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Listen Up When Latinos Speak, Chief Bratton

LAPD diversity and gang crime top their list.

October 13, 2002|Frank del Olmo

Given how troubled the recent history of the Los Angeles Police Department has been, the City Council vote confirming Mayor James K. Hahn's selection of William J. Bratton to head the LAPD for the next five years was notably noncontentious. In the end, the only dissenters from Hahn's choice were Councilman Nate Holden and a small group of Mexican American activists.

Holden has spent the last few years being City Hall's quasi-official contrarian, so his "no" vote was not that surprising.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss the criticism leveled at Bratton by the handful of Latinos who would have preferred that Hahn select another finalist for the LAPD's top job, Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez. There is more to their complaint than ethnic politics or wounded pride among LAPD insiders who wanted Lopez, an LAPD member for 27 years.

A closer look at Bratton's critics, and what they said, suggests that the new chief would be well advised to reach out to them, as he did to the Latin American Law Enforcement Assn., or La Ley, which represents many of the LAPD's 3,000 Latino officers.

While not as well known as the Latino leaders who supported Bratton, the members of the ad hoc Latino committee that faulted Hahn's selection of the former head of the Boston and New York police departments are no slouches. One, Dora Sanchez, is the president of LACECA, the association of Latino city employees. Two, Art Madrid and Al Rubalcava, are former LAPD officers who between them gave more than 60 years of service to the city before retiring. Another is a veteran gang-crime expert, Gus Frias, who has spent more time trying to root out L.A.'s endemic street gangs than many better-known gang workers -- usually without publicity and often quite effectively. Their committee had specific concerns, and statistics to back them up, that they believe Bratton must address.

One is an internal problem. The LAPD has become one-third Latino and the city it serves almost one-half Latino. Despite the fact that many young Latinos are drawn to law enforcement careers, there is a dearth of Latino leadership in the LAPD. Of 112 command officers, only 12 are Latino. So one of the specific demands that the Latino committee made of Bratton was to have a policy of ensuring departmental leadership that reflects the diversity of Los Angeles.

"How can there be mentoring when there are so few role models?" says Rubalcava, a former La Ley president. "No wonder so many young officers tell themselves--almost subconsciously--that trying for promotions isn't worth the hassle, and prefer to stay where they are, in patrol or detective work."

But the committee's other demand is even more significant. It wants Bratton held accountable for controlling the city's long-standing gang problem, and particularly addressing the increasing number of gang killings.

"So far all I've heard Bratton talk about is quality-of-life crimes, like eliminating graffiti," says Madrid. "It'll take a lot more than that to deal with some of the gangs on the Eastside that have been around for 30 or 40 years."

Indeed, the LAPD's own statistics indicate that, as of August, gang homicides in the Eastside's Hollenbeck Division were up to 32, twice as many as by August 2000. Gang killings doubled in the Rampart Division, from nine by August 2001 to 18 this year. And in the South Bureau, which covers the black and Latino neighborhoods that sprawl from the Santa Monica Freeway to the harbor, gang homicides stood at an appalling 119 as of August.

"The killings in our community are the key issue," says Frias. "And I worry that he doesn't know this community.... Even someone who does know it, like [Los Angeles County Sheriff] Lee Baca, is struggling to get his arms around the gang problem.... Bratton sure won't do it by focusing on graffiti, or hassling every kid with a shaved head or baggy pants.... Eventually you need substance to match the rhetoric."

"We'll be watching him," Rubalcava says of Bratton.

Good advice, I'd say, from some Latinos skeptical about the city's new police chief.


Frank del Olmo is associate editor of The Times

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