LAPD Chief on Making the City Safer
ED GORDON, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.
Boston, New York, Los Angeles, three of America's biggest cities, one chief of police connects them all. William Bratton has tackled some of the toughest policing areas in America. Since 2002, when he became chief of the oft-criticized Los Angeles Police Department, crime has dropped significantly.
NPR's Farai Chideya spoke with Chief Bratton about a number of things including his work inside the LAPD and counterterrorism efforts with Homeland Security. Chief Bratton told Farai that there's a big difference between what he once faced with the NYPD and the challenges he now faces in Los Angeles.
Chief WILLIAM BRATTON (Chief of Police, Los Angeles Police Department): A very small department, 9,000, versus New York, a very large department, 38,000. The crime problem is a very different crime problem here. A significant part of our crime problem is directly attributable to the gangs. This is the birthplace of the gang problem in the United States. And so New York, while it had gangs, there were not anything of the magnitude or order or, for that matter, longevity of the cast of characters out here.
So for me it was a very different policing challenge. It's like a doctor dealing with a different patient. L.A. is very different patient than New York.
FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:
Just on a personal level, what compels you to keep going from city to city?
Chief BRATTON: I have a hard time holding a job, I guess.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: I mean, are you addicted to this kind of challenge?
Chief BRATTON: I am somebody who enjoys a challenge. I see crises as challenge. It's reflective of my style of management as that of an optimist. I describe myself as a change agent. I turn around management. I like going into organizations that are dysfunctional, fixing them. But after a period of time, I'll usually move along because I don't want to be in a maintenance capacity. That's not what I do, not what stimulates me.
Here it's going to take a number of years, easily going into a second term here, to accomplish what I would describe as a successful turnaround, which is institutionalization of the changes that are being made.
CHIDEYA: Speaking of turnaround, there has been this new report on a task force about following up on the Rampart scandal in which police officers were criminally charged, fired, suspended for planting weapons on gang members in a unit that had pretty clearly gotten out of control. Now, this didn't happen on your watch. It happened quite a while ago. But at the same time, do you find it challenging that even now, as you have begun to see some successes, that there are very distinct challenges to reforming the culture of the LAPD?
Chief BRATTON: Well, the report you're referring to is one that I initiated. There was a desire to have a finality to the so-called Rampart scandal. One of the things that was missing was a final after action report from the Department, pretty much trying to lay out what had gone wrong and what were the remedies going to be to fix it.
And I clearly understood that the Department's reputation at that time back in 2002, no matter what we wrote, there would be a serious doubt about some of the Department findings. It's unfortunate, but that was the reputation of the Department at that time. So the idea was to go to an independent blue ribbon commission that was proposed to the Police Commission. They agreed and brought Connie Rice in. Unfortunately, she, over the last almost two years now, worked on this report that was released.
It's a very good report and it highlights that there have been a lot of successes, I would think, a great many successes. I'm running a very good police department. But it also indicates that there is still more to be done. And one of the things that's essential is the comment you made earlier about the thousand additional officers that to finally and permanently correct some of the issues that have caused so many problems in the city, we're going to need a larger police department.
Everybody has now finally come to appreciate that. It's something I've been looking for since I got here. And Mayor Villaraigosa was fortunately able to, working with the City Council, begin the process. So we now have funding authorization for the hiring 1000 police officers over what I have currently. But what needs to be understood is the first of those new officers won't hit the streets for two years.
CHIDEYA: In areas like south Los Angeles, formerly known as South Central, part of the issue in a city like New York is that the ethnic composition of the police officers doesn't always match or even approximate the ethnic composition of the residents. And there can be issues of trust that arise because of that.
Are you going to make some special efforts to try to really recruit new officers of color?
Chief BRATTON: Well, the irony is that we are almost perfectly matched to our population here. We've got about 38, 39 percent Latino in the Department. The population of the city is somewhat in excess of 40 percent Latino. We have about 12 or 13 percent African-American in the Department. The population of the city is around 10 percent. The Caucasian population in the Department is around 40 some-odd percent, and the population in the city is 30 some-odd. We have about 18 percent female.
So we are pretty well matched to the city we're policing already. But we are making concerted efforts to try and increase our minority representation, as well as our female representation, as well as gay officers that - we've got a recruiting drive on for gay officers also, because, once again, we reflect a very large gay population in the city.
