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Bratton Aims to Score on Police Certification Test

August 30, 2004|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

It's not easy studying and trying to hold down a full-time job.

Just ask Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton.

Bratton has been hitting the books -- and more than a few shooting targets -- over the last year in preparation for the California peace office certification test that he will take today at Rio Hondo College in Whittier.

The exam is a state requirement that Bratton must pass despite a resume that includes stints as chief of five police agencies, including the Boston and New York departments.

"If he spent some time looking at old 'Adam-12' films, he'll do just fine," said former LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates, referring to the TV series from the 1960s and '70s.

"He should leave his five cellphones at home," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said jokingly. "And wear short sleeves so no one suspects he's got cue cards."

Kidding aside, the test is serious business, said Alan Deal, a spokesman for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

"You can't fake it," Deal said. "Just because you were a chief back East doesn't mean you know California law. And that's a very large component of the test."

Bratton has led the LAPD for nearly two years. As part of the exam, he will have to show mastery of 41 subject areas -- 26 of them in written form spread over 100 multiple-choice questions.

Bratton also must demonstrate proficiency in defensive field tactics and arrest techniques, as well as use of a baton and firearms such as the shotgun and pistol.

In 1998, the state Legislature passed what is known in law enforcement circles as the "Willie Williams law" to address the problem of out-of-state chiefs who never received California certification. Williams, who succeeded Gates as chief in 1992 after serving as head of the Philadelphia department, never completed the requirements for California peace officers.

He was criticized for seeking a concealed-weapons permit from the Police Commission even though he never took state-mandated firearms training or had his skills tested.

Aware of the symbolism as well as the practical considerations of possessing those skills, Bratton has taken the opposite tack.

Aides say that since last year he has spent 140 hours training and studying, and often would slip away to the Police Academy in Elysian Park to work with instructors.

Publicly, Bratton has complained more than once about sore legs and wrists from arrest and control training.

On a recent morning, he was reviewing the fundamentals of handling a shotgun, noting that as a rookie with the Boston Police Department he trained with World War I-era Winchester trench guns.

"If you don't do it every day, it's a perishable skill," Bratton said before delivering a tight circle of lead shot into a target from 17 feet. Bratton, who called the shotgun he was using a "scary weapon," said despite his military background he does not consider marksmanship his forte.

He said requiring the chief to train gives him an appreciation for what officers go through and provides a fuller understanding in making policy.

Bratton, who has said he would ban large metal flashlights like the kind an officer used to beat a car theft suspect in Compton, said the training he received changed the way he looked at the incident.

What's more, he said, you never know when you might need to rely on your training. He cited Bernard C. Parks, who as chief in 1999 helped an officer and a concerned citizen wrestle a suspected graffiti vandal to the ground and slap a pair of handcuffs on him.

Deal of the standards commission said Bratton deserved "admiration" for going through the state's training requirements while running a department as large and complex as the LAPD.

"To his credit, he really wants to take the test," Baca said. "It says to his officers, 'I'm a cop first and the chief second.' "

Should Bratton fall short, Deal said, he will have another opportunity to take the test. Beyond that, "I'd have to leave that to legal minds," he said.

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