LAPD chief responds to union survey: 90% of cops felt unsupported

"I apologize to those of you who I failed by my actions or words," Chief Michel Moore wrote in a letter to rank-and-file officers


By Richard Winton and Kevin Rector
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Nearly nine out of 10 Los Angeles Police Department officers did not feel supported by Chief Michel Moore and did not believe he or other commanders provided strong leadership during recent protests and unrest, according to a summer survey conducted by the officers' union.

Many officers said Moore should resign, accusing him in comments they submitted with the survey of "cowering" to Black Lives Matter protesters, "pandering" to city politicians and "not having an organized plan" during the unrest, the union said.

Nearly 70% of respondents said the department was unprepared for the protests, which followed the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and close to 40% said they were thinking of leaving the force.

The results, published this week in the union's Thin Blue Line newsletter, reflect low morale among officers at a critical time in American policing and should raise alarms for Los Angeles residents about the LAPD's path forward at a time of increasing violence, Los Angeles Police Protective League officials said.

"It speaks loud and clear what the membership thinks about the direction the department is going right now. They're starving for leadership both from the chief and from his command staff. It's obvious," said Craig Lally, the union president. "It just doesn't seem like law enforcement and public safety is a priority in this city."

More than 2,700 of the department's 10,000-plus sworn members participated in the survey, union officials said.

Moore, in a written statement provided to officers, struck a conciliatory tone and promised to "do better."

"First, I mean to expressly acknowledge that I hear you, see you, and am committed to doing a better job as your Chief," Moore wrote. "Second, I apologize to those of you who I failed by my actions or words. I believed in my heart each action was the right thing to do. However, there are things that I wish I could go back in time and do over."

Moore, who has faced calls to resign from protesters and other activists, promised to "get back up and strive to do better."

Moore declined through a spokesman to discuss the survey results beyond his written statement to the union.

The vote underscores the political balancing act Moore faces as he tries to address concerns about policing from activists and some in government while also keeping morale up inside his department. He is already dealing with cuts to the police budget — which is are less than what some critics are demanding — while also grappling with a spike in homicides and shootings this year.

Law enforcement experts said the survey reflects a long trend in policing, wherein officers and police unions complain about leadership whenever they are confronted with broad societal criticisms — which force elected officials and police commanders to acknowledge mistakes, implement reforms and scrutinize officers' actions more closely.

"One thing to recognize about policing, as with many institutions, is that there is a significant gap between management and rank-and-file, in which street cops often feel that management cops are adversaries rather than supporters," said Eric Miller, a professor at Loyola Law School who focuses on policing issues. "Historically, we've seen that civilian calls for reform often result in some policy changes at the top from the police command staff that are then deeply resented and resisted by the rank and file."

Merrick Bobb, a former federal monitor of the Seattle Police Department and former special counsel to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who advised the Christopher Commission after the L.A. unrest in 1992, said he felt Moore "had handled himself quite well in recent protests and had taken steps to work with all sides," but may be paying a price among the rank-and-file for "trying to establish open lines of communications with the community and activists."

Protests occurred downtown, in the Fairfax district and elsewhere in the city in late May and early June. While many remained peaceful, several devolved into chaos, with arsons and burglaries occurring, among other property damage. Police responded by forming skirmish lines, declaring the gatherings unlawful and then using hard-foam projectiles and batons to clear crowds. Many officers and protesters were injured.

The entire response is now under review, both by the department and by the National Police Foundation on behalf of the Police Commission. The department is also facing several lawsuits over its tactics, including its use of hard-foam projectiles — which badly wounded some protesters.

According to the union survey, Moore got high marks for going out to the Fairfax protests and being on the ground as things escalated. However, officers panned the chief for kneeling with protesters — a sign, to them, that he was capitulating to a violent crowd. Many questioned why he did not highlight more of the positives about officers as protests spawned more and more questions about LAPD behavior, the union said.

Some officers said that curfews should have been better handled and communicated to crowds. Some said officers should have been equipped with more weapons, such as pepper balls and tear gas. Some said the National Guard should have been called in earlier. Others criticized how officers were deployed, and suggested they needed better training to handle large crowds.

Moore in June acknowledged racial inequities in American society, and said that, by kneeling, he meant to show his willingness to listen. He has said that some mistakes were made in the department's response to the protests, but defended the work of police overall as appropriate in the face of violence and destruction. He also has spoken out for officers more forcefully after recent events, like the celebrations of the Lakers and Dodgers victories, led to destruction.

In his response to the survey, Moore acknowledged officers' concerns, saying that he had recently launched "hands-on crowd control training to improve our readiness for riotous violence not seen in decades," and "issued protective equipment for new threats such as eye wear for green lasers and riot shields for projectiles."

He acknowledged that recent budget cuts will mean the department will have a smaller work force, but told officers he "will continue to be vocal toward our elected officials, our communities, the media, and critics so that I can more effectively tell your story."

The survey marks the first time an LAPD chief has had his leadership openly and directly challenged by officers and the union in nearly two decades, but stops short of past rebukes.

In January 2002, the union held an official no-confidence vote over the leadership of Chief Bernard Parks, and 93% of respondents said they wanted Parks gone. Within nine months, Parks was replaced by Chief William J. Bratton.

Bratton had widespread support among officers, and Bratton's successor Charlie Beck, known as a skilled dealmaker, also avoided the union's wrath.

Lally said the union has no plans to hold an official no-confidence vote for Moore, in part because union officials don't believe that Mayor Eric Garcetti — another target of officers' ire in the survey comments — would replace Moore with anyone better.

The survey does not represent a direct threat to Moore's tenure at the top of the LAPD, in part because he still enjoys political support, including from Garcetti.

"2020 has been an enormously challenging year for everyone. All City departments, including the LAPD, have been asked to do more with less — and Chief Moore, and the men and women of our police department, have answered that call. I am proud of the heroic work they do to keep Los Angeles safe every day," Garcetti said in a statement Monday to the Los Angeles Times. "The Chief has led the LAPD with resolve and compassion through one of the toughest years it has ever faced. I have full confidence in him, our officers, and the work they're doing to lead in 21st century policing and get our city through these very difficult times."

Steve Soboroff, a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, which oversees Moore and the department, said he and other commissioners also have confidence in Moore.

Soboroff said Moore has "handled the issues that have been coming up very well," and that low morale has just as much to do with a cultural moment of criticism for police as Moore's individual performance as the LAPD leader.

"It's a difficult industry," Soboroff said "The idea that it became OK to be disrespectful to officers — (which) officers feel (is) coming from political places — is hard."

This image shows a screenshot of Police Chief Michel Moore's letter to police officers, obtained by local media outlets.
This image shows a screenshot of Police Chief Michel Moore's letter to police officers, obtained by local media outlets. (FOX 11 Los Angeles)

(c)2020 Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2020 Police1. All rights reserved.