DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – The exterior of LAPD’s headquarters is designed to reflect City Hall, and inside Assistant Chief Robert Arcos tries to reflect the city’s values.
“We do work for the people. This is the people’s police department,” Arcos said.
He joined the force in 1988, working his way up to assistant chief after becoming one of three finalists to succeed Charlie Beck.
He’s seen a lot of changes in the past 32 years – reforms brought on by the beating of Rodney King, the 1992 riots and the Rampart Scandal.
“In the 80s and 90s that was the culture, that there was no better answer than policing,” Arcos said of the department's emphasis on making arrests. “Policing was the solution to every problem, every ill, and we could fix it. This department at that time, also, was very arrogant.”
But Arcos says there’s a new philosophy leading the LAPD that he attributes to the Federal Consent Decree following the Rampart Scandal and reforms by former chief Bill Bratton. He points to the focus on community policing by a department that’s 70 percent people of color.
“We have families that allow police in communities of color in their homes, having dinner, taking their kids out to activities. That doesn’t just happen overnight. It took a lot of work.”
But the leadership behind Black Lives Matter says reforms haven’t gone far enough. Akili, who goes by his first name only, says black communities still feel threatened by the LAPD. BLM is advocating to defund the department to pay for housing and services.
“That’s the first thing we tell people: don’t call the police. Because when you call the police on us we either end up arrested or dead,” Akili said.
Chief Arcos supports the peaceful protests – posing with black clergy members in Downtown L.A. last week. He says George Floyd’s death was murder and wouldn’t happen here.
But just like in 1992, protests, riots and looting have forced this department to examine itself.
“There is a lot of distrust,” Arcos said. “There is systemic racism and we need to continue to work with that and acknowledge that it does exist.”
As far as cuts to his budget, Arcos said 95 percent of LAPD’s expenses are tied up in salaries and pensions which are negotiated with the Police Protective League, the police officer’s union. A spokesperson for the union said they were not willing to reopen negotiations to aid in potential budget cuts.
Arcos, however, is open to new ideas to shape the future of policing.
“Where we go from here, we go together,” he said.
Because when the city is in crisis, it’s his officers who answer the call.