After NBC4 exposed an internal police email directing officers to make more arrests so that the LAPD can "avoid negative coverage" over illegal rabbit sales, Chief Charlie Beck defended the directive.
At a press conference Thursday, Beck focused on protecting animals, among other topics.
"I wanted to ... give the media some sense of what the LAPD’s involvement in preventing animal cruelty is," Beck said, noting the department's dedicated animal cruelty unit.
Local news from across Southern California
His presentation was part of a campaign to spotlight Los Angeles Police Department officers and the animals they’ve rescued.
"I‘ve yet to meet a cop that didn’t have a soft spot for animals," Beck said.
For months, our Get Garcia hidden-camera investigation into illegal animal sales has asked: Where are the arrest statistics to back that up?
When an officer working the fashion district responded to an NBC4 inquiry that just one arrest had been made for illegal animal sales, Cmdr. Andrew Smith at LAPD headquarters was not happy.
Knowing NBC4 was investigating, Smith wrote back in an email:
This story could be a black eye for us if we dont have a few arrests to show. The law has been on the books for months now, and the "rabbit people" are gonna scream that we dont care. Is there any way you or your crew could make a few arrests for illegal animal purchasing so we can avoid negative coverage?
Smith apparently hit "reply all" and accidentally copied an NBC4 producer on the email.
Asked to comment about the email Thursday, Beck responded that Smith was choosing how to allocate police resources.
"Cmdr. Smith at times gives direction to other people to enforce different laws, and that's fine. This is a big city," Beck said. "We respond to over 2 million 911 calls a year, 300 murders, 1,000 assaults … We have to make decisions about where we're going to put our enforcement dollars. And sometimes those decisions are influenced by people higher up in the food chain."
But when we tried to ask Beck if he would talk about the email's statement that NBC4's story could cause "black eye" for the department, the chief stopped the questioning and moved on to another topic.
“Ana, I'm done with your question,” Beck said.
Smith told us he is very concerned that he and the LAPD be portrayed accurately as being animal lovers.
"The Los Angeles Police Department is committed to making a difference in the lives of animals here," Smith said.