Navigating the Arc of Policing: Leadership Insights from Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore
An Insight from the 2022 Public Safety Summit
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Since joining the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 1981, Chief Michel Moore has navigated extraordinary change along what he describes as the “arc of policing.” Concretely, this has involved adapting as the department evolved in the aftermath of major challenges, including the Rodney King riots in 1992, the introduction of a federal consent decree in 2001 after the discovery of a chronic series of failures in supervision and command oversight within the department, and increasing unrest in recent years amid a growing political divide. Beyond that, Moore—who became chief in 2018—has watched the department and the field of law enforcement progress toward a more principled and effective form of policing. To Moore, this calls to mind a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” From Moore’s perspective, the field of law enforcement has also been evolving along an arc toward better outcomes, built on core values that support the mission of law enforcement, especially when it comes to “building trust in communities.”

While this progress is laudable, leaders must recognize the fundamental need to be able to adapt and contribute to change to make it sustainable. Drawing on his more than four decades of service, Moore spoke at the 2022 Public Safety Summit: Leading into the Emerging Future and identified seven insights for leading along the “arc of policing”:

  • Follow A North Star: LAPD has six core values focused on service, “reverence for the law,” leadership, integrity, respect, and quality through continuous improvement. Moore believes that these values—which have existed for decades—contribute to the sense that the organization has a North Star that should guide his and his colleagues’ actions, particularly in turbulent times. “We remind our people of our core values every single day,” the Chief says, “and that everything we do, maps back to the purpose of why we exist. And that our mission is foremost in front of them and our communities and that our North Star no matter what…hasn’t changed.” The organization always has a sense of direction, even when operating in crises, as LAPD bends the arc of policing toward better outcomes that improve public trust and public safety.
  • Reflect the Community You Serve: Moore has emphasized making LAPD more diverse so that it reflects the community it serves. Currently, 51 percent of the department’s sworn ranks are Hispanic, and just under 19 percent are women. By contrast, approximately 30 years ago, 50 percent of the sworn ranks were white, and women made up just six to seven percent of the organization. Similarly, LAPD has become more inclusive when it comes to LGBTQ people. This is reflected in the department’s ranks as well as LAPD’s participation in the Pride parade, whereas 30 years ago, Moore recalled, “that would have been prohibited on or off duty.” A key part of navigating the arc of policing is adapting the workforce (and having a leader who encourages that evolution) to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging and achieve better outcomes and greater trust and legitimacy.
  • Create Accountability: It is imperative to create accountability so that there is an incentive to bend the arc of policing in a more just direction. As Moore recalled, Bill Bratton, who served as LAPD’s Chief from 2002 to 2009, was integral in making the department more accountable Bratton had the organization adopt COMPSTAT, a system to “‘collect, analyze, and map crime data and other essential police performance measures on a regular basis, and hold police managers accountable for their performance as measured by these data.’ Moore has sustained this emphasis on metric-informed accountability while reinforcing the importance of acting with integrity and holding people accountable if they fall short of this standard. Reflecting on corruption that previously plagued the department, Moore said, “We found it was a lack of leadership. It was a lack of moral courage for people to look people in the eye and say, ‘No, you’re going to follow the rules.’”
  • Invest In Officers: While Moore places a premium on holding officers accountable, he also sees enormous value in investing in the organization’s personnel. This includes ensuring access to cutting-edge technology, keeping equipment up-to-date, and maintaining vehicles in good operating condition. It also involves placing a premium on officer health and wellness through (among other things) promoting a more flexible, less rigid workforce and having a substantial Behavioral Science Services division that offers officers individual counseling, support in the aftermath of responding to mass casualty events, and nutrition, fitness, and addiction prevention services. This was another lesson that Moore learned from Bratton. Moore reflected, “By showing that investment in his people, his people invested in him and invested in going out and doing the good work.” More broadly, these efforts help to send the message that, as Moore said, “police count.”
  • Embrace Outreach and Engagement: During the extreme economic downturn resulting from the historic pandemic over the last two-and-a-half years, LAPD sustained a sizeable workforce reduction of hundreds of fewer sworn and civilian professional staff. While many agencies may be tempted to reduce outreach and engagement activities to supplement patrols, LAPD made a strategic decision to remain committed to its Community Safety Partnership, a micro-neighborhood policing initiative that puts approximately ten officers in the city’s most-violent areas for approximately five years. This gives people an opportunity to get to know their local cops, which, Moore believes, contributes to an interesting statistical phenomenon: LAPD officers have an approximately 60 percent approval rating, but when people are asked about their local cop, that increases to 80 percent. This contributes to the Chief’s belief that community engagement is intimately connected to building trust and making progress toward LAPD’s North Star. “It was something that came out of the ‘90s,” Moore explained. “An express purpose of the organization was to work in partnership, was to work in collaboration, and to work with a community in solving lasting problems.”
  • Find Opportunities in Challenges: Moore pointed to how challenges provide an opportunity for an organization to grow and make progress toward its North Star. For example, the consent decree, while onerous, allowed LAPD to make the case to elected officials about the need for more resources to drive meaningful change. “It was an absolute drive,” the Chief explained, “that caused Los Angeles to…invest in technology, have to invest in accounting and inspections and audits and controls in staffing that it otherwise would not have done.” Changes like these produce positive ripple effects. For instance, investments in body-worn cameras have bolstered transparency because external stakeholders can understand critical incidents while also augmenting training because officers can put themselves in those situations and evaluate what they would have done.
  • Foster An Optimistic Culture: Moore cultivates optimism in the organization. “I have every confidence,” he said, “that we have the finest, the best people, that we attract people with genuine hearts of service, and then every day go out and show that, and model the way.” Nonetheless, there are officers who are negative and pessimistic. Moore responds in part by encouraging younger officers and telling them that “you have an opportunity of a lifetime.” “No matter the challenges before us,” the Chief elaborated, “I think that optimism is contagious. I think the belief in the inner workings of why our people come to this profession is something we must always remind them of.”

“Whatever snapshot in time you have, the time in which policing has existed, I believe it has existed to try to build trust and serve the people, and to live by a certain set of values.”

Michel Moore
Los Angeles Police Chief


Moore believes LAPD still has significant room for improvement as it strives to reach its North Star. For example, the Chief would like to strengthen and deepen partnerships with mental health services. In part because he knows there is room for growth, Moore reminds himself to focus on the needs of the department and its stakeholders, not himself. “You’re a leader and you’re going to make a difference,” the Chief said, “but it’s not about you. It’s about the organization.” To that end, the Chief routinely asks externally oriented questions: “What does the organization need at this point to be a studier, a learner? What are the things that it needs to organize around, and then how do we approach our people and lead, motivate, and inspire them to achieve what many would say is impossible?” More than anything, it is this ability to identify the pressure points of LAPD, its people, and the community that has enabled Moore to make such a significant impact over the course of four decades in policing and help to bend the arc of policing toward justice and trust. “Our task as a leader,” he said, “at times is to be less concerned about where the decimal point is on your crimes, and more concerned about where the hearts of your people are at and try to identify with them and speak to that heart. And as you go out and project yourself in a manner that brings and models that, I think that it gets replicated and it forms a culture.”

“We remind our people of our core values every single day and that everything we do, maps back to the purpose of why we exist.”

Michel Moore
Los Angeles Police Chief


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