Emada Tingirides: LAPD's litmus test for true reform

Emada Tingirides
Emada Tingirides, photographed at the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Nov. 29.

For the record:
10:57 p.m. June 12, 2024: An earlier version of this story said Mayor Karen Bass appointed an interim LAPD chief. The interim chief was appointed by the Police Commission.

Even after more than a decade, civil rights attorney Connie Rice can still picture the moment: Emada Tingirides, then an unseasoned sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department, walking into a meeting with Watts community leaders to pitch something radical.

After decades of aggressive policing that left residents of housing developments such as Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs deeply distrustful of the LAPD, Tingirides was proposing to flip the script: Instead of the traditional hard-charging approach to policing that values arrests over all else, the Community Safety Partnership called for officers and residents to work together in a meaningful way to come up with solutions to problems. Officers in the program would spend their days working with kids on youth football teams and in mentorship programs instead of busting them for petty crimes.

It was a hard sell to a group that had watched plenty of cops bring them other ideas that had gone nowhere. But Tingirides was different. The young Black officer and Watts native conveyed a level of commitment and understanding that began the hard process of turning skeptics into believers, Rice recalled.

Even more difficult, it would turn out, would be persuading officers who long equated success with racking up arrests to get on board.

Emada Tingirides
Emada Tingirides

But Tingirides, 53, made it work and went on to oversee the expansion of the program across the department. In doing so, she became the local face in a pitched debate over the soul of American law enforcement. It's a heavy burden. Rice said she sees Tingirides as a litmus test of sorts for the direction the nation's third-largest police department is heading as it continues its search for a new chief, with the retirement of Michel Moore.

Now a deputy chief, her name is frequently mentioned as a potential successor for Moore, who unexpectedly announced in January that he would step down. Prognosticators suggest L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, who has highlighted the Community Safety Partnership program in public comments, may be looking to make a big splash by hiring the city’s first female police chief, a Black woman at that. Those who hold fast to the old-school ways of policing dismiss Tingirides' vision as too soft and ineffective. A high-ranking LAPD veteran, Dominic Choi, was appointed to run the department until a new chief is selected.

In September, Moore transferred Tingirides out of her job running the community safety program, putting her in charge of the department’s South Bureau — a move that was widely seen as a way to burnish her resume. But if she one day does ascend to the top of the LAPD, it would be largely because of the seed she planted in Watts all those years ago.

“She takes this new paradigm of guardian policing in a hostile, paramilitary culture ... and she makes it fly during the pandemic," Rice said. "I mean that’s pretty extraordinary."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.