Last week, a panel of law enforcement experts issued a report with the bland title “An Independent Examination of the Los Angeles Police Department 2020 Protest Response.” It is the first of three assessments of how the LAPD performed last spring when crowds took to the streets following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore isn’t mentioned by name in the 102-page document. But ultimately, the report could be a significant falling domino in a line that ends with his departure after just one term.
This is neither imminent nor definite. Mayor Eric Garcetti tapped Moore to run the department in 2018, and the 39-year LAPD veteran still has more than two years until his term finishes. It’s always risky to gaze that far into the crystal ball.
But Moore’s future is about, well, more than just Moore’s future. The actions in 2020 and the emotions in 2021 could combine with a key city event in 2022 to change the face of Los Angeles policing in 2023.
The fulcrum upon which everything balances is the upcoming mayor’s race. But before looking at the future, it’s important to grasp the past and present.
The protests propelled by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles were a watershed moment for the city, forcing a reckoning with structural racism that many people ignored or just didn’t recognize. The new report acknowledges that the majority of those who took to the streets were protesting peacefully, while teams of opportunistic looters capitalized on the moment, and there was a cadre of instigators and bottle throwers in the large crowds.
The report, commissioned by the City Council, and scheduled to be discussed by the panel’s Public Safety Committee this Wednesday, was penned by people who know the LAPD well. The team is headed by Gerald Chaleff, an attorney whose experience includes serving on the civilian Police Commission and later working as former Chief Charlie Beck’s special assistant for Constitutional Policing. Other members include retired command-level staff—think an assistant chief, a deputy chief, etc.
Their conclusions borders on withering, pointing to deficiencies across the board.
“The lack of adequate planning and preparation caused the Department to be reactive, rather than proactive, and inhibited the Department’s ability to have better control over the violence being committed by small groups of individuals whose objectives were to create chaos and confrontation with the police,” it states.
The LAPD gets zapped for everything from failing to grasp the anger of the protesters to not coordinating with the office of the City Attorney for advice on handling arrests. The decision-making process is lambasted.
“When confronted by multiple large scale events, it is important that there be a clear chain of command, where everyone knows who is in charge, and those in charge provide clear direction. This did not consistently occur during the protests,” the report states, and soon adds, “Members of the LAPD command staff confirmed that they did not always know who was in charge, which led to a chaos of command.”
In the wake of the protests, the LAPD has been slammed (and sued) for injuries officers inflicted on people in the crowd. The new report criticizes the department for lacking experienced crowd-control leadership (in part because high-level figures had retired and were not replaced) and says that officers who fired less-lethal rounds had received little training with the weapons. When mass arrests were made, police seemed unsure what to do next.
“Thousands of people were arrested throughout the protests without a clearly articulated plan for detentions, transportation and processing,” the report sates. “As a result, those arrested were detained at the scene of the arrests for hours, handcuffed on the pavement, detained in buses, and taken to remote locations, without water or the use of bathroom facilities.”
Like most law-enforcement organizations, the LAPD is a top-down hierarchy, and even if Moore’s name isn’t mentioned, it’s impossible to read the report and not think about the role of the chief. Granted, things moved quickly and in some cases officers were pelted with water bottles, bricks, and other projectiles, and cop cars were set on fire. Still, questions about leadership arise.
Two other reports are coming, one from the LAPD itself and a third from the National Police Foundation. Their findings could be markedly different from the Council-sponsored paper.
Like most law-enforcement organizations, the LAPD is a top-down hierarchy, and even if Moore’s name isn’t mentioned, it’s impossible to read the report and not think about the role of the chief.
But no matter what they say, the current report has significant overlap with a general public perception of the response, and that sets the stage for an upcoming, punishing game of political football—with Moore as the football.
Kickoff could be in the coming months, as the race to replace Garcetti heats up. The mayoral primary election takes place in June 2022 (with a runoff in November). Public safety is always a campaign issue, but in this cycle a debate over the role and tactics of law enforcement, and how communities of color are policed, will be more pronounced than ever.
Every mayoral candidate will be grilled about what reforms and priorities they will seek in the LAPD. Questions about whether the department should see a level of defunding will rise.
So will the question of whether each candidate would appoint Moore to a second term.
The field is still forming. Although 15 individuals have filed documents with the City Ethics Commission to raise money for the mayor’s race, the only people almost anyone knows are City Attorney Mike Feuer and Councilman Joe Buscaino. Numerous other individuals are being discussed as potential candidates, including council members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kevin de León, as well as mall developer (and former Police Commission member) Rick Caruso. There could be other figures.
Clearly, no one who is asked about the LAPD’s performance will respond with a wide smile and two thumbs up. While in a normal world a query about a second term for Moore would generate a vague response akin to, “I’ll be analyzing that and making my decision at the appropriate time,” such a milquetoast comment may not fly. A candidate who articulates and explains why a change in leadership is needed might gain more voters than she or he loses.
Momentum can change. It’s not out of this world that Moore recovers—particularly if the surging homicide rate comes back under control—and builds a strong relationship with Garcetti’s successor. You have to be something of a politician to get appointed chief in the first place, and Moore still has many friends in City Hall.
But the next mayor will take office at the end of 2022, and his or her first major decision could involve picking the leader of the LAPD (choosing a chief is multistep process with others involved, but the mayor plays the biggest role). The choice may come down to selecting Moore, whose reputation has taken a battering, or going with a fresh face, and thus signifying a new start.
None of this means Moore is gone, but one can see the seeds for change being planted.
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