The Next LAPD Chief of Police

It’s time for a woman to lead the LAPD

by Donna J. Wade (2002)

The flap between Mayor Hahn and the African American community over a second term for LAPD's 53rd Chief Bernard Parks has died a welcomed natural death in the media, and now begins the horserace for his successor. Conventional wisdom in LA political circles is that the next chief should be one of the many talented Latinos among the LAPD’s command staff. This makes sense in many ways, primarily because the Hispanic American community is fast becoming the majority in the city of LA, if it isn’t already.

But I think the next LAPD Chief should be a woman.

We need a Chief of Police who understands that morale is critical to effective performance. Morale may not be the top priority for a chief, given how circumstances tend to shift organizational priorities, but it had better always be in the top three.

We also need a chief who punishes serious misconduct severely, moderate misconduct reasonably, and infractions as training issues, with the wisdom to distinguish and articulate the lines between them.

We need someone who can re-energize the command staff by allowing them the freedom to lead their troops without micromanaging them to the point of ineffectiveness.

Most importantly, I believe the next chief must be able to lead a cultural redefinition in the department. With all due respect for the prestigious and lengthy careers of two of those mentioned as frontrunners for the job, Cmdr. George Gascon and former Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker (now Chief of Police in Portland, Oregon), I seriously doubt that anyone who has spent 25-35 years in the current LAPD culture can do that. Not even distinguished veterans like Deputy Chief Peggy York or Commander Betty Kelepecz.

Do not take this to mean I think the department should look outside its ranks for Parks' successor. There is a wealth of talented, qualified professionals of all races in the ranks of the LAPD. But among all the command officers with whom I have served, one truly stands out in my estimation, and that is Commander Sharon Papa.

Cmdr. Papa was the Chief of the Metropolitan Transit Authority police for seven years prior to facilitating that department's successful 1997 merger with LAPD. She moved quickly up the ladder during her 17-year career with that agency because of her talent and dedication, not her gender. If my memory is correct, she told me that prior to joining the MTA Police, she worked as a beat cop for a local municipality. She was also president of the MTA officers’ union prior to becoming Chief, so she has negotiated labor contracts from both sides of the fence.

Papa understands law enforcement and its culture, but isn't a product of the LAPD's "old school". Yet she's been part of the LAPD hierarchy long enough to understand the current dynamic, and to develop innovative ideas not only about reform, but also about the steps the department must take to improve recruitment, boost morale, aid retention, and create a new, more supportive environment for the rank and file while maintaining officer accountability.

I recently spoke to at least a dozen of her former employees and they rave about her tremendous leadership abilities and effective management style. All of these men indicated they'd jump at the chance to work for her again. She is well respected by the troops because of her fairness and undaunted support for them and their efforts. I believe her appointment would go a long way toward quickly elevating morale from its current abyss.

I can understand why her subordinates like and respect her so much. I worked with her when I served as a civilian member of LAPD trial boards and Cmdr. Papa wowed me, too. A person of high integrity and compassion, she is extremely smart, professional, and tough when the situation requires it. She actually invites divergent viewpoints, and makes decisions with the "big picture" in mind; namely she evaluates issues based not only on what is good for the department, but what is best for the community.

A stark contrast to Chief Parks, she is approachable, not arrogant, and genuinely cares about the department's mission, personnel, and the citizens they serve and protect. She understands that a good manager works to create an environment that encourages and rewards the best efforts of employees, not one that diametrically opposes them.

You won't find Sharon Papa on the 6th floor of Parker Center surrounding herself with sycophants, isolating herself from scrutiny. She does not shrink from responsibility, but welcomes it, and holds herself to the same stringent professional standards she expects from her subordinates.

A creative problem solver, she knows that keeping this city safe requires building successful, active partnerships with the community that give voice to citizen concerns, and encourage and enable their participation in addressing problems specific to their neighborhoods.

Men have been running the agency since its inception in 1867. If you want dramatic change in the LAPD, it's time to think outside the box and give a woman a chance as chief. Women may have a different management style than their male counterparts, but different doesn't mean ineffective. If talented women can successfully lead multinational corporations like Mattel and others, the right woman can run the LAPD.

Maybe it's just me, but if you really want to breathe life into community policing and reinvent the LAPD culture, support a woman for the top cop spot. The only way to change the prevalent community perception that LAPD is an "old boys' club" is for those responsible for selecting the next chief to stop anointing old boys to run the show, regardless of their race or ethnic background.


Donna J. Wade
Freelance Commercial Writer
Graphic Designer / Print Media Consultant

Phone: (909) 338-9778

Copyright 2007 Donna J. Wade / All Rights Reserved