May 2012 Warning Bells Article

Chief Beck on Gotcha

When Chief Bratton replaced Chief Parks as the head of the Department, he had an immediate problem. The Parks harsh disciplinary system had convinced patrol officers that the mere act of getting out of their cars risked career suicide. Thus, smile-and-wave was replacing stop-and-frisk. Predictably, arrests went way down and crime went way up.

When Bratton addressed his first Delegate’s Conference, he told the audience of delegates that he had never seen a department that ate its own like the LAPD did. He said he wanted that changed. To that end, he made a promise to the troops. He said it repeatedly and he published it in The Beat in April 2003, among other places.

I made a poster of out of the Beat article and displayed it prominently at Boards of Rights and Administrative Appeals to keep Bratton’s promise in front of the captains who were judging officers. I loaned the poster out to other officer representatives, and Bratton’s language was often entered as evidence in hearings.

That is why I was surprised when I received word that that the Internal Affairs advocate had objected to this exhibit being introduced as evidence at a Board of Rights and the Board agreed and denied its entry as evidence of LAPD policy (Warning Bells, March 2011).

However, this did fit right in with Internal Affairs’ discernible pattern of attacking officers’ rights. The League has filed more than a half dozen lawsuits in the past year against the Department for denying discovery, interfering with the officer’s right to a fair hearing, denying representation and other acts designed to make sure an officer will always lose in challenging any action the Department decides to take.

Still, no one could produce any document that repealed Bratton’s no-more-gotcha policy. So when Chief Beck appeared to address the delegates at the 2012 Delegate’s Conference, I decided to ask him if he had.

This made sense since the Chief of Police is the only person in the LAPD who can discipline you. Everyone else is only making recommendations. Here is the question and his answer, verbatim. He gave his permission to have his answer published. Obviously, he wants his policy to get out and be followed. The Chief’s entire message to the delegates can be viewed in the Members Only section of the League website at LAPD.com.

INGEMUNSON: Chief Bratton published and said many, many, many times that the age of gotcha in this Department has come to an end. “If you are in the right, we will back you up. The benefit of the doubt goes to you. If you are wrong, we will retrain you. If you are corrupt, we will jail you.” We tried to get that into a Board of Rights a little while back and the Internal Affairs investigator … I’m sorry … the advocate said that was from an old chief. I never saw anything where the age of gotcha was withdrawn and I just wanted to get your take on Bratton’s promise to the troops about that particular thing that I just read.

CHIEF BECK: Well, and I will talk to the advocate’s office about that. That of course is not the way I feel about discipline in the Los Angeles Police Department.

As a matter of fact, I take considerable heat for my stance on discipline and the use of conditional ORs and other ways that use a promise of discipline, or a promise of discipline to correct behavior rather than imposition of a penalty … immediate penalty. So, I do believe in those things. I am not a manager, nor do I want managers, that focus on the minor and don’t recognize the major goals of the police Department. Discipline … this is something that is really important to me.

And I get this from a lot of different perspectives. I don’t expect anybody to be perfect. None of you. I wasn’t a perfect police officer. I made mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. This job is too hard to be done perfectly. The only jobs that can be done perfectly are simple jobs. This is not a simple job, so I don’t expect anybody to be perfect.

I do expect you to be honest. I do expect you to value the Constitution. And if you do those things, then I will accept an imperfection in your performance if it is done honestly. If it is done with a good heart. If it is just a mistake of the mind, I can live with that. We’re human. Everybody in here. No matter how good you think you are. We make mistakes. I can accept that.

What I can’t accept is dishonesty or corruption. And, luckily, I get to run an organization that has very little of that. What’s important [is] that people understand the way I think about this. So, if you have any message that you take back … any message that you take back is that the Chief believes in honesty. And if you’re straight with me, then I will reward you as I can.

I expect people to be up front. I expect them to admit when they make mistakes. When you do that, then you give me the latitude to be circumspect in the application of discipline for that mistake. So, these are very important things to me. And I believe in the organization and I believe in all of you. Thank you.

I guess I don’t have to throw my poster away. Feel free to clip this article and show it to any supervisor in your chain who just can’t help chicken sh*ting the troops to death. The Chief has spoken.

Be legally careful out there.

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