Highland Park -- Erica Arias personally knows about the culture of law enforcement. Raised in the San Gabriel Valley, Arias’ father was a sheriff’s deputy. Throughout her career, she’s consulted and worked with numerous law enforcement agencies helping them with their business practices, external relations and leadership development.
Earlier this year Arias was hired to head the Los Angeles Police Museum in Highland Park-- the first woman and Latina in that position.
Arias takes the helm at the LAPM at a critical time. Local law enforcement is under scrutiny because of high-profile cases of police brutality and racism along with calls for police reform in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. A little more than a year ago, hundreds of BLM supporters, spurred by the death of George Floyd, marched down York Boulevard, passing the Los Angeles Police Museum building, as they chatted, “No Justice, No Peace.”
Arias talks about her background and upcoming changes to the museum (including a new Charles Manson exhibit) in this Q&A:
What brought you here; what’s your career history?
I come with a long history of higher education and higher education administration [at Claremont McKenna College and later the University of La Verne].
I learned a lot of my skills there, especially research, planning and external relations. Later, I started my own consulting firm and worked with a wide range of clients in higher education, school districts, law enforcement agencies and nonprofit startups. I facilitated board development, executive coaching, leadership development and business development. I did that for about three years until I was bought out by another consulting firm.
How did you connect with the LAPM?
I was recruited. I got the phone call for this position and my first reaction is that I didn’t know this museum existed. But then I thought, ‘Oh boy! Law enforcement! OK! I’ve done that!’ I know the culture, I have many close friends here at LAPD and it’s a real interesting place for me because I get to use my experiences and skills in this space and position.
You’ve been at the helm here for about four months. What are your goals for the museum?
We are here to uphold the mission of the museum to collect, preserve and educate surrounding the history of the LAPD. My vision for this museum is to reengage our membership base, by bringing our officers back to the museum so they understand their history. I want to also create that space for our community for they have a place of learning and understanding, especially considering the current social climate. What better mechanism to have to facilitate these kinds of discussions here?
Whether people choose to see it or not, the LAPD has been one of the most innovative ones and willing to grow and evolve as our communities grow and evolve. You can see that in our archives and history.
I visit roll calls and let the officers know that this is their space and their history but also that every day they are building history. I remind that that after their shifts are over – whether they had an impactful shift or not – their shift was still part of the collective history – and how they want their legacy to look like is entirely on them. My job is to preserve whatever they produce.
You mentioned that LAPD is innovative – any particular historical story that impressed/surprised you?
One of the bigger landmark events for the LAPD was the Onion Fields and the murder of Officer Ian Campbell. That event changed field tactics and how officers approach traffic stops – and their overall approach to their communities and everyday lives. The North Hollywood Shoot out also changed the way that officers protect themselves out in the field. Those officers had no way to protect themselves – other than standard issued guns—against fully automatic and fully armored criminals. These landmark events are not important just for the officers to understand their history, but for the community to understand why police police the way they do.
Tell us how the museum is being renovated.
We are re-envisioning our exhibits and our visitor experience. The first floor is completely redone. We did a deep dive into the history of LAPD by highlighting the first six police chiefs and Robert Stewart, the first African American officer, and other great LAPD stories.
We created a partnership with Pelican; our officers use their flashlights and our SWAT team houses a lot of their gear and products as well. Pelican will be instrumental as we build out our SWAT exhibit.
What’s on the horizon?
We have a new installation coming that will involve Charles Manson, a topic that no one seems to get tired about! We are going to condense the Patty Hearst/SLA exhibit and add uniforms from Chief Daryl Gates and Earl Paysinger who was the first African American assistant chief.
We are partnering with the NE Division for their P.A.L. Program and we hope to integrate some of those youth programs here. We are also building little free libraries here and in most of our police stations for children to place and receive free books.
The LAPD is having boxing tryouts here later this month. Through another partner, the Dark Zone will be conducting paranormal tours once a month. These are private VIP evening tours.
What do you want the public to know about the LAPM?
I would love for the community to know that this is a place for education, learning and history. Yes, it’s largely centered on the LAPD, but they are such a huge part of LA history. So when you pass by our building, you will see it yes, an historical landmark, but inside there is a lot to see and enjoy and learn from and connect to.