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His Target: Crime in South L.A.

November 16, 2002|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Vowing to strike at crime where it is most prevalent, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton is planning to unleash a sustained crackdown on gang-related violence in South Los Angeles, aides said Friday.

Bratton called a meeting of top commanders Wednesday to develop a long-term strategy for dealing with growing concerns about the explosion in violent crimes, specifically homicides in three of the four divisions that make up the LAPD's South Bureau -- 77th Street, Southeast and Southwest.

Collectively, 227 of the 570 homicides citywide this year have occurred in those three divisions -- about 40% of the homicide total in the city's 18 police divisions, according to department statistics.

In the short term, the initiative is expected to include deployment of crime-suppression officers from the LAPD's elite Metropolitan Division. Future efforts would include further coordination with federal, state and county law enforcement agencies, department officials said.

Bratton will discuss his plans and hear from residents at a meeting this morning with a neighborhood safety council in the Crenshaw district, which is represented by Los Angeles City Councilman and Assemblyman-elect Mark Ridley-Thomas.

"We'll take our time doing this and make sure it's done right," Bratton said Friday afternoon. "We can't allow the horrendous violence that's taking so many lives and causing so much fear."

Since his selection as chief, Bratton has emphasized that long-term solutions to crime must include community involvement. But in waging a battle against violent crime in South Los Angeles, Bratton confronts a complex and emotional history epitomized by the aggressive anti-gang initiatives of former LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates, Ridley-Thomas said.

While many residents in the area have begged for a tougher stance against street gangs and vandalism, they have also bristled at past policing methods that they perceived as brutal, racist and dismissive of civil rights.

Gates flooded South-Central streets with officers in Operation Hammer, which targeted gang members but swept up many innocent residents. Incidents under Gates included the infamous 1988 Dalton Avenue drug raid in which LAPD officers smashed furniture, slashed sofas and punched holes in the walls of apartments.

"You have to know the history and you have to build up goodwill," Ridley-Thomas said. "The difficulty is that Bratton remains an unknown [here], and until he displays what kind of chief he is going to be, there's a risk involved in any high-profile or heavy-duty tactics.

"Because police work is imprecise, there will be the predictable mistakes made and there will certainly be problems with officers who violate people's rights. He must be on hand to deal with those issues."

For his part, Bratton said Friday that he is mindful of the community's sensitivity and does not intend "to send in the cavalry." He said he intends to institute assertive, rather than aggressive, policing that emphasizes respect for civil rights.

The paradox, Bratton said, is that community residents "want strong police, visible policing, but they don't want racial profiling and policing that's not constitutional. We're committed to that. We can build a trust between the officers and the community."

Bratton has also promised to communicate closely with community leaders and said last month that he was devising a system to quickly notify them in case of any problems. The chief has stopped short of committing to an overall deployment plan for the area, saying he must first conduct a top-to-bottom review of the department that takes into account the specific jobs and placement of each officer.

Bratton also said he is waiting for the implementation of his Compstat computer system, which will allow him to track and attack crime in real time.

"Our goal is to provide police services to all the communities in the city of Los Angeles," LAPD spokesman Lt. Horace Frank said. "Clearly there are some that will require more resources than others. We'll make those decisions to deploy personnel based on the needs."

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