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
“We’ve never had a period of time where crime has gone down so consistently,” said Bratton, pointing to the document.
With three years still left on his second, and final, five-year term as chief, Bratton seems interested in claiming a one-of-a-kind legacy at one of the world’s best-known police departments. But L.A. City Councilman Herb Wesson doesn’t want to attend Bratton’s retirement party. In late March, Wesson controversially called for public hearings to look into removing term limits for the chief of police through a change to the city’s constitution, which would turn Bratton’s job into an elected position. Wesson, who was known for his failed leadership as California Assembly Speaker before he became an L.A. City Councilman, has gotten a lot of flak for seeking to turn the chief into a politician, complete with fund-raisers and special-interest backers. (The idea would have to be approved through a public referendum of L.A. voters.)
Whether or not Bratton gets another “term” beyond his 10-year limit in 2012, Karmen suggests that Bratton, instead of continuing to use easily manipulated crime rates to praise the LAPD, should focus on actual job performance, primarily by using “clearance rates” — the number of cases closed by an arrest although not a conviction — “property-recovery rates,” and the department’s success in working with the community it serves. “They often don’t want to discuss those numbers,” Karmen says.
While Bratton is “very proud” of the LAPD’s clearance rates, they don’t hold a candle to the rate at which police solved crimes five decades ago; the fact that the bad guys today usually get away is a major reason why so few people feel safe.
In 1956, 89 percent of homicides were cleared. But by 2007, arrests for homicide under Bratton had badly plunged, to just 57 percent of killings — another indicator of how different Los Angeles once was, when street killings were rare and police very quickly had a solid suspect in mind after most murders.
Today, if you kill another human being in Los Angeles, chances are very good you will get away with it: 43 out of every 100 killers are not caught. It’s a fact that spooks the citizenry and leaves everyone feeling unsafe, says Simon.
In 1956, 42 percent of robberies were cleared by an arrest. Today, that number is 26 percent. Simply put, if you are robbed in Los Angeles today, you’ll be very lucky if police ever catch up to the guy who did it. Even more dramatically, in 1956, 83 percent of aggravated assaults were solved. In 2007, you could be openly assaulted on an L.A. street, but police would have to scramble to solve the crime. In today’s far less safe world, despite the picture Villaraigosa and Bratton have tried to draw, just 39 percent — not 83 percent — of aggravated assaults are cleared by an arrest.
Simon and Karmen both say an “antisnitch,” anticop attitude today, particularly in poor, minority communities, where many of these crimes occur, contributes to the drop in clearance rates of serious crimes in Los Angeles and other big cities.
“There’s been a reduction in the willingness of ordinary citizens to report crime to the police,” says Simon. “The main way police solve crimes is that people tell them who did it. That was the case in the 1950s, and it’s still the same today.”
Angelenos also fear gang reprisals if they call the cops, a fear that likely worsened throughout 2007 and much of 2008, as the chief and Villaraigosa repeatedly claimed that a gang crisis was gripping the city, even releasing in 2007 a “Worst 10 Gangs List” that was ridiculed for being based on political and geographic considerations rather than naming the city’s actual worst gangs. Some crime experts warned that Bratton and Villaraigosa were overdramatizing a possibly temporary spike in gang crime, in a campaignlike atmosphere that dovetailed suspiciously with Bratton and Villaraigosa’s call for a higher phone tax — to pay for hiring cops.
Today, the purported gang “crisis” of 2007-08 is rarely spoken of, and a frightening report by lawyer Connie Rice — some critics dubbed it “hysterical” — calling for a billion-dollar “Marshall Plan” against gangs has all but vanished. Los Angeles voters did approve the phone tax, however. Then, last summer, City Controller Laura Chick issued a blistering audit, which concluded that Villaraigosa’s big trash-fee hike of 2006-07, which he had also justified using the promise of hiring more cops, was not going toward the hiring of more cops. Chick openly complained that Villaraigosa withheld that fact until after voters approved the higher phone tax. Now, it is clear from the fine print in the phone-tax measure that, just as with the trash-fee hikes, neither the mayor nor the chief is required to spend it to hire cops.