Monday, June 24, 2024

Michel Moore’s Short, Strange Trip to a Second Term as LAPD Boss

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The biggest surprise of this week was the outta-nowhere turn in HBO’s The Last of Us. The riveting video game adaptation zombie-lurched in an unforeseen direction, delivering a gorgeously written storyline full of heartfelt emotion and top-notch acting.

Ranking second on the week’s surprise scale is the appointment of Michel Moore to another term atop the Los Angeles Police Department. While it lacked lovely prose, the raw emotion of prestige TV and shots of the undead, a cast of politicians and high-ranking police officials might win an ensemble award for acting—they behaved like nothing was happening until, suddenly, the action was over and done.

A closed-session vote on Tuesday by the Los Angeles Police Commission was weird and controversial. Activist groups including Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles denounced the move and criticized Mayor Karen Bass for getting behind a second term for the four-decade LAPD veteran. The Los Angeles Times editorial page Thursday morning also zinged Bass for what it termed a “rushed” decision.

There was always a widespread assumption that Moore would be extended, but apparently only those in the inner circles knew the precise timing. I was at a City Hall event on Monday morning surrounded by people who are either part of this stuff or follow it closely, and not a soul was even whispering about the most important law-enforcement decision in years taking place the next day. Generally, when the leadership of the department with 12,000 sworn and civilian employees is at stake, the public knows a vote is coming. The powers-that-be kept this one intentionally tight. Just consider the vague agenda on the civilian Police Commission’s calendar for Tuesday, with the last line referencing a, “Discussion and possible board action relative to the application of the Chief of Police for reappointment to a second term.”

It could have just used the word “vote.” Instead, there was gobbledygook.

It’s stunning from a public point of view. Then again, maybe the timing and decision-making shouldn’t be such a shock, considering that every other step in this process was strange.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Moore had initially submitted his application for a second term on the day after Christmas, when City Hall was closed and no normal person is thinking about politics. It smacked of an effort to stay below the radar.

An attempt to fast-track a Police Commission vote on Jan. 10 sparked an uproar. Bass tapped the brakes, and then a couple weeks later, Moore suddenly declared that he only wants to do two or three years of a possible five-year term, so that a new chief can be selected and installed before the 2028 Summer Olympics. That smells like something that would happen after pushback and upper-level compromise—if an abridged term was always Moore’s plan, then he would have said so on day one. This is not the kind of thing that, oops, you forget to mention.

With the original vote delayed, Moore began his public campaign to convince Los Angeles that he deserves some portion of five more years. He touted his aims for the department and spoke about the need for reform, including training improvements, particularly after three people died during encounters with police in the first week of the year.

The chief made the rounds, and on Jan. 26 he spent an hour on radio station KBLA 1580 AM, telling host Tavis Smiley he wanted “to ensure the public had faith and confidence that this was not a rubber stamp or some automatic matter and that the entire city would have an opportunity to weigh in on this.”

Moore answered questions about police shootings, whether armed officers should be involved in traffic stops (he thinks they should), and why he prohibited flying the thin blue line flag in police stations. It seemed like, even if the five-person Police Commission was inclined to say aye, this would be an early step in a months-long campaign to win over the public. The commission had until March to vote.

Of course, we now know that strings were already being pulled. After the vote on Tuesday, Bass released a letter she had sent on Monday to Police Commission President William Briggs stating her support for a second term. It cited discussions Moore and Bass had, and was full of points of concern, including the need for the LAPD to do better when responding to people suffering a mental health crisis. Still, what mattered was the mayoral thumbs up.

Moore’s second term officially begins on June 27, almost five months from now. So, in a way, this is where things get interesting. The mayor appoints the members of the Police Commission, and those now serving were all selected by Eric Garcetti. This doesn’t mean Bass is not aligned with the group, and she has a history with, among others, panel member Steve Soboroff. But the point is, they are not her picks.

Bass has stated that, when it comes time to select the next chief, a nationwide search will take place, and by then the Police Commission will likely be made of her appointees. Expect the panel to select finalists whose law enforcement vision fits with the mayor’s.

When is that happening? Perhaps sooner than we think. Although Bass only just took office, her next election is in 2026, and she probably won’t want a cumbersome, potentially controversial matter like picking a police chief interfering with her quest for four more years. That makes it all the more likely that the LAPD succession happens in 2025.

Los Angeles has more Moore, but like The Last of Us, it’s a limited run.

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