Boston-bred William Bratton was appointed L.A.’s 54th police chief in October 2002 and — for the most part — has shaken up the behemoth institution for the better. In the past, LAPD chiefs had a horrid habit of surrounding themselves with rubber-stamp-wielding command staff. Instead, Bratton packed Parker Center with progressive thinkers and made it clear from the get-go that department yes men (and women) were no longer comme il faut. Also, unlike past chiefs who treated members of the press as enemy combatants, Bratton correctly intuited that if you didn’t actively shoot at the press — or shut them out — they were less likely to shoot at you without provocation. Oh, yeah, he also managed to drop the city’s crime rate, while continuing to make substantive progress in transforming the thin-blue-line organization and culture of a department that had resisted such transformation for the last half century.
Where the 58-year-old Bratton has gotten himself into trouble — particularly in South L.A. — is with his early characterization of gang members as urban terrorists. The communities most drastically affected by gang violence wanted a responsive police presence but recoiled at any rhetoric smacking of the heavy-handed tactics of past decades. Also, some see him as less than vigorous in rooting out the cop misbehavior that South and East L.A. residents insist continues to occur. The other Needs Improvement grade on Bratton’s four-year report card will likely be the perception that he’s out of the city too many days a year.
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Yet, all in all, L.A. likes its smart, capable, charismatic chief who shows up at city events with his smart, charismatic TV personality wife (Rikki Klieman), gets respect from the rank and file and the city’s leader, and is cool enough to be featured as a barely disguised character in last spring’s Michael Connelly novel.