William J. Bratton's announcement Wednesday that he would resign as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department caught Angelenos by surprise, including the mayor and police leaders who suddenly found themselves confronted with the daunting task of replacing one of the nation's most influential law enforcement figures.
Bratton's unexpected decision set in motion what promises to be an intense and wide-ranging search for his successor. With just three months before Bratton departs for his new job as head of a private security firm, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others involved in the selection must act quickly or face the less palatable option of putting an interim leader in place -- something Villaraigosa said during a news conference that he'd rather not do.
Several people from inside the LAPD are obvious candidates for the job -- Bratton's three assistant chiefs, Jim McDonnell, Earl Paysinger and Sharon Papa. Another likely internal candidate is Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, a highly regarded veteran who has risen rapidly under Bratton and oversees the department's detectives. They all declined to comment, saying they were still trying to digest the news of Bratton's departure and that it would be inappropriate to look ahead while he was still chief.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, August 16, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Bratton timeline: In the Aug. 6 Section A, a timeline of Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton's tenure said that he dismissed "several commanders" after the 2007 May Day melee in MacArthur Park. In fact, two commanders departed: One was demoted and retired, the other reassigned to office work.
George Gascon, a former LAPD deputy chief who left several years ago to take over a smaller department in Arizona and recently was tapped as the new chief in San Francisco, has also been mentioned by LAPD-watchers as a possible replacement from the outside. Gascon could not be reached for comment, but Bratton went out of his way to tamp down that speculation, saying he believed it was unlikely Gascon would apply because of his recent hiring.
With many in the department believing that Bratton would finish, or at least come close to finishing, the three years left in his current term, his announcement was certain to accelerate what had been up to now the early, quiet stages of jockeying among those with ambitions of assuming the LAPD's top post.
During a private afternoon meeting with his command staff at the department's training academy, Bratton emphasized that he wanted his replacement to come from the team of 12 deputy and assistant chiefs he relies on to run the day-to-day operations of the department. "He told us, 'I strongly believe that the next LAPD chief is sitting here in this room,' " said one high-ranking official who asked not to be named because the meeting was not open to the public.
Villaraigosa, for his part, refused to tip his hand on whether he would prefer to see finalists for the job come from within or outside the department.
"We're going to give a very, very extensive opportunity to people within the department and outside. I certainly believe there are people inside the department who are capable, who are committed to reform, who have the wherewithal to lead this department, but I'm not going to in any way limit opportunities," he told reporters.
Members of the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, took an equally noncommittal stance. Under the terms of the City Charter, the city's personnel department must conduct a search for candidates and pass along at least six names to the Police Commission. The commission, in turn, selects and ranks three finalists and, from those, Villaraigosa picks a new chief or rejects them all and demands more choices. The City Council must ratify the mayor's ultimate choice.
For all the talk of his replacement, there was plenty of attention paid to Bratton as well Wednesday.
"With Chief Bratton at the helm, the Los Angeles Police Department transformed itself into a beacon of progress and professionalism, a department seen as a partner, not an adversary, no longer bound by the misdeeds of the past," Villaraigosa said.
Many others echoed the mayor with praise for Bratton, who has dramatically reshaped the LAPD and pushed down crime rates since taking over in 2002.
"He is leaving at the top of his game, with a long list of accomplishments and on his own terms," Police Commissioner Alan Skobin said. "There isn't anyone who can argue credibly that this department isn't in better shape than it was before he arrived. That being said, there's still much work to be done and I am saddened that he won't be around to do it."
Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, expressed disappointment that Bratton had clashed with her group over the issue of racial profiling, but called his resignation "a great loss for the city of Los Angeles. He believes in community policing, and he restored the confidence of the community in the LAPD. I watched three prior police chiefs run the LAPD, and the reality is that progress was not made until Chief Bratton became chief and imposed his will and values on the department."