Reaching the top at the LAPD: after 27 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, out officer David Kalish found himself a top candidate to become chief – Behind the Headlines

Chris Bull

Since making the list of semifinalist candidates for the job of Los Angeles police chief in late August, officer David Kalish has found himself in the spotlight. Kalish has labored since 1975 in relative obscurity in the Los Angeles Police Department, carving out a reputation as a good cop from his early days on patrol to his current post as deputy chief in charge of the department’s Westside operations. So it came as a shock to Kalish when reporters clamored to profile the man who could become the first openly gay chief of a major American police force.

A protege of outgoing police chief Bernard Parks, he’s been quizzed on all aspects of his life, including his Thai partner and his 3 1/2-year-old son.

The new chief was expected to be selected by the end of September, after The Advocate’s press time. Kalish spoke to The Advocate September 6, as he was preparing to attend a vigil for a gay-bashing victim in West Hollywood.

You are one of 13 candidates, yet you seem to be getting the lion’s share of attention.

Because it’s a high-profile post, I’m not surprised about all the press. No one can ever anticipate what it’s like to have an intrusion into one’s personal life. I have no secrets, but I’m generally a private person.

What do you mean?

There is excessive interest in my sexual orientation. My response to media inquiries is that being gay is an important part of who I am–just as is being Jewish. But like everyone else, I’m made up of many parts. The critical issue is, What is the sum of the parts as it relates to this job I’m seeking? I think it is the fact that I’ve dedicated the last 27 years of my life to LAPD. I was born and raised here. I know every neighborhood like the back of my hand.

You seem to be handling the media glare well. How about your partner and your child?

My son, who is 3 1/2, visits me at the office because he likes to sit on the police motorcycles. As long as he can continue to sit on the motorcycles, he’ll be happy. Otherwise, he doesn’t care about what I do at work. The other people in my life are private people. They are very supportive of me and my career. But they were less than comfortable when all this became public.

Is there a way in which being gay has made you a better cop?

I hope that being gay gives me a deeper understanding of the prejudice and bias that gays and other minorities have experienced. I know it has increased my commitment to fighting injustice.

Have we come to the point where the rest of the city sees it as an advantage too?

I think some will see it that way. However, for most people my sexual orientation is just not relevant. They care about a chief who will make neighborhoods safer. Internally, the men and women of LAPD are not concerned about orientation either. They want a leader who knows police work and respects their work.

What would you do differently than your predecessor?

I want to take community policing to the next level. I want to connect the police with all people of this city, a truly inclusive effort. To do that we have to expand our definition of policing. Los Angeles is incredibly diverse and dynamic. Half the population is now foreign-born. We speak 100 different languages. Because of cultural and language barriers, some people don’t have equal access to public service and police protection.

If you do get the job, you will be the first openly gay police chief in a major American city. Even though you say sexual orientation isn’t relevant to the job, it would be a huge breakthrough.

I didn’t join the force 27 years ago to break barriers. All I wanted to do since I was a little kid was to be a cop. I just happen to be gay. But if in some small way I break barriers or become a role model, I’m truly honored.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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