If you follow LAAPOA on social media, you may have noticed that over the past two months we’ve dropped a few teasers here and there about a special new project we’ve been working on. Well, now we’re pleased to finally share it with you all. Introducing The Layover With LAAPOA, a video podcast hosted by LAAPOA President Marshall McClain, premiering today at LAAPOA.com. The show will feature candid interviews with top public safety officials and include discussions on everything from union matters to issues affecting law enforcement professionals nationwide.
“LAAPOA prides itself on keeping its members informed and engaged,” McClain says. “This podcast will enhance the already strong connection we have with our members while keeping them in the loop in an entertaining way.”
The inaugural episode of The Layover features special guest LAXPD Chief Cecil W. Rhambo Jr. In the episode, which was filmed in February, McClain interviews the Chief about growing up in Los Angeles, his law enforcement career, his goals for the Department and much more.
Here are a few highlights from the episode:
The Early Years
Rhambo was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1959, and he is of Korean and African-American descent. He shares that his adoptive parents chose him “literally out of a photo album” provided by an adoption agency that served mixed-race children born in the aftermath of the Korean War. He spent his childhood living in both Compton and South Los Angeles, growing up in largely African-American communities. He attended Washington High School in South L.A., where he participated in cross-country, swimming and gymnastics. He went on to study wildlife management at Humboldt State University. As a self-proclaimed “outdoor enthusiast,” he wanted to become a game warden. However, he switched gears to sociology when he realized the job opportunities in wildlife management weren’t plentiful.
“Blessing in Disguise”
When asked about his decision to go into law enforcement, Rhambo admits that it “just kind of fell in my lap.” Well, kind of. During his third year at Humboldt, he felt homesick for L.A. and was told by a friend that both the LASD and LAPD were hiring, so he applied to both agencies. On the day before his interview with LASD, he made the 700-mile drive down to L.A., but the transmission in his Mercury Capri gave out in Camarillo, so he drove in fourth gear the rest of the way. On the day of the interview, he borrowed his then-girlfriend’s 1974 Pinto, but the brakes on the car gave out near the Wiltern Theatre in downtown. He recalls doing some “tactical driving” to get the car parked in a paid lot before running six blocks to the interview, which he didn’t pass. However, he says, “Not getting what you want is a blessing in disguise.” Not passing the interview allowed Rhambo to finish school and get his degree, something he wouldn’t have been able to do had he been hired by the department. A year after failing his interview, he applied to the department and was accepted into the Academy. He went on to have a successful 33-year career with the LASD, retiring in 2014 as an assistant sheriff.
Coming Full Circle
“I’m a people person, and I really enjoyed the fact that I got to work in literally every part of L.A. County,” Rhambo says, recalling what he loved most about his time with LASD. Among the parts of L.A. he was assigned to was Compton, where he was stationed as a commanding officer. “That was probably the most rewarding and fulfilling assignment I had,” he says, of coming full circle back to his hometown, where he still knew a lot of friends and family. “Before we took over policing Compton, which was roughly around 2000 to 2001, the Sheriff’s Department, we always were confident that if we had the opportunity to police Compton that we would turn the crime rate around. That’s something that I’m proud to say that we actually did,” he says. After Rhambo retired from the LASD, he returned to Compton once again as its city manager, serving in the role from 2017 through 2019.
Change at LAX
After working in city government, Rhambo was drawn to the chief position at LAX because of the exciting change being brought on by the modernization projects and because he “really missed police work,” he admits. One project he discusses in the podcast is the new state-of-the-art police headquarters that will consolidate all airport policing operations into one 12-acre site. “Having everybody in the same area gives the chief the opportunity to see everybody, talk to everybody,” he says. “Having a facility right there in Westchester … it’s moving a law enforcement presence into the community, and everybody is going to feel safer that way.”
First 100 Days as Chief
In his first 100 days on the job, Rhambo focused on getting “the lay of the land” and immersing himself in the airport. “I made a huge effort to go around the airport [and] meet a lot of people,” he says. A big part of his education was “understanding that there are federal regulations and guidelines that guide our behavior and guide what we do and what our goals are in the organization,” he says. “I quickly realized that I have to rely on the experts; I don’t know everything, I just got here. There are people who’ve been working in the Airport Police Department for a long, long time… I just have to trust their guidance and let them do their jobs, and not try to dig in the weeds and try to come in and reinvent the wheel.”
Rhambo adds that rather than try to leave his “fingerprint” on the organization right away, he wants to figure out what he doesn’t know. “My personal style is to figure out, what’s the culture here and what part of the culture do I want to change? I’m trying to figure out what I don’t know; that way, when I finally decide to retire from this particular job, I’m relatively encyclopedic about what needs to happen, how things are going,” he says.