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POINTS WEST

As Body Count Rises, Top Man in Blue Pitches for Green

November 22, 2002|Steve Lopez

Six days, 16 bodies, and blood runs hot in the streets of Los Angeles.

What to do?

You won't find any answers from Mayor Jim Hahn. He's in China, lobbying for a couple of pandas. Hahn might not be able to deliver the bears, we're told. But he did deliver a new chief of police a month ago, and it hasn't taken Bill Bratton long to take control of the city in Hahn's absence.

Get angry, Bratton ordered the entire metropolis this week. Share his outrage and join the fight to reclaim the streets.

Given the mounting body count, I don't know if we ought to be encouraging more anger. But whether you like Bratton's swagger or not, I can't remember anyone getting the whole city to pay attention to something other than a Laker trophy run.

Maybe our Rust Belt import still hasn't figured out that Los Angeles is a far-flung collection of separate worlds.

North of the 10 Freeway, there isn't going to be much hand-wringing over L.A.'s first-place standing in the national murder derby unless the next corpse turns up at one of those Hollywood cocktail parties that Bratton's been crashing.

At least that's my take. But Bratton says he expects to enlist every last one of us in his crime-fighting strategy, and his confabs with the glamorous and the powerful are part of it.

He was ticked off, he said, about an editorial in this paper mentioning he'd been hobnobbing with Cindy Crawford while the bodies were piling up a few miles south.

"You think it's a lot of fun sitting with Cindy Crawford?" Bratton asked.

I can't say. Send me over there to deputize her in the war on crime and I'll let you know.

"What I'm attempting to do is get all those communities angry about this, and you're correct. It's difficult to do in West L.A. and up in Brentwood, because they don't experience it. They can slough it off or shrug it off.

"But what's the headline people are seeing across the nation? L.A., Murder Capital. Investors won't come here, businesses won't locate here."

OK, so we all have a stake in it, economically if not morally. But I still wasn't clear on Cindy Crawford's role as a crime-fighter until Bratton said the magic word.

Money.

He's going to hit her up, and the same goes for a lot of other celebs and high-rollers, some of whom, I might add, make obscene stacks of cash on violent entertainment in a city where parents are afraid to let their children walk to the corner.

Bratton even used the term "Brentwood set" in naming likely targets. My guess is that he's going to either charm them out of their walking-around money or keep talking long enough that they'll write a check just to make him go away.

The ghost of Jack Webb and 300 of L.A.'s finest couldn't convince me that Broadway Bill finds hanging out with celebs a tedious but necessary part of his job. I'd even wager that he figures he's a bigger celebrity than half the Botoxers he's eating tiny sandwiches with.

But the money isn't for him. It's for programs he says will get at the root causes of violence. Education, counseling, gang intervention. Bratton says he can't stop crime from the back end when it's already too late. And he can't stop crime without an escort.

"I want to go after gangbangers, but I don't want to go in there alienating the community with insensitivity and unfocused enforcement," he said, telling me he's met for hours with community leaders in South Los Angeles.

"They want us to come in. But while they have a fear of gangs, they also have a fear of us, and we need to get rid of that fear. The only way to do it is ... through all this cooperation and meetings, listening and learning."

One idea Bratton wants to steal is Baltimore's "Believe" program, a privately funded advertising campaign aimed at uniting the city to address its problems and celebrate its successes.

I'm told by my Baltimore sources that Believe is more show than substance, but Bratton thinks it could be part of the solution in L.A.. It's also the kind of thing you or anyone else can make a donation to if Cindy Crawford is too tight to cover the entire cost.

"It reaches out to all factions, rich and poor," Bratton said. "The business community went crazy because there were ads on TV with dead bodies, people shooting up. But you force people to face up to the reality.... It seeks to rally the city around the cause, and the idea that you can make a difference."

Can Bratton?

I don't know. Talk is cheap, and it's too soon to know whether he's a guy who mends fences or starts fires. A lot of people thought his call to anger was out of line, saying decent people have been both angry and scared for years in places where bullets fly every night, often taking the lives of innocents.

But Bratton is the first guy I've heard talk to residents of this city as if they ought to care about something in a neighborhood other than their own.

"It's about rebuilding trust between police and the community," he said. "We need that same idea of trust between the Korean and black community, which still has open wounds because of the riots; we need trust between whites and blacks and Hispanics. Trust between all of us.

"We can make this the safest city in America, and that might sound pie in the sky, but it's stuff I sincerely believe in."

One month in town, and he already sounds more like the mayor than the mayor.

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com.

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