Laura Chick Sitting On A Desk

I WAS THERE: Laura Chick Challenged The Most Powerful Forces in LA Politics. She Has A Message For LA’s Current Leaders

My name is Laura Chick. I served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1993 until 2001. Interestingly enough, I was the first council woman to ever chair the city council's public safety committee.  I then served as Los Angeles City Controller from 2001 to 2009.

I came into office shortly after the civil unrest, which was a reaction to the Rodney King beating and other injustices. And the feeling, not just in city hall and in the city was crime is rampant. There are gangs in the city. There are murders. You know, homicide rate is up. 

And so the name of the game was crime suppression, crime reduction and property protection. So, you know, police officers were needed. The city was hungry for them. 

And at the same time, we had you know, bad Apple officers coming to light. 

The Police Protective League is the union that represents the sworn police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. 

One of the top mandates of the union is to deliver lucrative contract to their members and also to protect them when they do something wrong. So often the union was advocating for not to release police misconduct records. And they contribute big to elected officials in their campaigns and their priorities. 

I was never one of the council members that the league could march into my office and say,’We need you on this one, Laura.’ And that's kind of one of the games played in City Hall. 

I have felt from the day I took office until today that one of the most important qualities that is very tragically missing from today's city hall leaders and elected officials is courage. 

And I feel strongly that if we want a less empowered union that is often moving to protect bad apples and thwart a really thorough, transparent disciplinary system, then elected officials and people running for elected office should stop taking contributions from police unions. 

From my experience as City Controller, there's huge amounts of money that could be saved just from efficiency and cost effectiveness measures. And then there's a bunch of money that can be spent differently to make our communities safe. Other than policing. And that's what I think we're hearing from many people. 

“I was never one of the councilmembers that the [Police Protective League] could march into my office and say, ‘We need you on this one, Laura.’”

When former City Councilwoman Laura Chick took office following the 1992 civil unrest, she was the first woman elected to one of three citywide offices and the first woman to chair the Public Safety Committee. She later became California’s first Inspector General. Chick has made a career of challenging those in power, rooting out waste and fraud, and was never afraid to speak her mind, even if it threatened to offend some of LA's most powerful forces. 

Coming into office at a time when the city prioritized crime reduction, Chick often straddled the line between advocating for law enforcement and challenging LAPD’s lenient disciplinary system. She worked hard to bring new technology and resources to LAPD but also pushed back on Mayor Richard Riordan’s rapid hiring of 3,000 officers, insisting on a more thoughtful and holistic approach to policing. After the Rampart scandal was exposed within the LAPD, Chick criticized the department’s lax disciplinary systems and advocated for a Federal Consent Decree to hold local police departments accountable for violating civil rights. 

As City Controller, Chick audited the LAPD on multiple fronts. One 2008 audit revealed an opportunity to civilianize over five hundred positions to not only save costs, but to also encourage community policing. Another 2008 audit found a backlog of 7,000 rape kits that LAPD failed to analyze, despite being awarded $4 million in grants for the department’s crime lab. 

In her decades of civic service, Chick recognized the importance of law enforcement, but also refused to allow the department to remain unchecked. Thirty years later, police misconduct continues and Chick questions whether elected officials have done enough to push back on powerful police unions that protect problematic officers.

 

About the Series

"I WAS THERE" is about telling a great story. This series of first-person accounts breaks current and historical events down to human scale, carefully taking the viewer behind some of Southern California’s biggest headlines.

Production team

Executive Producer: Karen Foshay 

Producers: Tori Edgar, Denise Chan & Michael Ray 

Photographers: Trevor Jackson, Karen Foshay

Editor/Graphics: Michael Ray, Andy Viner

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