New LAPD Chief vows: Gang Crackdown

New LAPD Chief vows: Gang Crackdown
By Mariel Garza
Staff Writer

Saturday, November 02, 2002 – Calling the LAPD “the most understaffed police department in America,” new top cop William Bratton vows to focus his limited resources on fighting street gangs, which he blamed for most of the city’s crime problems.

The tough-talking Bratton, a week after taking over as the 54th chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, acknowledged that the federal court consent decree engineered by Mayor James Hahn contains some “onerous” reporting requirements on officers.

But he defended them as necessary because the department has operated “illegally, in a corrupt and racist fashion.”

Critics have claimed such provisions as requiring officers to report details of every person they stop handcuff police efforts to deal with gangs.

Bratton said technology will reduce much of the paperwork over time and he might seek to get some requirements eased once the LAPD’s “deficiencies and inappropriate activities” have been corrected.

In his first sit-down interview with the Daily News since being named a finalist for the job, Bratton said Friday that fighting gangs is his No. 1 priority.

He said to succeed with a small police force, he will need cooperation from the public that he expects to come as community policing efforts are expanded.

“This is the most understaffed police department in America. It speaks to the issues in the Valley. It speaks to the issues anywhere in this city. No place in this city has enough police.”

“I would argue that it is the factor (in most crime). You’ll find that all drug problems in this city are initiated, protected or managed by them. Almost every incidence of gun violence in this city is directly attributed to gangs.

“The priorities I will bring that are subjective, if you will, will be gang violence, will be crime associated with gang violence, narcotics and guns. So that will be a very significant factor where we put exceptional (more) resources.”

He said his goal is to reduce crime in Los Angeles as he did in Boston and New York.

Where are officers needed? “The freedom I have at this juncture, or will have in several months, is when the recruit classes start graduating. … Do I send two or three to this division or do I send 20 here or 30 there because we have an exceptional problem?”

It’s clear to him, and most everyone else, that he’s starting with big challenges — short staffed, outgunned and restricted by the consent decree reforms.

Even at authorized strength, LAPD’s staffing is a fraction of what he’s used to working with — 40,000 cops for a city twice as big in population, but smaller in land, than Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has slightly more than 9,000 cops, with about 1,000 off duty because of illness or disability. LAPD’s authorized strength is 10,000, but it has not been able to achieve anything like that in years because of problems recruiting and retaining officers and budget constraints.

“Yes, we’re understaffed,” said Mitzi Grasso, president of the Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers. “We’ve been complaining about that for years.”

In recent days, the city’s elected officials have pledged to do what they can to fund hiring more officers.

“I’ve committed to Chief Bratton to do everything I could to make him a success,” Councilman Nick Pacheco, chairman of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, said Friday.

Pacheco suggested public support for higher taxes might be sought if the department makes strides in recruitment and crime fighting in the near future.

But it’s not just the personnel numbers that have caused the problems in the Police Department, making it tough to fight rising crime.

“It’s partially the problem,” said Page Miller, a community policing advocate in North Hollywood. “The other part is lack of true community policing and lack of true management skills at the department.”

LAPD has been besieged by plunging morale for years, said Councilman Dennis Zine, a 33-year veteran of the LAPD. “It’s clear the LAPD for years and years has been underdeployed. But additionally, we’ve seen a demoralization.”

The reform efforts of the consent decree and the harsh discipline system of past administration produced a “sit and wave” mentality among officers in patrol cars, rather than pursuing crime.

“The LAPD got so far away from proactive law enforcement,” Zine said.

Decree rules may change Bratton said that once the department has demonstrated a clear reform of activities, it’s possible some consent decree requirements might be modified.

“We’ll see. First, we have to see they’re complying with the consent decree as it exists. … We’re in an interim period here where the new requirements, (it) could be argued, are somewhat onerous because of the amount of paperwork involved. But it is expected in time when new computer systems (are) in place — the TEAMS II, the handheld Palm pilots — the completion of required reports under the consent decree will literally be a matter of an officer standing there (and with) five clicks of the stylus, he’s done.

“So there’s no arguing that to rectify the deficiencies and the inappropriate activities of the department in the past, there is a degree of onerous activity now required. And we’ll get through that. All this would have to be negotiated. The department would also have to show good-faith effort that it has reformed its activities and actions that got it in trouble in the first place.”

Barring a windfall in revenue, Bratton is preparing to do his best with the funding and personnel the department has. His first task is a full accounting of resources.

“We’re literally going to go through this department and run a CAT scan over it. Where is everybody? Is what they’re doing appropriate to the goals, which are going to be gang reduction, violence reduction?”

Once he knows what he’s got, and using the COMPSTAT crime tracking system he plans to implement, Bratton can redistribute patrols and special enforcement details more efficiently to high crime areas.

Bratton will also be making use of the people of Los Angeles to make up for the lack of uniformed bodies cruising the streets in patrol cars.

“What can be done is embrace community policing,” Bratton said. “This Police Department for 20 years attempted to do it by itself. And in trying to control a city with a very small police force it ended up, because of the practices it engaged in, the style of policing it engaged in, ended up alienating significant parts of the population, particularly the city’s minority communities. … Community involvement goes such a long way.”

Meanwhile, Bratton is getting a handle on the whos and whats of Los Angeles. Halloween night, he rode on patrol through the West Valley with Zine, a former LAPD cop who is now working as a reserve officer.

Since then, Bratton understands why residents worry so much about speeding and accidents after seeing firsthand the wide, speed-inducing boulevards crisscrossing the Valley.

And he marveled at how long it took to drive from one place to another, and how one gang-heavy neighborhood managed to suppress graffiti, something he plans on doing citywide.

Bratton came to Los Angeles from New York, where he had been working as an international security consultant after resigning as commissioner of the New York Police Department in the mid-1990s.

In New York, one of Bratton’s first successes was cracking down on a small, but seeming insurmountable, problem of “squeegee” people. About 75 across New York City would attack cars stopped in traffic, run a dirty rag or newspaper over the windows and demand compensation. People hated them.

By focusing on them and cracking down, Bratton’s police force made the problem go away. It was symbolic action for the Police Department, Bratton said. And Los Angeles’ version of the squeegee people will be graffiti.

“I try to get multiple benefits out of any initiative,” Bratton said. “By going after graffiti, I deal with perception. I deal with the reality, but I also end up having impact on the gangs. It’s a way of gathering intelligence on the gangs — in terms of their markings, where are they, where are they spreading their territories.

“Also, in cleaning it off the wall, it’s sending a message in a little ways that you don’t control the streets, and the corners and the parks,” the new chief said. “The government does.”

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