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STANDING UP TO STREET GANGS

Will Bratton Keep His Vow?

October 28, 2002

On the day Mayor James K. Hahn named him police chief, William H. Bratton told a crowd of East Los Angeles mothers that he would end gang slaughter.

"Every day, the men and women of this department will be in that ring, fighting for you," he said, waving a pinstriped sleeve toward the roped canvas where gold medalist Paul Gonzalez once boxed his way to Olympic history and now coaches kids to stay out of trouble. "The fear that you feel will be a distant memory, one your children and grandchildren will never have to feel."

Today Bratton officially begins his job as Los Angeles' top cop in a Police Academy ceremony with bagpipes and a helicopter flyover. Whether he keeps the promise made to hopeful, skeptical moms in that gymnasium on East 1st Street will determine his legacy.

That early appearance at Hollenbeck Youth Center, which is supported by local businesses and neighborhood volunteers, underscores his understanding of the one-two punch -- cop and community -- needed to knock down crime.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 29, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 14 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Street gangs -- An editorial in Monday's Times had the wrong first name for the man who who helped define the "broken windows" theory of crime fighting. His name is James Q. Wilson.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 30, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 12 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Police chief -- Editorials Sunday and Monday had the wrong middle initial for Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton.

As the nation's gang capital, Los Angeles has tried everything from monstrous battering rams to gang truces. But the people running the federal, state, county and city efforts don't always talk to each other, and private programs compete as much as cooperate, each grabbing at the same grant money. Bratton has ordered a who-does-what evaluation of the Los Angeles Police Department. He should do the same with anti-gang programs, demanding a rigorous assessment, and then refuse to support failures, such as DARE, the drug abuse prevention program.

At the same time, he should champion what does work. Example: The Pacific Division's Community Law Enforcement and Recovery program. CLEAR focuses on one area and it houses in one office the cops who investigate gang crime, district attorneys who understand the difficulties of gang prosecutions (witnesses who wind up dead, for instance) and probation officers who can track gangsters as they cycle in and out of jail. Reserve officers volunteer to work with truants and curfew violators to make sure they don't take the next step into worse behavior. The result: Violent crime dropped for two years running, while climbing in other divisions.

In a nod to William Q. Wilson's astute theory that ramshackle houses turn into crack dens when broken windows go unrepaired, Bratton plans to target "quality of life" violations, especially graffiti. Smart move. Anyone who has watched tired men and women in work clothes avert their eyes as swaggering young toughs deface a city bus knows how spray cans can embolden bad guys and make the good feel impotent.

City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's neighborhood prosecutors are already out busting blight. Against all odds, artists and other activists are reclaiming parts of the Los Angeles River once best suited for dumping bodies. A police chief whose favorite college class was art appreciation could make unlikely alliances.

But chief, please make sure you hold those alliances together, because this city has a sorry history in trying to stay almost any anti-gang course. Example: A few years ago, a Rand researcher and a UC Irvine professor started a pilot project in Boyle Heights based on Operation Cease-Fire, a collaboration in Boston among cops, social workers and preachers. Boston went two years without a juvenile homicide -- until complacency set in again and homicides soared. What happened in Los Angeles was worse. Police commanders and officers never stuck around long enough for the partnership to take hold.

Some cops still think it's wimpy to fight crime alongside anyone who doesn't carry a gun. Bratton needs to break his troops of that attitude.

"It's the cop's job," retired L.A.County Sheriff's Detective Wes McBride says, "to make the criminal lifestyle uncomfortable." But that task will remain Sisyphean as long as potential criminals see no other route, the sage on gang behavior adds. "Most of the bangers I've dealt with come from some kind of dysfunctional family," McBride says. "If they can't read and write -- and most of them can't very well -- they work low-wage jobs. Their kids run on the streets and become more little gang members."

Los Angeles' anxious mothers need help. They need a tough chief who will track down and jail the gangbangers who kill their children. They also need someone who will work with them to keep good kids from turning bad. Only then will their children and grandchildren live free of fear.

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