Bratton presses gang fight

Bratton presses gang fight
Chief admits war-related issues straining resources

By James Nash
Staff Writer

LA Daily News

Wednesday, March 19, 2003 – SHERMAN OAKS — Despite mounting concerns about terrorism related to the war in Iraq, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton told an audience of Sherman Oaks homeowners Wednesday that his officers are not relenting in their battle against gangs.

Bratton, however, acknowledged that large anti-war protests in Westwood and elsewhere are draining Los Angeles Police Department resources and prolonging the time it takes to respond to 911 calls.

Bratton addressed the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association on Wednesday night as part of his campaign to reach out to communities in Los Angeles since his swearing-in last October.

He fielded questions mostly relating to the LAPD’s struggle against gangs and citywide preparedness for terrorism.

Bratton said anti-gang officers have been liberated from Rampart-era prohibitions against being on duty in plainclothes, using informants and enforcing narcotics laws.

He said the total number of officers assigned to work on gang problems has doubled from the previous 300.

But Bratton acknowledged that Los Angeles’ gang culture is more rooted than that of New York, where he served as police commissioner from 1994 to 1996.

In the short term, Bratton said, the twin challenges of dealing with heightened terrorism concerns and anti-war demonstrations will divert some officers from crime-fighting efforts.

About 150 officers were on hand for a large anti-war rally in Westwood on Wednesday, meaning that all but the most urgent 911 calls did not receive responses, Bratton said.

“The irony was, while protecting their right to demonstrate and be arrested if they want to be, we’re putting the rest of the city in harm’s way,” he said.

Many in the standing-room-only crowd at the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association’s monthly meeting applauded Bratton when he said he has reshuffled the top leadership ranks of the LAPD, replacing 12 of the 14 top police officials since taking office.

Bratton said City Hall has given him near-total autonomy in running the department.

The chief did field a phone call from Mayor James Hahn in the middle of the meeting, updating him on developments in Los Angeles now that a war in Iraq is under way.

Bratton said he and Hahn will tour key points involving Los Angeles’ water supply to look for vulnerabilities, and will visit the Port of Los Angeles today.

Several of the residents who heard Bratton said they were impressed with the chief’s no-nonsense style.

“He showed a really good perception of what’s going on,” said Bill Pollack, a Neighborhood Watch block captain and homeowners association member.

“Singling out gangs, that’s obviously the root of the problem. With some of these things, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think of them, but no one else did in the last 10 years.”

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