LAPD Chief Talks Race and Policing at UCI

LAPD Chief Charles Beck was the keynote speaker at UC Irvine’s “Race and Policing” symposium last Friday in Pacific Ballroom D, during which he addressed topics such as the use of police body cameras and the media’s portrayal of the LAPD. Throughout the conference, silent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters lined the Ballroom and a larger BLM protest commenced outside the Student Center.

The forum, hosted by the UCI School of Law, UCI School of Social Ecology, Office of the Chancellor, Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, sought to start a conversation on how race

Silent protesters hold signs with the names of police shooting victims.

Silent protesters hold signs with the names of police shooting victims.

affects policing. The all-day event also featured various university law professors, primarily from UCI, and members from the Department of Justice (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Defender Association.

UCI law professor Henry Weinstein moderated the talk with Chief Beck. In police shooting cases, Beck began the conversation by stressing the importance of “getting to the truth.” He also spoke on the issue of social media and the impact it has on the public’s view of police shootings.

“Social media,” said Beck, “is only the greatest rumor spreader in the history of our species.”

The conversation then turned to police body cameras. Beck stated that with the release of any such footage, there are many interested parties. The public, the victim’s families, witnesses and the media all have competing interests and according to Beck, no one is completely right. The LAPD, as well as police departments across the nation, have experienced pressure from the public in recent years to release body camera video.

In the county’s latest police shooting incident on Oct. 1, an LAPD officer fatally shot 18-year-old Carnell Snell Jr. Beck has refused to release the related body camera video, but did release security camera footage of Snell moments before he was shot. Beck has also stated that Snell pointed a gun at the officers involved, and insisted that the body camera footage is consistent with this. He also continues to defend the use of deadly force in this situation.

During the talk, Beck stated that there are instances when the release of footage is not appropriate, citing suicide, rape and domestic violence incidents as examples.

“What gives us the right to impose on a family’s grief?” asked Beck.

Additionally, Beck argued that if body camera policies were widely implemented, victims of domestic violence would be less willing to report their abuse because they would not want police with body cameras to barge into their homes.

Weinstein pointed out that rape cases don’t usually include video evidence and went on to note the difference between those cases and police shootings, which occur in the public sphere. He argued that any information or video related to police shooting cases should therefore be public. Beck continued to cite sensitivity toward victims’ families as his reason for not releasing videos.

Next, Beck was asked about his thoughts on the media’s portrayal of the LAPD. Beck first stated that the LAPD is the national standard for other police departments before quickly turning attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. He recognized that Black Lives Matter is a national movement and that every group has similar goals, but argued that the Black Lives Matter movement in Los Angeles is “more about making statements than having discussions.” Beck also said he is open to discussion with activists but “if we’re going to start our conversation with me getting fired, there isn’t much further we can go from that.”

All Black Lives Matter protesters in the room wore shirts embossed with “#FireBeck” and carried signs emblazoned with the names of LAPD shooting victims like Snell, Omar Gonzalez, Jesse Romero and Victor Sigala along with “#sayhisname.” Another sign read “LAPD = Most Murderous US Force.”

During the talk, Weinstein took a few minutes to turn attention to the protesters, asking Beck if he knew if the related cases were all resolved. Beck admitted he didn’t know “if they’re all mine” but did say some cases are still under investigation and all “get investigated under the highest standard in the nation.”

Beck continued by defending the use of force in certain situations.

“When a police officer is confronted with an armed suspect,” said Beck, “we have an obligation to act. These are very difficult situations… It’s not always going to be completed without the use of force… To think we don’t need a military grade response is to deny reality. It’s not how you have them, it’s how you use them.”

Beck also noted that the LAPD doesn’t cater to or discriminate against any one party. He concluded by stating that the LAPD is 47 percent Hispanic, 11 percent African American, 30 percent Caucasian and 20 percent female.

“We’re a majority minority police force,” said Beck.

Immediately following the talk, Black Lives Matter protesters began shouting out the victims’ names followed by chants of “say his name!”

Beck quickly exited the room and preparations for the next panel began as a larger Black Lives Matter protest resumed outside the Student Center.