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Bratton Out of Town for a Third of '05

The police chief and supporters defend his frequent travel as important to his job. Critics say he's often gone when crises occur.

March 11, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Police Chief William J. Bratton spent more than one-third of last year -- 125 days -- traveling out of town on business and personal trips, a record that has some city leaders questioning how much his mind is on the job in Los Angeles.

Bratton, who leaves Thursday for a nine-day business trip to Israel, said Los Angeles benefits from the sharing of information on policing and anti-terrorism efforts that occurs when he visits other cities. Bratton released his travel records Friday at the request of The Times.

"There is a value to Los Angeles," he said. "Oftentimes it results in money coming to the city. New ideas are brought back. There is a value to me in terms of staying aware of what changes are occurring in my profession."

The trip to Israel is being billed as an opportunity for Bratton and his Israeli counterparts to meet and share experience and expertise at an anti-terrorism conference.

But critics say his extensive travels mean he has been out of town at crucial moments, including the day after terrorists bombed the London subway and the day a Los Angeles Police Department officer shot to death a toddler being held by her father who was shooting at police.

"During critical times, he is out of town attending to some other interest," said Melanie Lomax, a former police commissioner.

"I'm very concerned because what it indicates to me is the chief of police is on the make for some higher position."

City Councilwoman Janice Hahn has also noticed the chief's frequent absences.

"I would love to see our chief of police spend more time in Los Angeles," she said. "When you are here, you are making Los Angeles your priority. I think it would also help the morale of officers if he was around more."

However, Bratton's travels are accepted by other city leaders who see Bratton as a great ambassador for Los Angeles.

"Year after year, Chief Bratton has delivered results for our city," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement. "He is one of the country's foremost experts on local policing and one of the most innovative leaders in law enforcement."

But Bratton appears to be taking that ambassador role too far, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

"He's not the secretary of state," Coupal said. "A third of the year just seems like an excessive amount of travel. Isn't there enough crime in Los Angeles for him to stick around?"

Lomax said Bratton travels much more than his predecessors, Bernard C. Parks and Willie L. Williams, who were chiefs when she was a commissioner.

"The thing about the chief of police is that availability and presence is everything," Lomax said.

Some observers, including Lomax, suspect that Bratton's travel, equivalent to being out of the city for four months, is smoothing the way for an eventual move to a national position in law enforcement, although the chief has said he wants a second five-year term at the LAPD when his current term expires next year.

Others note that many of his trips are to New York City and Boston, both cities where he previously served as chief and where he still has many friends. Bratton said he had a leadership position among the nation's police executives that often requires him to attend conferences.

The chief said some of his personal days involved spending part of the summer with his ailing mother, who at one point was given last rites but has recovered.

Bratton's travel records indicate he was out of town for 61 days on personal business and 64 days on police business in 2005.

In some cases, he left town at midday or in the evening but counted that as a day out of town. His travels included 41 weekend days.

The 19 trips on official business took him to such places as Australia; Chicago; Miami; Newark, N.J.; Las Vegas; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and New York City.

This year is also taking him out of town a lot. By the time he returns from Jerusalem on March 24, he will have spent 27 of 83 days of the year out of town on official business.

The trips included an eight-day foray in January to London, where he attended a chiefs conference, talked to British law enforcement and met with Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) and Sheriff Lee Baca "on terrorism issues."

Police Commissioner Shelley Freeman said the travel appeared to be appropriate.

"He does travel a great deal on police business," she said. "But one of the great things about the chief is he brings back intelligence from other police departments from all over the world."

As for the chief's being out of town when incidents happen, Freeman said, "We have a great command staff" to fill in when he is gone.

Most recently Bratton went to Boston and to Providence, R.I., Feb. 27 through March 2 "to participate as a seminar leader at the chief's forum for Northeastern University and to be keynote speaker at a community safety forum" of the Local Initiatives Support Corp.

Bratton said in an interview that he is constantly in touch by cellphone and BlackBerry with his department.

Council President Eric Garcetti is among those not bothered by the chief's frequent flying.

"When this city brought Chief Bratton on board, we fully intended to take advantage of his national profile," Garcetti said as he himself prepared to fly to Washington for a national cities conference.

"Crime continues to fall; and the chief, his top deputies and on down to our senior lead officers are responsive to my concerns and those of my constituents," Garcetti added. "So I feel it's in Los Angeles' interest to have Bratton as an ambassador."

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