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Murder and Politicking

June 06, 2003

"For my handling of the situation at Tombstone, I have no regrets. Were it to be done again, I would do it exactly as I did it at the time." -- Wyatt Earp


The Los Angeles City Council won its showdown with Mayor James K. Hahn over the city budget Wednesday, voting to override a mayoral veto in what one councilman described as "high noon at the OK Corral."

The real gunfight took place near the corner of Vernon and Budlong avenues, out of sight of City Hall. While the council put on hold Hahn's plan to hire extra cops and reorganize the Police Department, a suspected gangbanger chased down Londell Murdock and shot him, execution-style. The 33-year-old South Los Angeles husband and father of two had stopped to buy a soda before heading to the swing shift at his custodian job.

Unlike this senseless shooting, the battle of the budget began over genuine differences: Some City Council members worried that the city could not afford Hahn's ambitious expansion plan. They approved 400 new cops to replace those expected to retire and told Hahn to wait on an additional 320.

Attempts to find savings (City Controller Laura Chick's waste-trimming audits come to mind) to hire at least some additional officers and to pay for the reorganization were defeated by council members holding old grudges and jockeying for power.

But the council doesn't get all the blame for letting minor differences degenerate into a power play. Hahn refused to back down even a little on his numbers, then sent his aides on such a ham-handed campaign to win support that even council members open to compromise dug in their heels.

Police Chief William J. Bratton's brash style offended some members. But his hyberbole was not nearly as bad as seeing the can-do chief back away from his gutsy pledge to cut gang deaths by 25% this year.

The biggest blame, however, goes to deafeningly quiet police union leaders who put winning across-the-board raises for existing officers over lobbying for more new hires in a place that has the worst cop-to-resident ratio of any major city in the country. City and union leaders were so wrapped up in the politics they seemed to forget that lives were at stake.

The life-and-death battles -- and the heroes -- are found outside City Hall. Wednesday produced two: LAPD officers Jose Herrera and Dale Lopez, who heard gunshots and helped catch the suspects in the Murdock killing, at one point finding themselves on foot in an alley without cover. A City Hall that claims it has no regrets about the way the budget battle played out needs to put aside its preoccupation with power games and find a way to pay for more Herraras and Lopezes. Otherwise, how can cops win the battle to halt the murders on the streets of L.A.?

"It happens every day, every day," an aunt of Murdock's wife cried. "And no one does anything."

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