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Take Heed, Chief

LAPD Chief-Apparent Bill Bratton talked a lot and talked tough last week, and he seemed to be saying what everyone wanted to hear. He said his new department was slack and inefficient. He told LAPD consent-decree dissidents, who not long ago were extremely vocal, to get out. He said he could reduce violence and cut crime at the same time. He said he would use local, instead of imported, talent to upgrade management. By coincidence, three local talents whom he mentioned by name happened to have been runner-up chief applicants -- Sharon Papa, George Gascon and David Kalish. He talked about dealing with homelessness and graffiti, subjects most officials have ignored for years.

He said a lot of other things that suggested what a masterful politician Bill Bratton can be. His reception has accordingly been overwhelmingly favorable -- even, since hope springs eternal, as brand-new police chiefs go in this town. And we‘re not even in the honeymoon yet -- in fact, the official wedding, a.k.a. the City Council confirmation, will come Friday.

No one is happier with Bratton than Mayor Jim Hahn. Every time I see him, he seems to have a broader smile on his face. Towering over a City Hall elevator full of his staffers Friday, the mayor said, “I made the obvious choice.” Certainly, he’s made the most popular appointment of his career. Maybe Bratton is equally happy. Hard to say. He‘s got this poker face. And, apart from a couple of editorial board meetings and a North Hollywood Station news conference, Bill Bratton hasn’t been doing much with the media yet.

On the other hand, Bratton‘s been hitting the neighborhood councils, which is indeed shrewd of him; his weekend visit to the citywide council congress’ budget meeting both legitimized the novel representative panels and associated the chief with them.

And starting last Saturday, Bratton showed the city just how quickly he can correct his own course. There had been grumbling from some members of the City Council with whom Bratton had been slow to spend time.

One council staffer for a notoriously crime-ridden district noted that his boss “was offered just 15 minutes‘’ with the new chief. This the councilman considered an insult. ”What he wants to do is to give the chief a full ride-along in the district, to every top crime spot, to show what‘s there and what needs to change,“ the assistant said. This councilman had previously complained of how former Police Chief Bernie Parks’ organizational ineptitude and professional inattention were putting local homicide stats through the roof. In short, this is one of those districts that ought to get immediate attention from the incoming chief.

Due, perhaps, to such resentments, none of the seven minority L.A. council members showed up at the jam-packed North Hollywood love fest last Thursday. But Saturday morning, Bratton took a hint from City Council President Alex Padilla -- that there really is an L.A. City Council, which, unlike city councils in Boston and New York, really has some power -- particularly over the LAPD budget. By Monday, Bratton had taken ride-alongs with at least three members -- Janis Hahn, Nick Pacheco and Wendy Greuel. Is this a guy without a learning curve?

Fred Siegal, an urbanologist and senior fellow at New York‘s Cooper Union, noted that ”The mayor’s appointment of a police chief sets the tone of his administration. It‘s like the presidential appointment of a chief justice.“ But beyond that, the chief and mayor must build a kind of personal bonding chemistry. Such as did not exist between Bernie Parks and Hahn; Willie Williams and Dick Riordan; and -- most tragically -- between Daryl Gates and Tom Bradley.

We all know that Bratton’s failure to connect with the mayor of New York cost him his job there. But as Rudy Giuliani biographer Andrew Kirtzman points out, the Bratton-Giuliani relationship was bad even when Bratton was hired. Giuliani predicted that his new chief ”was going to be such a prima donna“ even before Bratton‘s appointment took effect. (Kirtzman further notes that Bratton’s initial clash over getting too much press came eight days after he took office). Hahn knows about the Giuliani past and has specifically said he won‘t mind such publicity if it comes along with success in fighting crime and updating the LAPD. And the relationship between the two looks extremely good so far.

So Bratton doesn’t have to worry about another Rudy predicament. That‘s why he’s wise to spend more time with council members in the high-crime districts. Spend a little more time with them, Bill -- they may have egos nearly as big as your own, but on the whole they‘re not a bad bunch. And you’ll learn more about local crime from them than you ever could hanging around the Mayor‘s Office or Parker Center.

There’s one more person Bratton should get to know. That‘s Sheriff Lee Baca. Bratton’s been telling everyone that he‘s ”the new sheriff in town.“ Well, guess what, we already have one of those, and Bratton isn’t him. Again, Bratton may be suffering from inexperience. In New York, sheriffs are glorified process servers. Not here. Baca runs a department bigger than the LAPD and patrols a far larger area. Himself a highly innovative lawman, Baca knows more about local crime than Bernie Parks ever did, and his patrol areas intermingle with the city‘s tough spots. Which alone is one terrific reason to get to know him: A decisive factor in the 1992 riots was that then-Sheriff Sherman Block, since then-Chief Daryl Gates failed to ask him, didn’t send his forces into South-Central to assist the LAPD when things blew up.

A more pressing reason for Bratton to befriend Baca: If Bratton‘s going to start multiplying arrest rates, as he did in New York, the arrestees are all going to have to go into Sheriff Baca’s already overcrowded jails. If Baca can bring himself to find room for them. ”Make new friends, but keep the old,“ as the wise old Brownie song goes.

New Otani Again

One other thing that seems to have irked some minority council members about Bratton was his recent, unselfconscious residence at the New Otani Hotel. That‘s the City Hall--proximate downtown hostelry that is perhaps the biggest single symbol of union busting in the state. We noted this gaucherie here last week.

Now it turns out that Mayor Jim Hahn somehow had himself scheduled to speak at the same hotel on October 18 to a gathering of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce. I started asking around about this pending blunder last week, and now this week came a notice that the event had been moved to the solidly union Hyatt Regency. No one seems to want to take credit for the move, but nice going, whoever you are.


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