As former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck prepares to take over the top job at the Chicago Police Department – at least temporarily – his appointment is sounding alarm bells for activists.
Aislinn Pulley of Black Lives Matter Chicago says the group has a number of problems with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s appointment of Beck. Among them: the appointment process itself. The group believes there should be a democratic process for the city’s executive and board positions.
“The fact that we don’t have a democratic process in place for either of those things – from the police board to the superintendent to the board of education in Chicago – is symbolic of the way that autocratic control has dominated the machine in this city,” Pulley said.
On Friday, Lightfoot appointed Beck to serve as interim superintendent once Eddie Johnson retires at the end of the year.
But in an open letter to Chicagoans the day before Beck was appointed, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles said: “Take it from us, you don’t want him.”
The group says under Beck, the LAPD targeted Black motorists at five times their population and searched them three times more than white drivers.
They also say programming implemented under Beck created a culture of fear and perpetuated racial profiling.
And Black Lives Matter LA and Chicago express particular concern over the amount of police-involved shootings that have happened on his watch.
“Charlie Beck has a horrendous history of brutality in LA. He led the LA Police Department during one of their most murderous years, where over 47 people were killed, either directly by police or police-involved shootings, as well as in-custody deaths,” Pulley said. “That’s absolutely not something we want in this city.”
By comparison, Johnson said last week that in 2011, police-involved shootings in Chicago were at a high of 91. So far this year, 16 on-duty officers have been involved in shootings.
Johnson and Black Lives Matter differ on just who can take the credit for that reduction.
When announcing his appointment last week, the mayor’s office said Beck’s Community Safety Partnership program reduced arrests and violent crime in communities in which it was implemented. It also led to a higher homicide clearance rate.
We also heard from another former interim superintendent, John Escalante, who knows of Beck through their memberships in several national policing organizations. He thinks Beck will be a good fit for the city, even though he will have to learn his way around and get up to speed on the community.
“You really have to understand where the department is and where the city is right now. Not just with the current issues, the last year or two with the consent decree, but you have to go back and look at the history of policing in Chicago and why there is mistrust with some parts of the city,” Escalante said. “So you have to do your homework, I think Chief Beck will come in having done that.”
Because Beck has said he’s not applying for the job full-time, Escalante believes he will be able to help with transitioning to the new permanent superintendent when the time comes.
He added that LA and Chicago share similarities – like the issue of police-involved shootings and a consent decree – and disputed concerns raised by activists like Black Lives Matter.
“You have to look at his overall record. Yes, there have been some controversial shootings, but what did Chief Beck do to address those? What policy changes did he make, what outreaches to the community did he make?” Escalante said. “I think that’s where he’s shown he’s a proven leader and tried to do the right things to make sure the officers were using the proper use of force.”
Meanwhile, Beck is meeting with members of the department, as well as the community and City Council members to get up to speed.
The Chicago Police Board has started its nationwide search. It will submit three nominees to the mayor, who will make an appointment with City Council approval.
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