L.A. Police Chief Cites Changing Demographic

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton acknowledges that there was a spike in gang crime last year. He blames a shifting demographic, as well as his city's relatively modest law enforcement resources.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

We're joined now by Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. Thank you for speaking with us.

Police Chief WILLIAM BRATTON (Los Angeles Police Department): Pleasure to be with you.

ELLIOTT: Now the first three years after you came to L.A. in 2002, gang crime fell. Now you were recently quoted as calling Los Angeles the epicenter of the nation's gang crisis. You've had a 14 percent increase in gang-related violence last year. What has changed?

Chief BRATTON: Well, actually, it's always been the epicenter. It's the birthplace of the black gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. It is the historical birthplace of the Latino gangs, Mexican mafia, which are not into their third generation. So in terms of the current situation, the current situation actually is a significant improvement from its worst period of time, the early '90s.

ELLIOTT: Now, you had luck when you first came to L.A. in bringing gang crime down. What happened last year that was different?

Chief BRATTON: A couple of things last year, that the Valley area of our city, Los Angeles, is huge, and almost one-half of the city is in the San Fernando Valley. That has been an area that had had a relatively small gang crime problem compared to other areas of the city, particularly the south are of Los Angeles proper, although the last several years, the - in particular Latino population's been increasing in the Valley, and it's a working class population, a lot of it, and that's where a lot of the gang influence, gang activity is centered. so there had been a gradual beginning of increase in gang violence that we've been dealing with out there. So last year it did uptick significantly.

ELLIOTT: Do you have a particular obstacle to overcome in communities like this? I think of two areas to question you. You know, in Los Angeles, minority communities have a history of mistrusting the police department on the one hand, and then, you know, how hard is it to get officers to go into gang-dominated neighborhoods like this?

Chief BRATTON: We have no problem with officers going into those areas. We have no shortage of officers. All of our officers that work in our highest crime areas volunteer to go there.

But there is undeniably a history of mistrust of police, particularly in the core minority areas, the housing developments, particularly in the black community in this city. And in the Latino community, it's less of an issue, but it's still there in some of the most troubled and most gang-controlled areas.

But we have a deeply entrenched problem, a multi-generational problem that controls thousands of not only just young (unintelligible) but a lot of these gangbangers - and this is part of the problem - are into middle age and old age and their influence on other family members that have never known anything but the gang life, so their control over their children and their sucking the children into their problematic lives is something that we have really not found the solution to at this juncture.

ELLIOTT: Now, some of the things that you talked about this week in your planned crackdown - and you were joined with federal agencies, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency - some of the things that you'll be doing, you'll be gathering intelligence on certain gangs...

Chief BRATTON: Let me explain what we're doing. Mayor Villaraigosa and I in early February will be announcing the actual city initiative with a very specific focus on the gang crime issue because of its increase in problems last year.

To be successful in L.A., however, you have to rely very heavily on partnership and coordination with the rest of the criminal justice community, because we have so few police resources in this part of the country versus other areas such as back East.

ELLIOTT: Are you saying that the LAPD does not have the resources it needs to fight this battle, that you have to call in for federal help?

Chief BRATTON: Oh, certainly. Los Angeles is one of the most understaffed police departments in America. There's nothing new about that. In New York City, I had 38,000 cops in a city of 300 square miles. In Los Angeles, I have 9,000 cops in a city of 480 square miles with the worst gang problems in America.

ELLIOTT: You know, you talk a lot about cracking down on these gangs and some of the tools that you'll be using to do that, but what about, you know, an alternative? Are you offering gang members a way out?

Chief BRATTON: Well, that's the other side of the equation. My responsibility is for the suppression, for the law enforcement, and to build linkages to intervention prevention systems that are either in place or that hopefully are going to be funded and designed.

And I point out - and I need to keep emphasizing this - the sky is not falling out here. The world is not coming to an end. We're not in a new crisis, if you will. Gang crime in this city is down 50 to 60 percent from what it was in the early 1990s.

ELLIOTT: Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, thank you for speaking with us.

Chief BRATTON: Pleasure talking with you. All the best.

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