Garcetti must walk a f ine line

The ac­tions of LAPD of­fi­cers could un­der­mine the mayor’s agenda.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - CATH­LEEN DECKER cath­leen.decker @la­times.com

From his win­dows Mon­day, Eric Garcetti could see the same scene that greeted him Sun­day: Pro­test­ers gath­ered out­side his home de­mand­ing that the mayor fire LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck and hold public hear­ings into the shoot­ing death of a men­tally ill man in South Los An­ge­les.

Their num­bers were very small, true, but for Garcetti they were a re­minder that re­al­ity doesn’t al­ways con­form to the wishes of the po­lit­i­cally am­bi­tious.

Garcetti came into of­fice in 2013 as the earnest pro­pri­etor of a mas­sive to-do list of would-be civic im­prove­ments: fill­ing pot­holes, pick­ing up trash and cre­at­ing jobs. He has pro­posed bil­lions in spend­ing for earth­quake prepa­ra­tion, worked to draw tech types here from across the coun­try, and es­poused a datadriven ap­proach to mea­sur­ing the city’s suc­cesses and fail­ures.

But this week, he was caught in the de­bate that has con­founded Los An­ge­les re­peat­edly over the years: whether the po­lice force is an oc­cu­py­ing army, as it long was; a re­li­able ally for the com­mu­nity, as it has tried to be­come; or some­thing in be­tween.

And its mayor was in the same spot where may­ors have long been in this city: walk­ing the knife’s edge to main­tain re­la­tions with a Po­lice Depart­ment whose loy­alty he needs and a com­mu­nity whose loy­alty he wants.

In the days lead­ing to Tues­day’s ex­pected ver­dict by the city Po­lice Com­mis­sion about the Au­gust shoot­ing of Ezell Ford, Garcetti ex­pressed con­fi­dence that a hard-won re­silience, forged by past po­lice tra­vails, would pre­vent the up­heaval that has marred other cities reel­ing from po­lice con­tro­ver­sies in the last year.

“It is a very tense mo­ment in the coun­try,” Garcetti said last week dur­ing an ap­pear­ance at UCLA. But, he said, Los An­ge­les had its act to­gether. “It is not the ac­tions that are taken, it is the re­ac­tion of a depart­ment that de­fines a city.”

Just as the re­ac­tions of elected of­fi­cials go a long way to defin­ing them.

Garcetti came into of­fice as one of a wave of new Demo­cratic may­ors of­fer­ing mod­er­ate-to-lib­eral so­lu­tions honed by a blood­less re­liance on data. (At UCLA, he whipped out his smart­phone to show off how he could mon­i­tor re­sponse times and vir­tu­ally any­thing else mea­sur­able.)

His elec­tion, com­ing as the city strug­gled to re­cover from the re­ces­sion, fo­cused on the bud­get, pen­sion re­form, re­new­ing neigh­bor­hoods and de­fy­ing the in­flu­ence of some pow­er­ful unions.

“Let’s do the ba­sics bet­ter, like an­swer­ing phones, fill­ing pot­holes and pick­ing up trash. Be­cause do­ing the ba­sics right makes life bet­ter for fam­i­lies and makes growth pos­si­ble,” he said in one cam­paign ad.

It’s per­haps a mea­sure of suc­cess — and the work done by po­lice and com­mu­nity alike — that Los An­ge­les has es­caped some of the vi­o­lence that has hit else­where in re­cent months.

New York, where Mayor Bill de Bla­sio cam­paigned for of­fice against the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk poli­cies, ex­pe­ri­enced wide­spread protests last win­ter that eased only in the fraught af­ter­math of the in­ten­tional killing of two po­lice of­fi­cers. De Bla­sio’s re­la­tions with the depart­ment were so cur­dled by then that of­fi­cers turned their backs as he ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal im­me­di­ately af­ter the shoot­ing.

The city con­vulsed over the death of Eric Gar­ner, an un­armed man who died af­ter be­ing re­strained by of­fi­cers. And on Mon­day, De Bla­sio was re­act­ing to a new jolt, the sui­cide of an­other young man ap­par­ently un­able to cope af­ter he had been jailed for three years, with­out a trial, for al­legedly steal­ing a back­pack.

Bal­ti­more Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake has been caught be­tween pro­test­ers, po­lice and the broader com­mu­nity af­ter ri­ots tore through her city in the days fol­low­ing the death of a black man, Fred­die Gray, af­ter he sus­tained in­juries in po­lice cus­tody. Charges since have been brought against six Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers.

Dur­ing his UCLA ap­pear­ance, Garcetti re­counted a con­ver­sa­tion with Rawl­ings-Blake, whom he de­scribed as a long­time friend, when dis­tur­bances broke out last year in Fer­gu­son, Mo., af­ter a po­lice shoot­ing there. The Bal­ti­more mayor had in­sisted, Garcetti said, that vi­o­lence would not mar her city.

It didn’t hap­pen that way, of course, to the detri­ment of Bal­ti­more’s peace and Rawl­ings-Blake’s po­lit­i­cal rep­u­ta­tion. De Bla­sio, too, has gone from lib­eral it-boy to stum­bling mayor as his agenda was sideswiped by po­lice fights.

Garcetti in­sisted that Los An­ge­les’ work in the wake of its po­lice con­tro­ver­sies would pay a peace div­i­dend to the city. And though he wasn’t crass enough to say so, that would ben­e­fit his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions, which are widely be­lieved to ex­tend be­yond City Hall.

On Mon­day he was play­ing it care­fully, ac­knowl­edg­ing pro­test­ers’ con­cerns about the Ezell Ford case, while not ced­ing ground en­tirely.

He an­nounced that he had called Ford’s mother to ex­press con­do­lences and said he hoped to meet with her soon. Hours later, in what could be seen as a small ef­fort to yank his agenda back to the fore­front, his of­fice an­nounced win­ners of a tech­nol­ogy com­pe­ti­tion meant to find so­lu­tions for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion, trans­porta­tion and other civic needs — the kind of thing he promised to do when elected.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI and LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck in­spect a re­cruit class in Fe­bru­ary. This week, pro­test­ers have de­manded that Beck be fired over the Au­gust shoot­ing death by po­lice of Ezell Ford.

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