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Can Bratton's System Work in L.A.?

Police chief targeted crime hot spots in N.Y. He is expected to reform similar LAPD system.

November 08, 2002|Doug Smith | Times Staff Writer

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT, N.Y. — The man in the leather jacket with the miniature assault rifle dangling from a chain around his neck had no doubt who sparked the recent renewal of this Brooklyn suburb.

"Giuliani tried to take credit," he says. "But Bratton's The Man."

Six years after William J. Bratton, L.A.'s new police chief, got booted as New York's top cop by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, he is still revered here by people like Caesar Calderone, a former corrections officer who now runs a security business.

"If he runs for president, I'll hand out fliers for him," Calderone says, interrupting a midday chat with two friends outside a row of freshly painted brownstones. The neighborhood had been blighted by vacant storefronts and street crime since the riots of the 1960s.

Bratton has promised to deliver in Los Angeles the police reforms that he credits for a renaissance of public safety in New York.

His primary tool is a crime-fighting program called Compstat, which he started when he headed the New York Police Department.

Compstat uses computer mapping to identify crime hot spots and then requires precinct commanders to figure out a solution. Far from just computer wizardry, police bosses use weekly crime figures to pressure police managers for results. Promotions or stalled careers are often determined by how well precinct commanders in the NYPD respond to spikes in crime.

Bratton boasts that Compstat has revolutionized policing and is responsible, in significant measure, for the rapid drop in violent crime over the last half-dozen years.

Although many criminologists attribute falling crime to such broader social trends as the retreat of the crack epidemic, Bratton's system has been adopted by dozens of police departments across the country.

New York has had three new commissioners since Bratton left the post in 1996, but the top brass in the NYPD say they still practice Compstat in largely the same way Bratton and his chief strategist, the late Jack Maple, set it up.

"Compstat is the reason that crime will not, will not, go up in New York City again," Bratton said. "There will be spikes, peaks here and there, but overall crime in New York City, you will not see it go up. It's gone down for 12 straight years. It's going to continue to go down in that city, and Compstat is the engine driving it."

The celebrated renaissance of Manhattan across the East River has spawned a wave of tourism to trendy new spots like the restaurants on Greenwich Street in TriBeCa.

Less heralded is the impact of the city's aggressive policing on such depressed areas as Bedford-Stuyvesant, the largely black and Latino suburb in Brooklyn that is still no tourist attraction but now has a thriving commercial district.

From the postman walking his route to store owners under the dank shadow of the Broadway elevated train, people say they feel safer.

"It was very tough before," said Persio Genao from behind the counter of his cramped convenience store and grill.

For years, he said, drug dealers, drunks and thugs made a gantlet for his customers on the street right outside his store.

"Now it's a lot more safe," Genao said. "No question about that."

"You say, 'I'm going to call the police,' most of the time they go," brother and co-owner Jose Genao pitched in.

There may still be a lively debate over who got rid of the bums, the panhandlers, the muggers, the drug dealers and the prostitutes. The Genao brothers vote for Giuliani, who they said stood up to doubters.

But many merchants said police protection improved dramatically starting with Bratton and that it has stayed that way.

"The drug guys come out later in the afternoon," said Elliott Polinsky, third-generation owner of Gates Lumber. "They see a cop, they walk the other way as opposed to they see a cop, they spit on them."

The heart of the Compstat program is the weekly crime-fighting session conducted by the department bosses.

Precinct commanders are selectively called to the Compstat meeting and find themselves being grilled by Chief of Department Joseph Esposito and Deputy Commissioner Garry F. McCarthy. Esposito is the highest ranking uniformed officer, responsible for all operations. McCarthy, a crew-cut 21-year NYPD veteran, is on a leave of absence to fill the civilian post responsible for crime reduction. Compstat is his No. 1 focus.

Both men report directly to Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, the department's top official. McCarthy said that relationship is essential.

"I can't blast someone who outranks me," he said.

Each week McCarthy reviews a book of crime stats before deciding which precinct commanders to summon. He sends detectives into the precincts to scout for such quality-of-life issues as prostitution and vagrancy. He and Esposito then press the commanders to explain how they will address the problems and why they haven't already done so.

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