To read about it in the Times, the thing might have been the worst local catastrophe since the 1994 quake. On the front page of Saturday's Metro section, Dick Riordan publicist and occasional Times reporter Jim Newton called a federal decision not to hand the city some law-enforcement money "a stunning slap at Los Angeles' law-enforcement record."
"Riordan administration officials were surprised and angered by the White House decision to bypass the city," he continued. Newton further told us that Los Angeles really should have got itself a big hunk of this year's $100 million in federal law-enforcement funds. But didn't.
Indeed, one unnamed Riordan official was quoted as virtually threatening retaliation against the feds: "It's no more Mister Nice Guy." I guess that means that the city may order its traffic officers to tow away government cars parked at the nearby U.S. District Court. Is there any other way Los Angeles could really hurt Uncle? But then, what we are really talking about here is severely injured vanity. Police funding is the very issue for whose sake Riordan had last year hitched a much-publicized (by Newton) front-page limo ride with Vice President Al Gore. It just didn't seem fair that such ludicrously extreme efforts should come to naught.
At least it didn't seem fair to the Newton-Riordan team. With his unique sense of cause and effect, Riordan boasted that crime in the city had "dropped by 40 percent." But, "Instead of being rewarded with more federal funding, Los Angeles is being penalized for its crime-fighting results."
It's true, of course, that crime's been sinking here, much as it has across the country over the past few years. According to the Associated Press' May 17 tally, "Crimes reported to the FBI in 1996 and 1997," incidence of crime in Los Angeles dropped from 235,258 down to 204,554 between 1996 and 1997. This decrease comes to under 14 percent. Not bad, considering that role model New York City's crime figure decreased only 10 percent during this period. (Some of the highest drops reported were in the formerly crime-ridden cities of New Orleans and Washington, in both of which reports of malfeasance sank 15 percent. Interestingly, the Northwestern "lifestyle" capitals of Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, showed actual crime increases of, respectively, 2 percent and 5 percent.)
So what's the complaint? Well, for one thing, the mayor's 1998-99 police budget is reported to be around $14 million short. Federal money would have helped fill the hole, of course. And that's what it had been doing. Riordan, like the L.A. County officials of the early 1990s, had become addicted to balancing his budget with one-time grants, in his case to expand the LAPD. When last year's police-hire grant started to run out, the Riordan minions expected another Washington funding source to patch up LAPD matters. This time, they didn't get it.
The feds could have been blunt about it, saying something like lack of planning on your part is not our problem. As it happened, however, they chose simply to ignore Riordan and his bumblers.
To judge by its disbursements, the Clinton administration evidently decided to divide this year's $100-million-plus in law-enforcement funds among cities with less success in fighting crime. I was interested that none of the 18 benefiting cities named in Newton's report were among those relatively few places - like Chula Vista or Columbus, Ohio - where, according to the FBI, crime has actually risen. Rather, funds were awarded to cities like Baltimore, or Flint, Michigan, or Cleveland, in which small but visible (1 percent to 9 percent) crime reductions were already taking place. Do the feds help those who help themselves? I don't know. But it's clear they believe their money is better spent on cities just getting a handle on the crime problem rather than those already boasting crime-fighting success stories. Such as this one.
Seems a sensible policy to me. But then I'm not a rubicund millionaire urban potentate, justly renowned for his complete inability to keep his cool. Or see the big picture.
Catching Up With Mark Bravo
Early this year, this column reported how Mark Bravo, a 39-year-old senior male nurse at Norwalk's Metropolitan State Hospital, collected an undisputed $875,000 claim from Los Angeles County. This was for the county's role in the 1990 prosecution that sent him to prison for over three years for a crime he didn't commit: the rape of a female patient.
According to the county's own claims report, in his trial, Bravo was initially denied the DNA tests that, months after his conviction and sentencing, proved him innocent. As did the patient's eventual recantation of her accusation. He was finally released from prison in early 1994.
But his story didn't end with the claim payment. On April 27, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge awarded him $3.9 million in his further claim against the state, whose investigators had, according to the judge, "deliberately and with malice" deprived him of his defendant's rights in the case. Four weeks after this whopping settlement, Bravo graduated with honors from Fullerton's Western States University Law School.
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I called Bravo to ask him what he planned to do with himself, now that he's finally free, vindicated, enriched and empowered. He said he intends to use his settlement and knowledge of the legal system from the inside out "to see what I can do for the others who need help and stand unjustly accused in the legal system. I know there's a need and I intend to provide something."than $4 million in resources, and with the help of his faculty friends at WSU, he said he's creating a foundation - eventually to be self-supporting - that will come to the aid of men and women in his former predicament.
What kept him going during those three prison years? Mostly, he said, "the support of my family" - his wife and three children, who never doubted he was innocent.
Beyond that, Bravo said, in order to win against the system, "You have to be willing to go to the limit - and
Bravo, who had previously worked as a nurse in Los Angeles County's jails, said that being in prison showed him the dire need for some kind of institution to help the unjustly accused and convicted. But it wasn't until he got out and was in law school that he realized "I was in a unique position to do something about this need." Now, with more sometimes that limit is a long way away." But also, "I have a belief that the Lord doesn't put us through more than we can handle."