CHIDEYA: Now, getting back to that report about Ramparts, even though you seem very positive in many ways about the critique that it offers, but it did say that the LAPD needed to change a warrior policing model for a community based policing model.
Obviously, New York went through transition around community policing. What are you trying to do, and given that the city is comparatively stretched on police officers, how can you do community policing?
CHIDEYA: The principal point of Ms. Rice's blue ribbon report is that this city, its political leadership, its population, its voting population, has for years tried to please the city on the cheap with a very small police department. And because of that, the police department had developed a very assertive type of culture, particularly in high crime areas, which unfortunately also happen to be some of the city's principal minority areas, particularly in the African-American areas.
And so that combination of high crime, too few police officers, resulted in a officer safety focus and a very assertive controlling style policing, which unfortunately exacerbated feelings on the part of minorities, African-Americans, Latinos that they were being treated in an inappropriate fashion, particularly those who are law abiding, which is by far certainly the vast majority of the people living in those neighborhoods.
And that's the warrior mentality that Connie Rice talks to and the understanding that to try and lessen that and free up more time for officers to spend interacting with community residents in more positive ways rather than constantly enforcing and responding to violent crime incidents and all of the other disorders that exists in some of our poorer neighborhoods, that more police would solve both problems. It would reduce the officer fear of the life-threatening incidents that they so frequently respond to because there'd be a lot more of them.
But also, a lot more of them would help to reduce crime and reducing crime would then increase the amount of time they get to spend working with community people on some of the day-to-day issues that drive people crazy in different neighborhoods, some of the so-called minor crimes, quality of life.
Because they're not attended to, particularly people in poorer communities feel that the city is just not responding to their needs the way they do up in Brentwood or Bel Air or any of the more well-to-do areas of the city.
CHIDEYA: Speaking of quality of life, I had a chance to go out with two officers who are part of the Central Division who are really dealing with the issue of homelessness. And Los Angeles's Skid Row, in a way, compels them to be not only police officers but social workers, counselors, housing advisors.
That's a lot for any one person to do. What changes do you think could be made so that police officers in situations like that, which are very high risk and chaotic, have the support they need to do all of these other things they're asked to do?
Chief BRATTON: Well, that's the other major thrust of the Rice report, the idea that the problems in Los Angeles are not created by the police and they're not going to be solved by the police, that it's the city that's going to have to get its political and societal act together and recognize that a lot more is going to have to be done.
Skid Row is the most visible example and the most significant disgrace in this city - that for many years that area was neglected politically, economically, every which way. And one of the few things that was in there trying to make a difference was the police department. But there were so few of us and there was so much to deal with.
But what you saw there, in terms of your ride-along, was representative of the officers in the skid row area. They're all volunteers; many of them have specialized training because of the issues they deal with in terms of how to deal with the homeless, the mentally ill, the sexually abused. That population down there is one of the most abused in the city because they're subject to so many acts of violence and discrimination.
CHIDEYA: We hear that there's going to be this new Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Norwalk having to do with Homeland Security. You're about to meet with other big city police chiefs about what you need from the federal government. What are you going to ask for?
Chief BRATTON: Well, I've got a meeting in Washington, D.C. week after next with Secretary Chertoff seeking to have more recognition that we are truly the frontline of defense against terrorism, that the potential for a terrorist act by homegrown terrorists is possibly, at this juncture, more likely than one coming in from abroad.
The fusion center - the JRIC Center - the Joint Area Regional Intelligence Center that you're talking about is a joint initiative funded by the FBI, about $4 million worth, in which FBI, Homeland Security, state, county, local police forces will all be together in this fusion center for the gathering of intelligence, the analysis of it and the use of it.
It's similar to many that are being developed around the country, but we believe this will be the most up-to-date, most state of the art and is reflective of something that works very well out here in California and that's coordination and cooperation between all the agencies that are responsible for dealing with terrorism.
CHIDEYA: Well, Chief Bratton, we certainly hope that we'll get a chance to visit this Regional Intelligence Center...
Chief BRATTON: Yeah, we open a little later this month so they'll be doing some press events around it, so hopefully that opportunity will be provided.
Chief BRATTON: Okay.
CHIDEYA: Chief Bratton, thank you very much.
Chief BRATTON: Okay, all the best.
GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with William Bratton, Los Angeles chief of police.
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