Sunday, June 16, 2024

LAPD Chief’s 2nd Term Maneuvers Are a Case of Arrested Development

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It was the date in late 2022 that Michel Moore chose to take the first step toward locking in a second term overseeing the Los Angeles Police Department that was pretty strange: Dec. 26. The timing of his request, on the day after Christmas, when the holiday was being officially observed (and city offices were closed), is baffling.

Some loud harrumphing you may be hearing on this move will likely wind up as no more than a speed bump for the head of the country’s second-largest police department. Indeed, if you play the long game, this sets things up especially well for Mayor Karen Bass. If this falls into place, she will be able to tout a speedy delivery on her promise of a laser-like focus on the homelessness crisis; then, in a couple of years, she’ll have the chance to pick her preferred long-term law enforcement partner.

Still, if you consider the precise timing of when things happened and the sharp left turns that we’ve seen—most significantly when this week, Moore said he’ll only serve about half of a second term—it seems that some high-ranking folks were not on the same page. Heck, they were probably reading different books in different libraries.

Machinations like this are always played close to the vest and parties such as the mayor’s office, the civilian Police Commission, and Moore’s team are scurrying to get a handle on the situation. Perhaps what’s now being said publicly was the plan all along, but I doubt it—when the guy in charge of a 9,250-officer force angles for another five-year term, and then two weeks later abruptly states that actually, he’d like to depart before the Olympics come to town—L.A.’s most significant event this century—it all feels hinky.

The oddities start when things began. On Dec. 27, the LAPD issued a press release stating that the day before, Moore submitted his application to the Board of Police Commissioners to be re-appointed. He was following protocol, as the five-person panel gives the ultimate yea or nay to a chief’s second term.

The big question is, why would someone pick the day after Christmas for such a momentous announcement unless they were hoping it would fly under the radar? If that were the case, the logic is flawed—there is no way this move will be overlooked in a town where almost everyone is focused on law enforcement. Honestly, Moore could have waited several months before making his request.

The timing was magnified, given that Bass was only inaugurated on Dec. 11, and every message coming from every corner of her office said she was focusing initially and exclusively on confronting homelessness across L.A. A second term for a police chief is the kind of decision that sucks up all the air and demands a mayor’s attention. It’s not the distraction she needs two weeks in at her new gig.

Even worse was a Los Angeles Times report that the Police Commission intended to vote on Moore’s request for a second term on Jan. 10, which is the perfect kind of rocket-speed schedule if you want the public to think that the fix is in. Supportive comments about Moore from board members only added to the belief.

And how avoidable all of this was. While anti-police activists seethe at Moore and continue to decry how the department operated during 2020’s social justice marches after the police murder of George Floyd, and how the LAPD responded to protests at Echo Park Lake, the chief actually has a wide swath of supporters. Additionally, Bass has never suggested wanting a new chief, and during her mayoral campaign, she echoed a Moore talking point by saying she hoped to grow the department back to its pre-pandemic size of about 9,700 cops. Everything seemed to be in play for a second term…if only people were patient.

The scheduled Jan. 10 vote made that impossible, and the resultant outcry sparked all sorts of backtracking. A Bass spokesperson took a decidedly neutral tone. The Police Commission had to pivot off the vote—instead, Tuesday’s meeting brought a public comment period in which various callers predictably and colorfully lambasted Moore, while the board members discussed his future in private.

The stumbles and calls for transparency have slowed the process. The commission has until the end of March to go thumbs up or down on his next term. There is also the possibility of complications from an escalating uproar over the deaths of Takar Smith, Keenan Anderson and Oscar Sanchez, who all were killed early this year during confrontations with police. Bass issued a statement on the matter Wednesday.

Another consideration: When Moore first launched his bid, everyone assumed he intended to serve a full five-year term. Only this week did he say that actually, his intended timeframe would run until just before the start of the 2028 Summer Olympics. But what L.A. really needs is continuity in law enforcement leadership, so instead, he proposed to step down in two or three years, at which point his successor would be chosen.

Is that plausible? Sure. But even if Moore’s term would end before the Games, there’s a way to keep him involved if the powers-that-be want. That’s what consulting contracts are for.

Was serving a half-term Moore’s plan from the beginning, even if he didn’t say so? Maybe. But one can also see a world in which a botched and presumptuous second-term announcement necessitates a compromise that allows everyone to save face and move forward.

Where things go from here might be relatively smooth. If the process slows, additional public comment could be taken, and careful consideration should be paid before the Police Commission votes. If you have watched any commission meetings in the past couple of years, it’s clear that the panel likes and works well with Moore; it’s hard to see them rejecting him.

And then the long game unfolds. The mayor gets to appoint the five members of the commission; Bass could focus on her initial priorities and slowly fill the board with her people. When Moore departs in 2025 or 2026, her bench could select the next chief, going with someone whose law enforcement priorities align perfectly. What could be better for a mayor?

That’s one scenario. Maybe, none of this happens and L.A. continues its state of arrested development.

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