By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It seems that under the reigns of the earlier control-happy chiefs, LAPD centralization reached its unwieldy zenith to the point that nearly all the big decisions directly affecting the department’s 18 divisions were no longer being made by the officers working in those divisions. Instead, the primary decision-making powers were held by four deputy chiefs who, from the high-rise confines of Parker Center, ran the four bureaus into which the entire city of Los Angeles was divided: South, Central, Valley and West. In other words, although most of us assume that our local police station — be it Devonshire, Hollywood, Wilshire or Pacific — is responsible for the policing in our area, that was not the department’s orientation. Rather, it was that all responsibility flowed from downtown, and only downtown.
“What this meant,” explains Sergio Diaz, “[was] that if there was a competition between Mrs. Sanchez’s concerns in the community and the deputy chief’s concerns to make sure some reports were turned in on time, the reports won out. And that’s not how it should be. We also acted as if we believed that one size fits all,” continues Diaz, “that the solutions that work for San Pedro would also work well in North Hills. And that’s silly.”
With this in mind, Bratton’s assistant chiefs lay out broad strokes for a new plan that returns a substantial amount of horsepower to the 18 divisions. “In the past,” notes Assistant Chief Sharon Papa, “when you were working at the station level, you got the feeling that you weren’t really trusted.”
“Yeah, we’ve got to do away with the micromanaging,” yells someone from the floor.
“We’re choking the talent out of our people,” adds a commander. “We’ve got to give our division command staff room to fail.”
A deputy chief grouses that maybe things ought to stay the way they are, that otherwise serious mistakes are likely to be made. “I think we have to start trusting our captains,” Gascon responds pleasantly, “and leave ourselves time to look at the bigger picture.”
But what if some captains can’t be trusted? someone wants to know.
“Maybe those captains need to be replaced,” answers Gascon. This is not an idle suggestion. During the first year of Bratton’s NYPD tenure, 75 percent of his precinct commanders were, in fact, replaced.
Finally, the discussion winds down, and Bratton himself strolls to the microphone. “I’m coming up on the magic 100 days as chief,” he says, “and I still have a big learning curve, I’m the first to admit it. But I want you to know, I sleep very soundly because I have a lot of confidence and faith in you,” Bratton says. “I’ve succeeded because I’ve never let the bastards get me down,” he adds. “So if I’m the bastard in your life, don’t let me get you down.”
A commander raises his hand. “Some of us have been waiting for 10 or 15 years for this — to bring up ideas and have somebody listen,” he says. Bratton likes this.
“From what I understand,” he replies, “some of you have been waiting 25 years for somebody to listen.”
A few more questions and answers, and the retreat is over. The steps taken in Oxnard will need another few weeks to rethink and finalize. In the meantime, there are a lot of officers still embedded in the department who are like the guy who let slip to me a month ago that he wished the force could return to the days when “We were allowed to, you know, beat up gangbangers.”
Yet, among command staff a new wind is already blowing. Following his return from Oxnard, one high-ranking officer calls a well-known community worker with whom law enforcement had previously been at odds. “I’ve always admired your work,” confides the cop, “but I knew if I’d contacted you before, I’d have been criticized.”
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