Trigger-happy officers who try to weasel out of trouble are the ultimate management challenge

By Charles Rappleye

The police union says it’s unfair for Beck to criticize the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in Venice

The police union says it’s unfair for Beck to criticize the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in Venice

Boy that Charlie Beck has a tough job to do at the LAPD.

I mean, it’s hard enough, as chief of the nation’s third largest police force, to be responsible for the peace and safety of nearly four million people. But from the looks of it, Beck has that part of the job down pat.

The real test comes in dealing with the cops under his command. They’ve got plenty of swagger out on the beat, but when it comes to altercations with the public, or just the everyday friction of working inside a large bureaucracy, these blacktop cowboys turn into a bunch of crybabies.

Take the pointless shooting of Brendon Glenn, slain a year ago by Officer Clifford Proctor just off the boardwalk in Venice. Glenn was prone and unarmed when he was shot, twice, in the back. Proctor immediately adopted the standard police explanation for misconduct: He was scared. In this instance, Proctor claimed that he saw the prone Glenn reaching for his partner’s gun (his partner new nothing of this alleged threat).

Chief Beck reviewed a security video the next day (the tape has yet to be released), saw no credible threat, and sensibly voiced misgivings about the incident. There was a full investigation yet to come, but for the Police Protective League, Beck’s review was already a miscarriage of justice. The chief was “completely irresponsible” in voicing an opinion, declared PPL President Craig Lally.

The other shoe dropped in January when Beck encouraged the district attorney’s office to file charges against Proctor. With this decision, the police union’s political director declared, the department’s rank and file had “lost any and all confidence in Beck’s ability to successfully lead this organization.”

On April 12, the Los Angeles Police Commission joined Beck in ruling the shooting to be unjustified.

PPL President Lally responded in kind: Officer Proctor was being “railroaded.”

Let’s get this straight. Any time an officer comes under scrutiny, however egregious the conduct involved, the chief should back him or her without question or he forfeits the allegiance of every cop in the organization?

What’s remarkable is how these claims of fear usually prevail. Consider the most outrageous of the recent LAPD shootings, the 2013 non-fatal shootings of Emma Hernandez and her daughter Maggie Carranza. This was during the excitement over the renegade cop Christopher Dorner, who had killed several cops and was threatening to kill more.

Hernandez and Carranza made the mistake of being out on the streets early one February morning in Torrance, delivering newspapers from their Toyota pickup truck. Unfortunately for them, the LAPD had sent a squad from Hollywood to set up security for an officer who lived in Torrance, and whom Dorner had named as a target.

Nobody knows just what set off the Keystone Kops melee that followed, but at some point one of the nine officers present decided to fire on the slow-rolling pickup. This opened the floodgates; in the next few minutes the officers unloaded a fusillade of more than 100 rounds, striking the truck from all sides. It is a singular fact — testimony to the officers’ skills, I suppose — that both women in the truck survived.

The cops, obliged to explain their blunder, resorted as usual to professions of terror. “I felt like I was in danger,” one cop told investigators. “I felt like I was going to die.” Another officer claimed seeing a gun barrel and a flash of gunfire emanate from the vehicle — quite impossible, of course, considering the women were unarmed. Beck, bucking protocol, was unimpressed. “I determined the evidence did not support that an objective threat occurred,” Beck dryly pronounced in his after-action report.

Beck found the shooting “out of policy,” but here again, the district attorney declined to file charges against any of the trigger-happy officers. Reflecting on the case, Lally could find fault only with the department brass. The officers sent to Torrance, Lally pronounced, “had been put in a very bad position.”

The absurdity of Beck’s efforts to lead the malcontents of the LAPD was highlighted once more last week, when Beck was called to answer civil charges brought by Capt. Peter Whittingham, who says he was passed over for promotion because he refused to go along with Beck’s efforts to discipline problem officers. Never mind that Whittingham
has since obtained the promotion he was seeking. He’s still pressing his suit for “unspecified damages” — whatever he can get.

In court Beck displayed his usual patience in dealing with these whiney cops and their terrier attorneys. He had little recollection of the captain’s supposed defiance of Beck’s disciplinary agenda, the chief testified. And there was no way he granted the long-sought promotion just to “throw him a bone.” Rather, Beck made his decisions based
on common sense, and common decency. “I thought Peter was the right person
for the job,” Beck said.

Fair enough for civilians, perhaps, but not enough for the crybaby cops of the LAPD.

Charles Rappleye, a veteran Los Angeles writer and editor, won the 2007 George Washington Book Prize for “Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution.”