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
“This is a bigger deal than it appears to be,” says civil rights lawyer Connie Rice. “In the last 20 years, the LAPD and L.A. Sheriff’s Department [rarely] acknowledged each other’s existence.”
It also helped that Bratton energized the department’s morale-challenged rank and file by making sure that he and his command staff spent plenty of time out in the field. “Even the way we treat homicides is different,” he says. “In the past, nobody higher than a D3 [Detective level 3] came to a homicide scene. Now we have at least a captain at every homicide, and usually a deputy chief. I’ve been to 40 homicide scenes myself. That damn sure wasn’t the way it was. I’m a great believer that you have an effect on what you inspect.”
AREAS TO IMPROVE: The LAPD’s emergency-response time is turtle slow and has gotten slower under Bratton — rising from 7.7 minutes in 2000 to 10.7 this past summer. (In South Los Angeles and some Valley areas residents say it takes cops nearly an hour to show up.) Moreover, the department’s clearance rates — meaning actually solving a crime and making an arrest — have gone increasingly into the toilet over the past decade. Bratton hopes a radically revamped system of detective assignments will ameliorate both situations. “It will mean we get detectives to the crime scene much faster — which should help my 911 response time,” he says. “And the quicker gathering of evidence will change our clearance rates. It used to be I’d have 20 cops waiting around forever for detectives to get there and take their information. We can’t afford that.”
SOLVING THE GANG PROBLEM
During his first month in L.A., Bratton got a string of demerits for painting all homeboys — hardcore and wannabes — as mafiosi and terrorists. The upside of his overheated rhetoric was that it succeeded in getting the L.A. Times to yank coverage of gang homicides out of the bowels of the B section and onto the paper’s front page. Yet it also risked validating the kind of blunt-instrument enforcement that Bratton was purportedly striving to dismantle.
However, after a series of meetings with community groups, including gang-intervention experts whom previous LAPD leadership had avoided like poison, the chief announced he would be targeting the small percentage of truly dangerous gangsters, not the troubled kids at the fringe.
Bratton and his gang czar, Deputy Chief Michael Hillman, also get high marks for shepherding a smart, fluid enforcement plan that moves resources quickly where the need is the most pressing. Gang homicide stats have dropped as a result. However, the chief admits there’s a long way to go.
“Am I comfortable with where we are? No. I don’t think we’ve found exactly the right formula.” Yet the fact that Bratton has shown himself to prefer strategies that are more scalpel than hammer is a distinctly positive sign.
“And what Bratton really gets an A on,” says Connie Rice, “is his absolute refusal to accept random death as a fact of life in poor communities. It’s unacceptable to him that it’s taken as the sea breeze here. That’s quite extraordinary.”
AREAS TO IMPROVE: The LAPD still insists that it is the world’s primary expert on gangs, a false assumption that greatly hampers its effectiveness. One need look no further than current department training videos — so culturally off the mark that when one was recently shown to gang-savvy students at East L.A. College, it elicited howls of laughter. Yet when gang-intervention money comes to the city — as it likely will next year from a large Justice Department grant and the newly introduced Feinstein-Hatch Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act — the police inevitably decide how it is allocated. “Law enforcement needs to allow more stakeholders at the table,” says Homeboy Industries head Father Greg Boyle. “They have an essential role, but they’re only one point in the triangle. And although the police keep saying gangs are a social issue and that we need all hands on deck, they still proceed without everyone else.”
WAITING FOR COMMUNITY POLICING
Every chief from Ed Davis forward has trumpeted the virtue of community policing, but none has actually instituted it. Bratton hasn’t done much better, but unlike his predecessors, he knows what it ought to look like. For instance, although he has reinstituted the popular Senior Lead Officer program, he correctly sees its limits. “These 168 SLOs are our whole community policing effort, which is ridiculous,” he says.
Bratton’s newest approach is a pilot program in which divisions are broken up into districts, each with its own lieutenant — the idea being to invest officers in smaller geographic ‰ areas in order to deepen community relations and, in so doing, further lower crime rates. “The secret of this department,” says Bratton, “is that there are a lot of great, caring cops who are really good with people — if they’re ever given the chance to prove it.”
AREAS TO IMPROVE: Both beat cops and critics say that until department policy rewards officers for staying in patrol and in specific geographic areas, community policing will be an ever receding chimera.