Two weeks of scandals involving the Los Angeles Police Department's cadet program culminated in a graduation event on Saturday, beginning with an inspection on the cadets conducted by Chief Charlie Beck followed by a commencement ceremony at USC's Galen Center.
Although the inspection is traditionally administered only to graduating cadets — or roughly 400 individuals in this class — Beck decided to execute a larger-scale inspection including as many as 1,000 former cadets as a show of his commitment to improved oversight after what he called a "difficult couple of weeks" for the embattled program.
“They’re our youth, they’re our future, and what they gain from this program is invaluable and we will make sure that we recommit to those values today,” Beck said, expressing confidence in those who completed training.
The graduation ceremony comes just one day after officials revealed a cache of more than 100 firearms was discovered at the Rancho Cucamonga home of an LAPD officer who was arrested Thursday on allegations he was engaged in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old cadet.
Officer Robert Cain may also have helped the teen unlawfully gain access to the department's cruisers and equipment, Beck said Thursday. The 15-year-old allegedly involved with Cain is one of at least seven cadets arrested following the theft of two police cruisers and equipment from two LAPD stations.
Detectives now believe the cadets — who range from 15 to 20 years of age — had been taking the vehicles out for "joyrides" and conducted traffic stops on members of the public.
Beck has ordered a complete review of the 2,300-member cadet program, as well as LAPD systems for tracking equipment and vehicles. The department's investigation has not uncovered additional involved employees and the malfeasance appears to be contained, Beck said, but documents and social media accounts are still being reviewed in connection with the probe.
On Saturday, Beck emphasized that he maintained faith in the cadets who were graduating, proudly calling them "the city's future."
“I have to recognize that when you find one individual out of 10,000, and seven cadets out of 2,500, you have to recognize it for what it is," he told reporters after completing the inspection. "And that is something that you have to deal with, that you have to set boundaries around, that you have to make sure the organization understands our commitment to the rules, and press forward.”
He also pointed to the enrollment numbers to say interest in the cadet program has grown exponentially, contributing to the department's struggle to maintain proper supervision and ensure an adequate gender balance.
Making the inspection was compulsory for more than just graduating cadets stemmed from Beck's wish to establish a personal connection with the department's young and future officers.
“I did this for them, but I also did it for me," he said. "I want them to see the chief, and look the chief in the eye, and know that I care about their future and I care about their present. But I also want to reaffirm my own commitment to this program.”
Graduating cadet Stephanie Diaz said she first considered becoming a police officer after her father died when she was 13. The program offered a place to belong and sense of stability in her life that had been thrown into disarray.
Now 17, Diaz said the scandalous backdrop had put a damper on what should have been a festive day, but added that the cadets were motivated to prove themselves.
“It is a little sad, but we’re just all trying to stay positive because we all still want to be in this program, we all still want to serve our community and remain in contact with all of our fellow police officers that work hard every day, and we just want to do the same,” she said.
Though he also admitted the incidents lent a somber air to the commencement ceremony, Beck said his focus was on recommitting to the success of those who had worked hard to complete the program.
“I want to make sure they go into a program that rewards that hard work, that helps shape their future in a positive way and makes them better prepared to do whatever they’re going to do in life," he said. "Obviously, we have to deal with failures, and we will.”