After 33 years on the beat, the last job Charlie Beck said he’s doing in his career is walking the tightest of communication tightropes.
Overseeing a police force that is the third largest in the country and which conducts more than 170,000 arrests a year, Chief Beck is no stranger to communications. An arrest or incident goes down that rankles a community or raises the ire of the press, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department has to address, putting out as many facts available as possible to accurately sate them. And Beck not only has to answer not only to the public he serves, but he must communicate with the city’s politicians and his fellow officers as well.
Sitting down with moderator Deane Leavenworth on Sept. 22 at the JW Marriott Hotel at LA Live, Beck spoke about the realities of dealing with the press and community and answered the questions of attendees in the hour-long PRSA-LA Newsmaker event, which was sponsored by Golin Harris, Business Wire, VMS, Cunard and Time Warner Cable.
As for walking the communications tightrope, Beck credits what he’s learned from his predecessors, from the late Daryl Gates to Bill Bratton. “I tried to learn from them all, a road map for what to do and what not to do…in all three circles,” Beck said after recalling Gates was revered by the rank and file, but was on icy grounds with the press and city hall, allegedly not speaking with then-Mayor Tom Bradley for a year.
To keep abreast of the situation on the ground, Beck said he visits the LAPD stations all over the city and works a patrol shift once a month to keep in touch with his officers and the communities they serve.
Even in the face of a harsh economy, which has seen funding to the department slashed by more than a $100 million and the number of officers stagnate, Beck said the LAPD is overseeing the ninth straight year that crime levels have gone down.
Beck credited the results to improved relations with the community and the change of standards of behavior, and also mentioned the LAPD’s iWatch community awareness program (http://www.lapdonline.org/iwatchla), which gives the public the ability to report suspicious activity that may result in an act of terrorism. The department is helped by the eyes and ears of the public, he added.
According to the LAPD’s website, Beck was born in Long Beach and joined the LAPD in 1977. Beck has had a past in building community outreach programs to combat crime in areas such as MacArthur Park; he also had a role in the reformation of the Rampart Division after a number of scandals and corrupt officers came to light in the late ’90s. A panel investigating the Rampart situation hailed Beck for his ability to develop a department that was more inclusive and progressive with their approach to the area’s residents.
A brief bio in the Los Angeles Times adds Beck is seen as a field vet and is popular with the rank and file of the LAPD, and was often called to handle controversial items, such as the department’s DNA testing backlog and errors in fingerprint analysis.
Police service runs in the family. His father was the Deputy Chief of the LAPD, and now two of Beck’s children serve as officers.
Peter Hidalgo, one of the event board members, said Beck drew interest in a brainstorming session on who qualified as newsmakers. Beck, who became chief of the LAPD last November, was seen as an intriguing pick.
Beck was originally slated to address PRSA-LA in May, but the chief had to attend other matters and it was rescheduled, Hidalgo added.
“He appeared authentic and vulnerable,” Hidalgo said.
Many thanks to freelance scribe and friend of the YP Group D.S. Perez for attending this event and writing our recap. He has written for the Riverside Press-Enterprise and the Daily Breeze and is now evaluating a transition into public relations.