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Bratton says successor's biggest hurdles will be budget, gangs

Discussing the LAPD's future a day after announcing his departure, Chief William J. Bratton reflects on his tenure, assesses possible successors and warms to the idea of his name on new headquarters.

August 09, 2009|Joel Rubin

The day after he stunned the city with word that he would resign as chief of police, William J. Bratton sat in the relative quiet of his office collecting his thoughts. Every minute or two his cellphone buzzed to life, alerting him to yet another call from another surprised friend or colleague that would have to be returned after the stack of messages on his desk already awaiting his attention.

As aides outside the closed door spoke in hushed tones about the idea of life after Bratton, the chief reflected on the department and city he will leave behind at the end of October after nearly seven years on the job. He explained why he believes so strongly that his replacement should come from inside the Los Angeles Police Department and discussed the particular strengths he sees in each of the presumed front-runners. Bratton, one of the most influential and successful leaders in LAPD history, also acknowledged that somewhere down the road he might like to see his name on the soon-to-open, $437-million new LAPD headquarters.

Asked about challenges awaiting the new chief that either were not addressed or did not exist during his tenure, Bratton said the city's yawning budget shortfall would pose the greatest dangers for his replacement.

"The budget is awful," he said. "We're already feeling some of the impact: The stopping of promotions, civilian furloughs, the freeze on hiring civilians, equipment shortages. . . . The next chief will have a very different challenge and priority. How do you keep morale high? How do you keep the successes going forward when you have less to work with?"

The city's fiscal crisis and the high-level anxiety it is causing in the corridors of power, Bratton said, underscore why it is important that the next LAPD chief be one of the assistant or deputy chiefs on his command staff and not an outsider.

"Nobody understands what it's like to be an outsider better than me. I've done it many times," he said. "It takes three to six months to get up to speed on the issues internally, let alone understanding the players across the street" at City Hall.

To emphasize his point, Bratton recalled the time shortly after he was hired in 2002, when the City Council balked at then-Mayor James Hahn's push to bring 300 new officers into the LAPD's perennially undersized ranks. Hoping to pressure the council members to relent, Hahn asked his new police chief to publicly chastise the council for its reluctance. Coming most recently from New York City, where the mayor wields considerable power, Bratton walked into a political beehive. "I got out there and basically I was kneecapped because I didn't understand the limitations of the power of the mayor [in Los Angeles] or the vagaries of the 15 council members."

Bratton named five of his 12 deputy and assistant chiefs as the ones he believes are poised to fill his shoes. He professes not to favor one over the others and said he wouldn't be so impertinent as to admit it if he did. He said each would bring a different personality and set of skills to the job.

Charlie Beck, deputy chief in charge of detectives, is "the utility player," Bratton said, "the guy who, when you're in a pinch, you go to." Bratton, who has promoted Beck steadily through the ranks and assigned him to some of the department's toughest areas, said he has looked to Beck to handle some of the department's more damning crises in past months. When the department came under fire for mistakes and backlogs in its crime labs, for example, Bratton transferred control of the labs to Beck.

Jim McDonnell, the first assistant chief and Bratton's chief of staff, "probably has the best understanding of how [the chief's] office works," Bratton said. Often serving as the face of the department at civic and social events, McDonnell is skilled at building and strengthening the types of relationships with community leaders that Bratton believes are critical to the department maintaining the goodwill it has built up in the city. "If you ever watch Jimmy," he said, "there's never a person he doesn't stop for -- to shake their hand, give them a hug or say hello. He's the everyman."

Bratton praised Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, who as the head of the Office of Operations orchestrates the LAPD's crime-fighting efforts, for shuffling limited resources around the city to respond to hot spots. "He is 'steady as you go,' " Bratton said. "He's got a mission of reducing crime and he's knocking it dead. His intimacy with crime in this city is, well, he's on top of his game."

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