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L.A. Police Chief Backs Off on Crime Promise

Bratton says a 25% reduction in homicides is not realistic without hiring more officers.

May 30, 2003|Richard Winton and Megan Garvey | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton pulled back Thursday from his promise to reduce homicides in the city by 25% this year, saying the City Council's budget tightening makes it unrealistic.

Bratton wanted 320 new officers and nearly $5 million to reorganize the 9,200-member Los Angeles Police Department.

Mayor James K. Hahn has vowed to veto the City Council's budget, agreeing with Bratton that not including the extra funding for police risks the safety of Los Angeles residents. Bratton's assertion that he can no longer deliver a sharp crime reduction puts further political pressure on council members, who have said the city simply can't afford the extra officers.

Bratton, known for brash pronouncements and a can-do attitude, sounded downcast at a news conference at the LAPD's downtown communications center.

He talked of missteps he had made in lobbying for more resources and expressed concern that the momentum and morale that he had worked hard to build since taking over the department in October would suffer.

Now, he said, he will make do with the status quo.

"We won't be able to make do as quickly, as forcefully, as comprehensively as we think we had the capability to do," Bratton said. "Nonetheless, we have an obligation to still work very hard with the resources we have."

Bratton took over the New York Police Department in the early 1990s with bold predictions of crime reductions -- goals that he exceeded -- but waited for months to make similar forecasts here. In late April, anticipating approval of the budget as proposed by Hahn, Bratton said he had the tools and personnel in place to drive all serious crime down by 10% by year's end, in addition to cutting homicides by a quarter.

On Thursday, Bratton said he no longer had confidence in his prediction.

"We will work very hard to continue to get crime down, but the confidence of getting it down by that degree -- I am not going to set that type of goal," he said, noting that nearly all $1 billion earmarked for the LAPD is in salaries, leaving little room to shift funds.

The council's budget passed on an 11-3 vote. It would need 10 votes to override a veto.

Council members have dismissed criticism by Bratton and Hahn as creating a "false debate," saying that they too would like to hire more officers if they had more assurances about the city's finances.

Councilman Nate Holden, the only member to vote against Bratton's appointment, said the chief's effort to blame the council if crime rises will not work.

"He's making excuses already," Holden said. "When he first took the job, he said he could reduce crime with the resources he had at the time. Since then, we've hired more officers. For him to cop out and make a statement like that is, on its face, disingenuous."

In retrospect, Bratton said Thursday, he could have done a better job of selling his plans to City Council members, many of whom were angered by the chief's accusations that they were sitting on the sidelines while he saw firsthand the devastation that violent crime causes on the city's streets.

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am," Bratton said. He added that it is difficult to have the council "sitting on the opposition side of the table, but we have very strong differences of opinion."

Bratton was selected by Hahn last year to run the department -- and embraced by the City Council -- in large part because he said he could reduce crime without new resources. But he began seeking a larger force almost immediately.

He told a group of business leaders last fall that Los Angeles should have "12,000 minimum" officers, and chastised local leaders for failing to expand the force during flush economic times. He later pulled back from those statements, saying that, while he hoped to get more officers, he remained confident that he could accomplish a lot with what he had on hand.

Bratton said Thursday he was concerned that the City Council's decision would cause the LAPD to lose momentum he has worked to build since inheriting a department that last year had the most homicides of any city in the nation.

His $4.8-million reorganization called for a series of initiatives over the summer, traditionally the time of year for the highest levels of crime, including 250 promotions of supervisors to gang enforcement and narcotics units.

"It is particularly problematic for me as I am pushing detectives and gang units back into the streets to be much more assertive," he said, noting the department is under a federal consent decree critical of past supervisorial failures. "The level of supervision isn't going to be there ... and we are somewhat stalled."

Bratton also wanted detectives to respond to every shooting in the city.

"I want detectives on nights and weekends. I want detectives going to every shooting in this city where there is a victim -- not just homicides. That's been held up," he said. "All of this contributes to an erosion of the gains."

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