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
“If Chief Bratton really wants to affect the terrible violence we live with every day,” says veteran gang worker Daude Sherrils, “he has to direct his officers to get to know the communities they work in. So far, that hasn’t happened.”
Father Boyle agrees. “We need more cops,” he says, “but that’s less the issue than keeping the right three or four in rotation in a neighborhood so they can gain knowledge. Right now we have patrol cops so clueless that they harass homeboys who have matured out and are trying to lead decent lives, but are likely to stop public enemy Number One and let him go.”
LEADERSHIP AND POLITICAL SKILLS
Bratton appears to possess the intelligence, charisma and confidence demanded by L.A.’s fractious department. His very first act upon coming to town was to clean house on the sixth floor of Parker Center and install a brand-new command staff that pleased both cops and critics. His three assistant chiefs — Jim McDonnell (second in command), Sharon Papa and George Gascon — are each smart, likable, aggressive reformers, all of whom had wanted Bratton’s job. Since then, Bratton has consistently shown he values talent and innovation above loyalty — which, given this department’s history, is refreshing.
Division heads are confronted at monthly COMPSTAT meetings with their latest crime statistics and asked to justify strategies or come up with new ones. The system has managed to unleash previously untapped creativity from within LAPD ranks to produce such ideas as “walk-in Wednesday,” where captains can send their most pressing case of the week to the head of the line in forensics instead of waiting the usual six months (gasp) for a ballistics report. “We’ve never rewarded risk before in terms of ideas,” says Lieutenant Bill Murphy. “So it’s kind of a shock that now we have a chief that doesn’t want things done ‘by any means necessary.’ He wants them done better and smarter.”
Overall, Bratton’s idea-friendly approach has had a measurably salutary effect on department morale — which hit well below sub-basement levels before he arrived. Now, in the newly released LAPD officer survey, 85 percent reported they felt that the chief was “leading us in the right direction,” as opposed to 18 percent who approved of how Parks handled things in 2000 and an even more dismal 15 percent approval for Willie Williams in 1997. In the same survey, three-quarters of the officers claimed they were more satisfied with their jobs than a year ago.
AREAS TO IMPROVE: Outside the department, Bratton’s political skills sometimes fall short. He gets along swimmingly with the mayor and enjoys an unusually good rapport with the Police Protective League. “In past years, we were pretty much looked on as the antichrist,” says league president Bob Baker. After an initial honeymoon, Bratton’s relationship with the City Council has hit rough waters. The trouble began when he tried to reverse the policy of officers responding to unverified burglar alarms. The council, after first agreeing, caved to outside pressures and shot him down.
The worst of the wrangles occurred in May when the council stunned Bratton by refusing to allocate funds for 320 desperately needed new police officers. (L.A. has half as many officers per capita as New York, and fewer officers per square mile than any major U.S. city.) During a KPCC radio interview, Bratton didn’t help matters by likening himself to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s being turned back from Normandy just before D-Day. “It was a surprise how quickly things fell apart around the budget,” he says. “But I mitigated my effectiveness by accusing council members of being insensitive to what was going on in their districts.”
Bratton apologized, but in October the council still balked over matching funds required for a hefty federal grant also aimed at hiring officers. Then, three weeks ago, the council declined to put a proposed tax hike on the March ballot to raise the necessary bucks.
“Right now we have so few police cars covering some of our neighborhoods, people joke about seeing a black-and-white. They call it ‘a sighting,’” says a frustrated Bratton, who recently announced he was pulling assistant chief Jim McDonnell away from other tasks so that he might bring the case for additional funding straight to the general public. “We’ve tried every legislative avenue,” says McDonnell. “Now we’re going to take it to the voters.”
Despite it all, Bratton’s current relationship with the council seems mostly good. “I think everyone has accepted my apology and moved on,” he says. “If there are those that haven’t, to hell with ’em.”
RATING THE CHIEF’S LEGACY:
Too early to tell
It will take some time to know whether the changes decreed by Bratton in the past year will lead to the fundamental reform that the LAPD really needs. Yet they are a promising start. For the most part, even the department’s most vocal critics are optimistic about William Bratton’s effect on Los Angeles law enforcement. “We see a lot of room for improvement,” says ACLU’s Ramona Ripston. “But I’ve been here since 1972, and I think he’s the best chief we’ve ever had.” The chief has signed a five-year contract that he’s sworn he’ll finish out, but is that enough? “No,” says Connie Rice. “Bratton has to stay for the second five years if he’s going to have a chance of changing this place. Otherwise the department will revert to the default position the minute he leaves. He’s got the top people behind him now, because he put them there. But too many captains still see him as a part-timer.” Bratton’s wife, TV legal analyst Rikki Klieman, suggests her husband may very well stay longer than the contracted half-decade. “Let me put it this way,” she says, “they’re going to have to blast me out of here.”
“Let’s hope so,” says Rice, “because if Bratton doesn’t stay a full 10 years, then he’s not serious.”