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Officials Concede L.A.'s Copy Falls Short

November 08, 2002|Doug Smith | Times Staff Writer

Like dozens of other police departments across America, the Los Angeles Police Department got wind of New York's Compstat anti-crime program and copied it.

But Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said the copy falls far short of the original, which he created eight years ago.

As practiced in Los Angeles, he said, it has "evolved into a bunch of people sitting around the table shooting the breeze."

Two commanders who have been responsible for Los Angeles' program, called FASTRAC, said they thought it had been successful in focusing commanders on crime reduction. But they acknowledged that FASTRAC lacks the harsh accountability that marks the New York system.

LAPD Cmdr. Jim McDonnell, Bratton's transition team leader and currently head of FASTRAC, said the top brass put the program's meetings into the hands of bureau commanders, each of whom oversees four or five of the city's 18 patrol divisions. The idea was that they would be more familiar with local problems in the city's vast expanse.

"The reality is we tried to make it more user-friendly," McDonnell said. "But it's hard to audit your own command."

The style of the Los Angeles program was evident in a recent meeting conducted by North Hollywood Division commander Capt. Bruce E. Crosley as he prepared for his appearance at a bureau meeting.

Referring to computer-generated maps, his lead officers briefed him on crimes in the first 12 days of October. They included five homicides, a rash of Saturn car thefts and a resurgence of homeless people at North Hollywood Park.

Crosley listened and occasionally interjected a suggestion. Wasn't there a convicted Saturn thief whose prison term could be up, he asked. The man got out in September, one of the officers said.

"I think we'd want to talk to him," Crosley said.

The tone was collegial.

There was little discussion of strategy, however, how to counter the gang violence behind most of the murders or how to crack a ring of Lexus thieves who were parking hot cars in North Hollywood for a day or two to test whether they were equipped with anti-theft transmitters. Others who might have contributed, such as representatives of the gang and narcotics details, were not present.

The officers knew what Crosley expected to be done, Det. Margaret Moss said afterward. They also knew that Crosley would expect results.

For example, Moss said, officers would sweep the North Hollywood Park area warning people that they could not stay overnight or leave their cars parked there for more than 72 hours. Enforcement would follow.

Nevertheless, the meeting illustrates some of the weaknesses of the LAPD's version of Compstat, said Greg Berg, the retired LAPD deputy chief who set the system up.

"They tended to be sessions where people just informed each other about the crimes," said Berg, now director of community and safety services for Cerritos. "Because we don't want to insult each other, they tend not to ask the hard questions."

Berg said he was "blown away" when he first observed the meetings in New York, because field commanders were being questioned about crime.

"In LAPD at that point, no one asked commanders about crime problems," Berg said. "Not one time did my boss ever ask me about a homicide. Any internal management issues was what you were called on the carpet about, but not crime."

Berg said he expects Bratton to restructure the chain of command so that meetings are conducted by high-level commanders who can order that such units as gang and narcotics cooperate with patrol.

Still, he sees obstacles to implementing the key element of the New York program -- throwing massive resources on crime clusters -- in Los Angeles. Such resources would be hard to muster in a division covering 45 square miles, he said. New York has more than four times as many officers as Los Angeles.

The severity of the officer shortage was apparent at the night-shift roll call at North Hollywood station last week. A watch commander addressed a dozen officers who would soon head out on patrol, each with five calls waiting.

They discussed the Lexus thefts, but didn't plan any specific enforcement. They could, for example, have set up a surveillance, and then followed the car after the thieves came back to reclaim it. But there would be no one to do such a surveillance.

"LAPD is just spread so thinly," Berg said.

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