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Hahn Picks Bratton to Lead Police Force

LAPD: The mayor's choice was in charge in New York when crime dropped substantially, but some objected to his high-profile style.

October 03, 2002|TINA DAUNT and GEOFFREY MOHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

William J. Bratton, the brash former boss of the New York City Police Department, was tapped Wednesday by Mayor James K. Hahn to lead the Los Angeles Police Department, city officials said.

Hahn informed City Council members of his decision Wednesday afternoon and was expected to formally announce his choice this morning at the North Hollywood police station.

Bratton gained nationwide fame during his two-year tenure as New York City police commissioner because he oversaw a steep drop in crime. His selection to head the LAPD provoked widespread praise from political leaders and the police rank and file--and only muted disappointment from others.

Hahn has characterized the selection of a police chief as the most important of his administration and has said the LAPD is a deeply troubled institution in need of strong leadership.

His choice of an outsider disappointed many council members and LAPD officers who had supported Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez, the only Latino candidate and the only one on the list with LAPD experience.

Others had considered former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney, once a deputy to Bratton, a formidable blend of old-fashioned beat cop and progressive intellectual.

Police Commission President Rick Caruso, who led the five-month search for police chief candidates, praised the choice, as well as what he described as Hahn's "very careful and methodical" deliberations.

"He's been tested," Caruso said of Bratton. "He knows the players. He's an incredibly accomplished guy. We had three great choices, but I think Bill is the best of the best. We need that to make Los Angeles the safest big city in the country.

" ... I thought he could hit the ground running," added Caruso, who along with the mayor was impressed by Bratton's knowledge of the department.

Bratton, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, could begin work as early as next week if a majority of council members approve the appointment, as expected.

Councilman Jack Weiss, a Bratton backer, called the nod "a terrifically strong choice. Bill Bratton will come to Los Angeles and turn the LAPD around. It's an on-the-merits pick, and that's good news for the city."

Capt. Jim Tatreau, who heads the department's Robbery-Homicide Division and is president of the Command Officers Assn., said Bratton is the right choice not only because of his considerable experience but also his proven record of reducing big-city crime.

"While in New York, he demonstrated that he knew how to reduce crime on city streets, and we absolutely need that here," Tatreau said. "Crime reduction has not gotten the emphasis at all times that it should in this city, and Bratton will make it a top priority.... Los Angeles street cops are going to be excited to come to work for Bill Bratton."

The president of the police union, Mitzi Grasso, agreed that officers will get behind Bratton. "This selection will not only create a better department but a safer city. We are looking forward to working with Chief Bratton. I left him a message on his voice mail saying, 'Hey, boss....' "

Councilman Eric Garcetti was among those who pushed for Lopez. "There were all kinds of reasons we could have gone with other people, and some of us may have preferred other candidates, but this is the mayor's hour and we need to get behind his choice," Garcetti said.

Bratton will inherit a department contending with low officer morale, a shortage of 1,000 officers, a rising crime rate and a slate of court-ordered reforms.

Lopez, a former LAPD deputy chief, said he was disappointed and a little surprised, but not envious.

"I think it's going to be a really difficult situation for him," he said of Bratton.

Timoney said he will not comment publicly until the decision is announced by Hahn.

The mayor called Lopez about 1:40 p.m., but did not explain why he chose Bratton, the Oxnard chief said.

"But I really think the fact that he had that big-city experience was probably the biggest selling point to the mayor," Lopez said. "I just told him that I was disappointed but I thought he was doing what's right for the city of Los Angeles, and that I feel confident that Bill Bratton would do a good job for the city."

Insiders said Hahn started leaning toward Bratton after his first interview last week, shortly after the Police Commission gave the mayor its list of finalists. But Hahn continued to meet with top advisors late into the night Tuesday, and reconvened them Wednesday morning.

"I gave the mayor my advice, and I know he talked to a lot of people," Caruso said. "As of last night, the mayor was still giving it a lot of thought."

Those familiar with the selection process said the 54-year-old former NYPD commissioner demonstrated an "intimate knowledge" both of the LAPD and Los Angeles, garnered during his year spent as a member of the team overseeing the Police Department's compliance with a federal consent decree.

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