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Bratton's Biggest Goal Still Elusive

Despite making good on many pledges, L.A.'s police chief has not won funds for more officers.

November 30, 2004|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

In his first weeks in Los Angeles, Police Chief William J. Bratton talked to anyone who would listen about his ideas for revolutionizing the LAPD.

He spoke of Compstat, a computer system he planned to implement that would pinpoint high-crime areas and allow the department to instantly deploy additional officers where they were needed most.

He spoke of his commitment to police reform, promising that his command staff would embrace the federal consent decree arising from the Rampart corruption scandal.

Crime would drop. Morale would rise. And ultimately, he promised, he would restore luster to an LAPD badge tarnished by a decade of scandal and tumultuous leadership.

In the two years since being named chief, Bratton has by no means achieved all he set out to accomplish. Most notably, he has failed to pry more money for additional police officers from city coffers or voters' pocketbooks, leaving staffing levels proportionately far below those of other big-city departments.

But he has made good -- at least partially -- on many of his other pledges.

In Bratton's first year as chief, the city saw a 21% decline in homicides. He promised a further 20% decline during his second year, something he has failed to deliver (the homicide rate for the year is about the same as for 2003), but he has presided over a 19% jump in arrests over the last two years and an 18% reduction overall in violent crime during the same period.

Michael Cherkasky, the court-appointed monitor charged with overseeing the Los Angeles Police Department's compliance with the Rampart consent decree, said the LAPD has made substantial progress on such things as disciplining officers, documenting procedural operations and monitoring gang unit activity.

But he said the department has not yet gotten a mandated computer system for identifying rogue officers up and running; it is something that may require an extension of the court's oversight.

The chief's political accomplishments are mixed. He lost a fight with the City Council over funding for additional officers soon after his arrival, and his relationship with some council members is still rocky. But Bratton is the first police chief in decades to have won the simultaneous respect of his officers and the communities they police.

"Daryl Gates related to the department, and Bernard Parks to the community. But they always chose one side or the other," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and a frequent critic of the LAPD, referring to two of Bratton's predecessors. "The secret to Bratton's success is that he understands the need to get both the public and his officers on board."

Not known for his modesty, Bratton would agree that he has accomplished more than his predecessors did.

"During Gates' time, the department was starved," he said. "What was accomplished with blustering and bravado?"

Of his immediate predecessor, Bratton is equally dismissive: "Parks was fighting everyone. It gets you nowhere."

Bratton has walked a fine line. He has moved aggressively against corrupt or unprofessional officers. But he has done so, by and large, without alienating rank-and-file cops.

"He has brought us into discussions on key issues, and we've never had a relationship with a chief like that before," said Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

That relationship seems to be paying off. In a recent departmentwide anonymous survey conducted for Bratton by an outside public relations firm, 85% of the 2,300 officers who filled out an online questionnaire agreed with the statement "I am confident the chief of police is leading us in the right direction." This is in contrast to a January 2002 poll of its members by the Police Protective League, which found that 93% of those who took part in the survey had "no confidence" in then-Chief Parks.

Both polls were conducted by parties with strong stakes in the results, and there have been no independent measurements of Bratton's popularity. But political consultant Bill Carrick, Mayor James K. Hahn's chief strategist, said there is no reason to question Bratton's appeal, both within the department and in the community.

"I don't have any numbers on Chief Bratton, but you'd have to be on another planet not to understand that he's popular, and he clearly has captured the public's imagination as a new police chief who is doing a really good job," Carrick said.

And though there is still a generalized distrust of the LAPD in parts of Los Angeles, Bratton has won the respect of many traditional critics of the department, particularly in South Los Angeles.

"The chief had the deck stacked against him coming in," said Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack, noting that despite "decades of tense relations between the LAPD and African Americans, and the removal of Bernard Parks," Bratton has "been embraced" by black community leaders.

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