By Anita Bennett
LOS ANGELES — After more than 42 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, the last five as chief, Michel Moore is leaving at the end of this month.
Moore joined the LAPD in 1981 and rose through the ranks. But in a televised news conference on Jan. 12, he announced he was stepping down.
With Mayor Karen Bass by his side, Moore was at times emotional and called his decision “bittersweet.”
I recently sat down with the outgoing LAPD chief on behalf of LA CityView Channel 35 to discuss his time leading the department and whether the decision to retire was his own.
Moore said he felt the time was right for he and his wife to move to Tennessee, where their daughter lives. He also talked about how the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis affected policing here in Los Angeles.
The following interview has been edited for space and clarity.
AB: Why are you leaving now after accepting a second term last year?
MM: With Mayor Bass’ election, and with my [first] term coming to a close in the immediate months afterwards, we sat down and met and talked. We discussed the needs of the city, what her ambitions, her goals were, and what mine were and where I saw the city, and the department, and what our needs were, and they absolutely aligned.
So I sought a second term and she was gracious enough working with the board of police commissioners, the commissioners approved that. And she agreed with that. But even then, I said that this would not be a full five years. And when I provided an exit strategy, I didn’t want to say it’s going to be a year, I didn’t want to say two or three years because I wanted the organization to remain stable.
I want the organization to continue in its initiatives, to keep pressing forward. But also, at the end of the first year that Mayor Bass was in office, I looked at the success that she’s achieved — her agenda, to invest in LAPD officers, to invest in our equipment or technology, to seek a record contract for a rank and file to keep, not just attract, but to retain our people.
That first year’s initiatives, she was hitting it out of the park. So as we come to the end of her first year, I also recognize that the counterbalance was a family that has devoted their time and energy to support me all these years as chief and then four plus decades. And I thought that now’s a good time.
AB: A short time ago, the city said the LAPD reached a critically low level of staffing. What’s being done and will we be ready to host the Olympics, the World Cup and the Super Bowl?
MM: We’ve improved our marketing, the city has supported us with added funding for marketing efforts to attract the most qualified applicants. We’re in a very competitive job market, not just in here in L.A. but across America for policing. And so the monies that have been invested by the city in us as well as by the Police Foundation is now allowing us to advertise and be seen by many more eyeballs and many more people who may be attracted to this profession and define it in a way that we demonstrate that this is an opportunity of a lifetime.
Secondly, the efforts of the mayor in giving us a record contract for the rank and file, a four-year contract with wage increases that in my time with LAPD I’ve never seen, she recognized the importance that we be competitive, both financially, both in benefits, but also in our working conditions. And that record investment I believe, is going to have a return, not just in an effort of attracting more, but also in retaining.
AB: What caused the bleeding in the first place?
MM: We had the perfect storm in 2020. When I took this position, some five and a half years ago, no one knew what a pandemic was. We had seen record lows in regards to crime in the city. We still had far too much violence, but we had lows as far as less than 300 homicides [a year] for more than a decade.
Shooting violence had been reduced, property crime was on the downturn. And all that changed in 2020. We saw it start with the pandemic. And as it spread across the world, we saw the devastating impact it had on every aspect of society.
And in the midst of that, America was frozen and streets were empty as if it was a populace apocalypse. We then saw the horrific images of George Floyd and his murder thousands of miles away. But in the quarantine and in the isolation and in the turmoil and frustration, admittedly, for the injustice that is America, and the injustice is created by policing at times. We saw civil unrest, we saw anger frustrations and we saw riots here in the city of Los Angeles, those work conditions where we lost officers who we could not protect from the pandemic.
We were first responders, we were essential workers, we had men and women that we could not get face masks that we could not get a vaccine to. And we were losing people to that terrible pandemic, as a tremendous demoralizer. Couple that with then the anti-police sentiment, the defund movement, the criticism. Months before, we were essential, and we were heroes. Now we were seen as villains and enemies of the very communities in which our men and women were sacrificing everything in order to come to work and protect. So it was a very demoralizing period of time.
AB: What’s changed to allay fears, particularly in the Black community, about policing after George Floyd’s death?
MM: We looked at how we use force, we looked at how we police in communities and recognizing that our efforts at times, when we believe we’re helping, in reality we are undermining our work, or we’re lessening trust in those communities, our ability to adapt and change our perspective, and recognize also that public safety is a shared responsibility, police are problem solvers. They want to come in and fix everything, and at times, that actually has made problems worse.
So in Los Angeles, I’m proud of the work that we’ve done, to remain committed to our North Star, the values of building and bolstering trust, recognizing that we need to listen to our communities, be responsive to our communities, acknowledge when we mess up, fess up to it, but also champion and ask the public to champion when they see good policing, because they see it every single day. … It’s like your health, you just can’t take it for granted. You’ve got to recognize it, you gotta acknowledge it. And that’s what builds hope. And that’s what builds confidence. And that’s what builds resilience.
AB: You’re going to be a consultant in the search for a new chief? Is the police commission looking inside or outside the LAPD?
MM: The mayor has announced, and the commission has also discussed, that the search needs to be across the entire nation. And it’s fair. This is a second largest city in America. It deserves the very best of the best. In doing that, I think [there should be] a nationwide search for the next chief, which I hope is from the organization. But if that is done by not looking externally, then there’s always that question, is this person the most qualified? Was there someone else out there that actually could have brought more talent, more skills, more capabilities. Some people within the organization expressed criticism of that or some regret that … my remark back to them is have confidence.
AB: What’s your personal farewell message to Angelenos?
MM: I just look back to the city of 4 million and say how proud it should be in itself, to recognize how much it has going for it. And to know that I am proud to have been a part of it, be part of that L.A. story, and I’m thankful to them for that opportunity.
Editor’s note: You can watch the full interview at youtube.com/watch?v=2uRtWKCkWRo.