From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
For his first official duty as Los Angeles's chief of police, Charlie Beck presided over the police academy's graduation. L.A.'s Top Cop exchanged a few words with each of the 32 rookies. Except for one. "I tried, but nothing would come out," Beck says of the moment he came to son Martin among the day's graduates. "It was so tied to the heart, all I could do was just pat him on the shoulder."

Not only is this newly installed chief a 33-year LAPD veteran, Beck is also the son of a cop (dad George retired as a deputy chief), brother of a cop (sister Megan was a detective), husband of a cop (Cindy was a narcotics K9 handler) and, now, dad to two cops (daughter Brandi, too, is a patrol officer). Police legacies are not uncommon, but Beck is the first with a family tree this deeply blue to command L.A.'s 10,000 officers. "My father is proud," says Beck, 56. "And he had some words for me: 'Take care of yourself, get enough rest ... and don't read your own press clippings.'"

If he did, he would see nothing but praise from his predecessor. "Charlie has a Gary Cooper air about him—the quiet man from the West: Unassuming, slow to anger, fully in control," outgoing chief William Bratton says of Beck, who previously oversaw high-profile cases like the investigation into Michael Jackson's death, as well as the 1990s rehabilitation of the corruption-ridden Rampart division. "Through that decade," Beck says, "the department was letting not just my dad down, but a generation."

Surprisingly for this scion, joining the force was not a forgone conclusion. "I had no idea that I would be an officer. I wanted to be a motocross racer," says Beck, who still rides for fun. In 1974 he volunteered as a reserve officer, and he signed on full-time three years later. "I loved it," he says. "It was a job of action, and you made a difference in people's lives. I remember a girl who was gang-raped. It took me weeks, but I hunted down every person involved."

Now, as then, he rarely discusses work at home. "We talk about family issues," says Brandi, 27. (Another daughter, Megan, 21, is studying to be a teacher.) "He never brought the stress to the family, and that made the job very appealing to us because we never saw the negative sides."

"I investigated hundreds of homicides of children—by their parents, generally—at a time when my kids were young," says Beck. "You have to be able to separate." He still does, with a son and daughter in the line of fire. "I don't really worry about their physical safety; we train our cops very well."

Though Cindy Beck—who met her husband through a prostitute he arrested and she booked—thought she and Charlie would both be retired by now and, she says, "living on a horse ranch in Santa Ines," she allows that may have to wait. In this new job Beck will face daunting challenges, from the release of thousands of state prisoners under a new law to ease overcrowded prisons to the spread of violence by Mexican drug cartels. "I am the caretaker of this organization," he says. "It's been in the family for 50 years and probably will be for at least another 30. It's vitally important to me that it goes well."