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The Nation | NEWS ANALYSIS

Finalists Offer Distinctly Different Pluses for Hahn

September 20, 2002|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn now faces a choice between two nationally known East Coast police managers and a veteran of the LAPD who departed in 1998 to become a small-town chief but returns in hopes of claiming the department's top job.

William J. Bratton, former commissioner of the New York Police Department, offers Hahn the option of a proven crime-fighter. Under Bratton's watch, serious felonies in the nation's largest city dropped by 33% in about two years; murders dropped by half.

John Timoney, who served under Bratton in New York, went to Philadelphia, where he inherited a historically troubled agency and steered it toward respectability. The department was widely credited with successfully handling the national Republican Party convention in 2000.

Art Lopez spent much of his career at the LAPD, only to leave for Oxnard after being passed over for chief here. Unlike his competitors, Lopez's time with the LAPD arms him with a sense of the department's political history and its hidden strengths and weaknesses.

"All three have experience as chiefs, which in some sense makes it easier for Hahn to evaluate them for this role," said USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, who helped write the City Charter and led an investigation commissioned by the police union into the LAPD's Rampart scandal. "Hahn can look at how they have performed with regard to the key criteria: How have they done with morale with the rank and file; what kind of culture did they instill in their departments; what is their record with regard to civil liberties; what are their administrative skills, and what is their ability to work with the many constituencies the chief has to deal with."

In recent weeks, Hahn has spelled out in increasing detail the particulars that he is seeking from his new chief. The candidates named Thursday by the Police Commission each meet some of those criteria while appearing to fall short elsewhere.

Hahn has said he wants a leader who will reduce crime, reform the department, boost morale and strengthen community policing. The mayor also says he wants a chief who will appreciate and accept Los Angeles' system of civilian oversight.

Bratton and Timoney are viewed as the candidates for major change who have led large police organizations through periods of stress. Bratton headed the NYPD after having run the Boston police force and the New York transit police. Timoney rose through the ranks in New York City before becoming commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Both are considered experts in policing as well as top managers, and both reduced crime in the cities where they worked.

Both cracked down on corruption, and both have experience with negotiated settlements with the federal government--a particularly important qualification in Los Angeles, where a consent decree imposed under Mayor Richard Riordan and negotiated by then-City Atty. Hahn's staff governs many police procedures.

Timoney, who worked under Bratton in New York City, once was considered Bratton's protege. Bratton recommended Timoney to lead the Philadelphia police.

Lopez's strengths include his decades of experience inside the LAPD, where he previously was a finalist for the top job. According to his supporters, Lopez understands community policing and the mayor's desire to make the city's diverse neighborhoods feel less disenfranchised from the department.

Some, including civil rights lawyer Connie Rice, have argued that a candidate such as Lopez who has inside experience would in some ways be preferable for a mayor seeking to make profound change at the LAPD. Outsiders have not always found the LAPD easy to grasp, and some city leaders remain mindful of the experience of Willie L. Williams, who came to Los Angeles from Philadelphia in 1992 and was faulted for failing to take command of the LAPD.

Gary Greenebaum, who was president of the Police Commission under Riordan, said he does not know Timoney or Bratton well enough to comment on their qualifications. But he warned that outsiders with no LAPD experience could find the going difficult.

"This organization is almost impossible to break into unless you're really born and bred of it," he said. "All the other issues get lost in the shuffle."

Without mentioning Williams, Lopez addressed those concerns Thursday, saying that he knows "how to navigate the politics" in Los Angeles and that he understands large organizations.

Beyond the specific goals that Hahn has set for a new chief, the mayor and his aides have indicated that he wants to form a strong partnership with his choice. The three choices before Hahn offer him distinct alternatives.

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