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Back in L.A., Bratton Voices Trust in Subordinates to React to a Crisis

June 25, 2004|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

When Chief William J. Bratton learned that news helicopters hovering over Compton early Wednesday had captured images of a police officer beating a man, he was stuck on a jet about to take off from Los Angeles International Airport bound for New York.

Bratton rides a jet like a squad car and is often out of town. This time he was heading east to attend the inauguration of a longtime colleague and friend as police chief of Hartford, Conn.

Back in Los Angeles on Thursday, Bratton said he was not concerned about being on the East Coast with a major crisis unfolding back home.

"I do travel. I take advantage of my vacation. I'm also somebody who stays very active in my profession, attempting to bring the skills of my profession to this city," Bratton told reporters when questioned about his latest trip.

On the morning of the beating, Bratton was not the only top LAPD official out of town. Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, his second in command, was on vacation and Assistant Chief George Gascon, his daily operations chief, was in Washington, D.C., at a conference. That left Assistant Chief Sharon Papa alone in command.

Bratton said he felt confident about leaving the city because of the strength of his management team.

"One of the benefits we have in this organization is that we have phenomenal depth and range of talent," he said. "Three of my assistant chiefs are all former candidates for this job. Quite clearly, this city felt they were capable."

A review of Bratton's absences from Los Angeles from Jan. 1, 2003, to April 1, 2004, shows he has been out of town 111 days out of a total of 456.

Of those absences, 50 were for personal reasons and 61 were related to police business, according records obtained by The Times.

For example, he spent four days in February 2003 as a guest speaker at a Florida education conference; five days in June at a conference of police chiefs in Sun Valley, Idaho; and seven days in London for a joint U.S.-United Kingdom police conference in December.

He spent three days in February 2004 in Boston for the inauguration of a new chief. He spent an additional three days in early March in Washington dealing with homeland security issues.

Each time Bratton leaves the city, he is required to relinquish command to another top police officer. Many of the days that he left Los Angeles and handed over command to a subordinate fell on weekends. Weekends accounted for 23 of the personal days he took out of town and 16 of the business-related absences covered during this period.

At least one city councilman said he prefers it when the chief is at home.

"What is clear is that the city is much better off when he's here," Councilman Jack Weiss said.

"For example, the city was reassured by his press conference on Thursday, whereas the anxiety level was certainly heightened after the press conference on Wednesday."

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