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Bratton Issues a Stern Warning on Gangs to LAPD Commanders

October 30, 2002|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Street gangs pervade Los Angeles, and their criminality may soon turn the city into American's most violent, Police Chief William J. Bratton warned Tuesday.

"It is quite likely this year we will become the murder capital of the United States," Bratton told a gathering of the Los Angeles Police Department's top leaders in a blunt, hourlong, profanity-studded speech that alternated between praise and threats.

Bratton told 114 LAPD leaders that they must reverse the tide by quickly putting more officers on the streets. Bratton identified the gang problem as one of more than two dozen priorities for the first 60 days of his administration.

Pledging to run a transparent department, Bratton insisted that officers will enforce the law without breaking the law. "There will not be another Rampart," Bratton said, referring to the corruption scandal that has rocked the department

Some of those attending -- commanders of the rank of captain and above -- characterized Bratton's address as unprecedented.

While praising the dedication of the force, Bratton cursed those who would work against his program, telling them of their careers, "kiss it goodbye."

Speaking in the glare of television lights, Bratton promised to "flip the department upside down" in an effort to return it to past glory.

Most of the city is extremely safe, Bratton said. But, he added, "there is not enough appreciation for the destructive nature of gangs and the image the rest of the country has in some parts of the city. In the long term, gang violence in the city will destroy the city. It is in their [good neighborhoods'] interest to get into this fight."

The chief said the biggest sin a commander can commit under his watch is not knowing the specific reasons behind any crime trends.

He also promised an open department with no secrets, said he would detail neighborhood-by-neighborhood crime statistics and revealed that there are 60 officers assigned to desk duty because of domestic violence complaints.

To do more with less, Bratton said the LAPD has to go after federal money that is available in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and cooperate with other police agencies, from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to the FBI.

At the same time, he said, the LAPD needs to protect its own turf by retaining its contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to provide security.

Bratton also expressed concern about the department's comparatively thin staffing, greatly exacerbated by the fact that as many as 10% of sworn officers are unavailable for street policing due to sick leave, light duty or legal issues.

Bratton said the city must develop a citywide crime strategy while strengthening compliance with terms of a court settlement reached after federal officials found a pattern of civil rights abuses by the LAPD.

Bratton said he will personally oversee the meetings in which captains are held responsible for knowing about crime trends and producing plans of action.

Citing the release this week of 2001 FBI statistics, he said he wanted an immediate picture of crime in Los Angeles, saying: "We need to know what happened an hour ago."

There have been 553 murders in Los Angeles so far this year, according to the LAPD. Last year, there were 483 murders during the same period and 591 for the year. The rate has dropped considerably from 1992 when 1,092 people were murdered.

To return more officers to patrol, commanders need to place more value on civilians as employees, Bratton said.

He promised to seek "quick hits" to improve the daily lives of officers. He drew laughter and applause when he said one of the first orders he signed allows officers to stop shining their Sam Browne belts with black polish.

Former Chief Bernard C. Parks issued a special order last year forbidding the use of a polish substitute that is easier to maintain. Complaining that the black polish on his new belt got on everything, Bratton added, "I don't like dirty fingernails."

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Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this report.

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