By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Bratton liked the Valley Bureau‘s innovations, and decided to use them as the basic template for his departmentwide initiative. It was a further sign of change that Bratton began to tone down his own rhetoric on the gang question. In fact, by the time of the Wednesday-morning gang press conference, Bratton had stopped lumping all gang members together under one banner of criminality. Instead, he says that the department intends to use its resources to target only those responsible for committing violent crimes. “We’re talking about a core group of, say, 400 or 500 people,” he said. The rest of the “kids need to be given alternatives. We have to give them activities and good schools. We have to find them jobs.”
Alternatives notwithstanding, Bratton is clear about the fact he wants aggressive enforcement -- which brought him to the second part of the gang plan: deployment. Of all the dilemmas that face Bratton, deployment is one of the thorniest because of one simple fact: The LAPD doesn‘t have enough officers to adequately police Los Angeles. This is particularly true in areas like South Bureau, which has lost an incredible 106 officers since 2001. “What that means in practical terms,” said an officer from nearby Newton Division, which has seen similar losses, “is that on a Saturday night when we’re supposed to have five black-and-whites out there patrolling, we‘ll be lucky if we’ve got two.”
To remedy this, Bratton and his recently appointed gang czar, Hillmann, have worked out a system that they hope will make the best and smartest use of the troops they‘ve got, which means the department’s special units like Metro, the motor task force, narcotics and other enforcement groups that can be pumped into any area of the city as needed.
Yet unlike with Daryl Gates‘ Hammer or Willie Williams’ FBILAPD hybrid, Bratton still maintains there will be no flooding of the streets with cops. Instead, he says, crime stats and gang intelligence will be analyzed on a day-to-day basis, then decisions will be made as to “long- and short-term strategies” for deployment.
The newly formed cadre of officers who decide where and when the various units are deployed is housed in a one-room command center at the back of the South Bureau Traffic Division located in the interior of the Crenshaw shopping mall, right next to Sears. The room is crammed with 15 or 20 desks and a big pin board in one corner of the space on which the 11 homicides that have occurred since the beginning of 2003 are marked with numbers.
Like the police at the 77th, the officers who staff the room seem unsure about the details of the plan, yet are optimistic. “Now that things are starting to happen,” said one detective, “it‘s like Christmas. And we’re the little kids who can‘t wait to open up the packages. We’re almost overanxious. In the last month,” the detective continued, “several cops I know made suggestions to their commanding officers, and the next day they got calls from deputy chiefs at home, wanting to know about their ideas.” He paused. “Has anything like that ever happened before in this department? Absolutely never.”
It seems clear that Bratton wants something new, a point he expresses to the troops as well as the media. When he spoke at a recent roll call at the Central Division, he likened the conditions at the LAPD to the movie The Perfect Storm.
“It‘s my feeling that there’s a unique convergence of forces this year in Los Angeles,” Bratton said. “There‘s an opportunity to build a foundation of trust between the police, the union, city government, the community -- and even the media. There’s a unique opportunity to build bridges based on trust.”
Yet, how far away Bratton‘s vision may still be was demonstrated by a rumor making the rounds at the Valley Bureau where, in three incidents in the last two weeks, gang members were reportedly detained by officers but not arrested. Instead, the homeboys were allegedly driven into enemy gang territory and forced to exit the police cars.
Commander Moore learned of these incidents last week at the gang press conference, and was dismayed by the news. “If that’s really true, it‘s not only criminal, it’s incredibly damaging given the history of where this department has recently been. I came from Rampart, and we dealt with several cases of this sort. So I take this really seriously. But I can‘t do anything unless I get specifics. Then I’m going to investigate. These things all come down from leadership. If we want to capture the hearts and souls of all of our officers, leadership has to set the tone. I know it, and I believe Chief Bratton knows it.”