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
But more bang for the buck can extract a bloody price.
“People aren’t just angry with the police. They hate them,” says civil rights activist and litigator Connie Rice. “The sniper fire on cops went up 83 percent from ’04 to ’05. It went up another 65 percent from ’05 to ’06. And I know why. The public hates the police. The good thing is, Bratton understands that the public-trust issue is huge.”
That may be true, but the battle for public trust is clearly not being won in communities where the black and Latino underclass are taking the hits. Even so, Rice says, “2008 polls show across the board that middle-class, working- and upper-class African-Americans are expressing increasingly favorable views of the LAPD, and particularly Bratton. This is not to say that all problems with LAPD are gone, or that African-Americans don’t still see problems with LAPD, but the open hostility and expressions of hatred of police [that] I still do find are less prevalent in my interviews with members of the black underclass.”
So if things are getting so good, why all these dead brown and black people? I decide to follow a thin blue line to an easy target for some straight answers to tough questions.
LAPD Chief William Bratton is so old-school, he’s like James Cagney as Eliot Ness: untouchable. He’s a superstar and a PR genius. You just know he’s got a paperback edition of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War tucked under his pillow next to the annual edition of the Fortune 500. Thing is, like the mayor, Bratton is relatively reachable these days on the issue of the culture of policing. So is L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who recently told me it’s “the most important, undiscussed issue in law enforcement today.” These guys are smooth operators, but neither is dodging a single bullet about this stuff. It’s more than possible that the city is actually ready for a conversation that could lead to that paradigm shift. Add a major budget overhaul, say, half the cost of the L.A. Zoo’s $42 million elephant habitat they’re fighting about, and we might actually get the party started.
So, Chief, is it happening? Has the tarnish on that shield been wiped clean, the way you said it would be back in 2002?
“I think so. I think we have been relatively free of scandal since that time. All police organizations will always have incidents of corruption, brutality, breaking of the law.”
You can say that again. But, umm, hello? The May Day thing in MacArthur Park?
Still, I gotta give Bratton his propers. All things considered, he’s handling the job smooth as see-through silk. He’s got a year or so before the duck waddles lame on his second term, but he’s a reformer, and under his leadership we do have the new translucent LAPD thing.
So people can rest assured that it’s just going to keep getting clearer and clearer, rite, Chief?
“It is not my belief that we’ve got systemic corruption and brutality problems in the department. When we do detect problems, either proactively or with our stings or investigations, when things come to light, I think we’ve got a pretty good track record of moving aggressively on it.”
Okay. Fair enough. So, you’re Catholic, rite?
“I’m basically Catholic, but I’m not a practicing Catholic. I’ve been very fortunate. I had two great parents in my life. So I had what some of these kids don’t have. I grew up in a very poor family. A very poor neighborhood. Cold-water flat, didn’t have running hot water till I went in the Army. My parents, most times in their lives, didn’t have two dimes to rub together, but what they had, they cared for. They made sure we did our school work, et cetera.”
Damn, that’s rough. Straight up Grapes of Wrath. But, Chief, you’re like the mayor, rite? You care, don’t you? I mean, I know you’re a law-enforcement icon and everything, but still.
“Your heart goes out to these kids, but to be quite frank with you, some of them reach a point where they’re callous killers, and I’m sorry, the compassion stops. Life was not dear to them, but you gotta arrest ’em, gotta put ’em away. Do some of them have a potential to turn around? I think that one of the frustrations the cops have is that they see so many try and fail, and others who never try and continue to fail.”
Yeah, that’s bad. Cops and gangsters. It’s just a matter of time till somebody makes the first move, and the kids absorb the inevitable collateral damage. It’s a fact of life in a contest of nerves. So what’s your strategy?