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A call for backup

In his second term, Bratton needs public support -- and more officers -- to move the LAPD forward.

June 20, 2007

THE POLICE Commission's decision Tuesday to reappoint Chief William J. Bratton gives Los Angeles stability at the top of the LAPD, and that is no small matter. He becomes the first chief to win a second (and final) five-year term since voters ended open tenure for their police chiefs in 1992. The city is that much more fortunate, then, that Bratton also just happens to be one of the nation's best law enforcement leaders and thinkers. In his first term, he put his brand of accountable policing on display in the form of plunging crime rates. The reappointment is good for the city.

Bratton took on an LAPD emerging from the Rampart scandal, suffering from public disenchantment, struggling with unhappy officers and, in the post-9/11 world, confronting the previously unimaginable challenge of potential terror attacks. Today, the department's ranks are growing. The LAPD is on the forefront of anti-terror planning. Residents' confidence in the police -- well, it has its ups and downs, especially in those parts of the city where crime remains high and encounters with police more frequent. There are still far too many downs, the most recent and obvious arising from the May 1 MacArthur Park fiasco, in which poor command decisions led to needless confrontation and injury. The event shook faith in the department, but that faith can be slowly restored as Bratton continues to be as open with the public as possible about what happened, and why.

The MacArthur Park probes go on, as Police Commission President John Mack noted. Before moving on Bratton's reappointment, Mack and his colleagues had to assure themselves that there was nothing in the incident that called into question the chief's broader role, over time, in selecting and overseeing his top staff. If Bratton ultimately bears some blame for assigning the leaders to the MacArthur Park event whom he later criticized and removed, those decisions may be noteworthy without being dispositive. As Mack explained Tuesday, "we had to look at the big picture" and examine nearly five years of Bratton's management decisions and accomplishments. Bratton passed the big-picture test.

Over the next five years -- and Bratton said he intends to serve the full term -- the LAPD should emerge from the federal civil rights consent decree as a department that operates in the open and welcomes scrutiny. Bratton must lead it out of what he calls a culture of isolation. There may be no one better suited to that task.

But he can't do it alone. Earlier in his term, during a debate over a public safety tax, Bratton described what that culture of isolation means: With such a small force and such a large area to patrol, officers feel besieged. They react. Training alone cannot make officers less confrontational. A reformed LAPD must be a larger LAPD. Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are trying to expand the LAPD despite failed attempts by their predecessors. To get the police department it deserves, Los Angeles must back them up.

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