By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The instant Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his appointment of Assistant Chief Michel Moore to the top spot in the Los Angeles Police Department, this question was asked. Will Moore be another Daryl Gates or Bill Bratton?
In other words, would he be totally committed to LAPD reforms as Bratton was? Or would he be totally resistant to them as Gates was? The comparison is really unfair and unrealistic for a number of reasons.
It is true that Moore’s decades within the department mark him as the consummate insider. Thus, the suspicion is that he would play things strictly by the book, cautious and always protective of the department, right or wrong. That may not be the case. There are many examples of organization insiders who shake things up within the organization once they take the reins.
Even if Moore is not that individual, things have radically changed since the Gates days. A chief now has term limits. He can serve no longer than 10 years.
There also is an inspector general and a police commission that makes policy and, unlike commissions of years past, is not merely a rubber stamp for the department. The Police Commission has made some bold, innovative and demanding policy changes in the use of force, discipline and how abuse complaints are handled, while also tackling the issue of racial profiling and pushing for a more diverse and inclusive LAPD from top to bottom.
Then there is the long-standing mandate for the LAPD to change. That began after the beating of Rodney King, a devastating riot, two major investigative commissions and a federally imposed consent decree that mandated sweeping department reforms.
Moore and anyone else who sits in the chief’s chair is tasked with completing those reforms. There will be a lot of eyes watching him to see how far and fast he moves in that task.
But the one issue that everyone will be watching most intently to see what changes are made is the one that has caused the LAPD more headaches and scrutiny than any other. That’s the overuse of deadly force by officers in dubious and questionable encounters.
Some months back, the Police Commission tackled this issue head on when it implemented a policy change in the use of force. The change was spelled out in the preamble of the department’s official use-of-force policy.
It states that officers “shall attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communications and available resources in an effort to de-escalate the situation, whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so.”
The change didn’t spell out the exact steps the department would take to make de-escalation a reality on the streets. Even if it did, the commission formulates policy. It doesn’t enforce it. That’s strictly in the hands of the chief.
That can be a good or bad thing depending on the chief, the circumstances, the pressure brought to bear, and the willingness to demand accountability from the rank and file.
The policy change is only the latest in a series of changes that the commission has advocated, grappled with and implored the LAPD to make in the past few years. After the King beating in 1991 and the riots in 1992, there was much hand wringing and soul searching over how to reform the LAPD.
The aim of all of this was to transform the LAPD from the nation’s poster agency police department for out-of-control abuse, violence and bigotry to a clean, efficient, community-oriented police department. It was more than a case of image makeover. It was a desperate need for a profound course correction in the way the LAPD did business.
The changes were soon visible. Successive LAPD chiefs disciplined, suspended and fired officers for misconduct. The use of force by officers dropped.
Citizen complaints leveled off. LAPD officials became constant presences at community events, meetings and forums, always pushing partnership and dialogue with community leaders.
None of those things would have had the remotest chance of happening under Gates. Though LAPD top brass continued to loudly protest that racial profiling doesn’t exist despite legions of racially based complaints against the department, there was still the sense that the LAPD had turned the corner.
Various polls over the years have shown that more blacks than ever have expressed guarded support for the LAPD.
While the LAPD has clearly changed, there are still some of the old troubling signs that much more needs to be done when it comes to the use of deadly force. The slaying of Ezell Ford in 2015 and the controversial killing of a teen in Boyle Heights in 2017 are among those signs.
Then there is the discipline issue. Officers who misuse deadly force or commit acts of misconduct must be punished.
Moore is stepping into the post that has been the most watched and scrutinized position in Los Angeles for the past two decades. The eyes are now on him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.