and whether it’s Bratton and Baca or Beck and McDonnell running our largest police agencies, their carefully-crafted rhetoric about constitutional policing belies the ugly reality that these men do nothing to change the underlying culture.

Thus it was galling to read Beck’s smug comment following the sentencing of Mary O’Callaghan, an 18-year LAPD veteran who brutalized Alesia Thomas (who subsequently died) during a particularly nasty 2012 arrest. How dare Charlie Beck say something like this when he was recently shown to be patting his troops on the back in a repulsive way, telling them they could pretty much ignore what the Police Commission had to say about that Ezell Ford shooting (the Commission contradicted Beck’s assertion the the officers’ conduct was “within policy”)? If he really wants to hold on to his progressive credentials, Eric Garcetti should do the right thing and show Charlie Beck the door at the nearest opportunity.

It was equally infuriating to see Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s statement to the Associated Press that crime in our region is rising because, under Prop 47, prosecutors and courts can no longer use the threat of a felony to force people into drug treatment. McDonnell cited no real evidence, merely repeated the mantra that there must be a direct correlation between a slight jump in property crimes and Prop 47. McDonnell said “it would be naive to say that Prop 47 did not play a major role” in spurring the crime increase.

But in the same interview, the new sheriff cites another factor that could just a​s easily explain why crime seems to be creeping up. He mentions how his officers are demoralized by media accounts of violent confrontations: media accounts that make the police look bad.

The whole country witnessed how NYPD officers stopped making arrests after Mayor DiBlasio rankled them with his comments regarding the Eric Garner case. Could it be the LAPD and LASD are likewise smarting about what they perceive as unfair anti-police protest to the point of not doing their jobs? As long as Sheriff McDonnell feels free to speculate about this and that, why doesn’t he consider that question?

Finally, let’s not forget that all recent moves made by both agencies—LAPD and LASD—in the direction of constitutional policing came only in the wake of federal intervention: direct Justice Department colonoscopies into their horrific internal cultures.

How much confidence should we put in the reform rhetoric used by agency heads operating against such a backdrop?

peter laarmanJust as nobody is an atheist in a foxhole (as the saying goes), so too everyone is a“reformer” when the Attorney General is standing just offstage.

Peter Laarman
Justice Not Jails

About Peter Laarman

Rev. Peter Laarman serves on the Justice Not Jails steering committee. He formerly directed Progressive Christians Uniting, the LA-based network of activist individuals and congregations that first launched Justice Not Jails in 2012 as a multifaith initiative. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for ministry.


  1. Luis Lozano says:

    Beck is like Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best. He’s a soft-spoken mouth piece for the status quo and his paternalistic attitude toward citizens is just as oppressive as Braxton’s or any previous Chief.

  2. The more things (or people) change, the more they stay the same