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
Chick’s slam of Villaraigosa for claiming that the trash-fee hike was desperately needed for the hiring of cops, and Bratton’s involvement in whipping up public sentiment for the subsequent phone-tax hike, again with the claim that more cops would be hired, have fed criticism over Bratton’s controversial jump into politics, including sticking his nose into the 32nd Congressional District race on May 19, being fought mostly in San Gabriel Valley communities outside L.A.’s city limits.
The chief has taken to endorsing a dizzying array of candidates and ballot measures, and that has even some Bratton supporters worried. The subtext is becoming, What if we can’t trust the chief?
Bratton argues that the public’s perception is the best gauge of how his department is performing. “I’m very happy to be judged on what the public thinks of us,” Bratton says. “The public thinks quite well of us, actually. I think the last time I saw poll ratings about me they were up in the high 70s. The last time I saw ratings about this department, they were certainly higher than political figures, [or] news media. Basically, police were rated very, very highly.”
On the other hand, he’s not much for taking criticism, like comments from sociologist Klein that Bratton is pushing the bounds of believability these days. Bratton gets personal — and not entirely rational — in slamming the somewhat obscure USC emeritus professor, seeming to say that Klein’s lack of fame is germaine to whether Klein can legitimately question Bratton. “That’s his opinion,” says the chief, “and what the hell do I care about his opinion? Nobody is listening to him anyway. I don’t know who he is, and if you walked down the street and asked the first 100 Angelenos do they know who he is, they’re not going to know.”
At the same time, Bratton insists that the reporting of crime statistics is “not just for public consumption,” describing the data as “the engine that drives the police department in terms of measuring how we’re doing, where we need to put additional resources, what’s working, what’s not working. We’re just like a doctor looking at a patient every day.”
Gary Nanson was one of those LAPD cops who worked for Bratton and welcomed the chief’s heavy use of statistics to “put additional resources” in crime hot spots. But it quickly became apparent to Nanson, a recently retired lieutenant and leading Valley gang expert, that Bratton wasn’t interested in reforming the way the department compiles and uses information for fighting gang crime.
“[The statistics] don’t come close to reality,” Nanson says. He believes the way the LAPD identifies gang members and gang crime is creating “bad information.” That means, says Nanson, “When you’re using the wrong numbers, your crime-fighting plan will be wrong, too.” Nanson believes Bratton “manipulates” gang statistics, and, further, that LAPD captains throughout the city feel the heat to give the chief the data, and thus the results, he wants.
“You have intense pressure to lower crime,” Nanson explains, “so you may find innovative ways to do that.”
Professor Levine of Queens College agrees. “Police departments can juke the statistics in subtle ways,” he says. “You can downgrade, in effect, what you [arrest] people for,” when the desire is to show less crime, and vice versa.
LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, the commanding officer of the Detective Bureau, says Nanson’s charges are way off base. “If you cook the books,” Beck says, “it’s administrative death. You won’t be running anything around here. Bratton is very clear about that.”
Those views are echoed by George Tita, a professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. Tita says Bratton’s careful tracking of, and response to, crime trends with CompStat, a computer program that breaks down crime information in a timely way citywide, has been an effective crime-fighting approach that “holds everybody accountable.”
“The ability to reduce homicides in L.A. is nothing short of amazing,” Tita says.
But Bratton’s turf isn’t the only place where the homicide rate is declining — and most aren’t using the Bratton approach. In Compton, patrolled by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and once one of the nation’s most dangerous cities, killings are in a freefall — from 65 homicides in 2005 to 28 last year, the fewest since 1985, when fewer people lived in the troubled working-class town. Overall, the Sheriff’s Department, which patrols 40 of the county’s 88 cities, saw in 2006 a 13 percent drop in homicides, and, even after that big drop, a plummet of 17 percent in 2007. San Diego, which has long enjoyed a low homicide rate, still saw a 15 percent decrease in killings in 2007 — from 68 to 58.
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