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ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

Joining us now to talk more about gang violence in Los Angeles is the city's police chief, William Bratton.

And Chief Bratton, welcome.

Chief WILLIAM BRATTON (LAPD): Thank you. Good to be with you.

BROOKS: Good to be with you. You've overseen law enforcement in cities like Boston and cities like New York, where you've dealt successfully with gang problems. Why does it seem that gang violence is so difficult to deal with in a city like Los Angeles?

Chief BRATTON: Well, Los Angeles is probably the birthplace of the significant gangs that are oftentimes reported upon. The Latino gangs, most of them begin here. The African American gangs, the various sects, the Bloods and the Crips began here in the '60s.

A lot of what you have in other cities either initiated in those cities or they're copycats, if you will - and more imitations quite frankly - of the ones that we have here. They have, over the years, just shown this incredible propensity for violence.

BROOKS: What can you do about it as a police force? You've cited the need for more police. Your forces are simply outnumbered out there in the streets I've heard L.A. police officers say. But how much can the police really do?

Chief BRATTON: Police can do a lot. We're the essential component, being quite frankly the essential medicine. You need to look at this, I think, for the public to fully appreciate it as if it was a medical issue.

Cities are patients and each city is a different patient. There are many different medicines that have been developed over the years, some more significant and successful than others. The trick is to look at your patient and determine what combination of medicines will have the most dramatic impact on dealing with your particular form of illness.

Los Angeles has a more insidious and more pervasive form of gang illness than many other cities, just in terms of the sheer numbers of gangs, the historical components and the violence levels of the gangs here. So the combination of medicines that would work here is police - more police. We need 12,500. That's my calculation. Even with the growth of 1,000 officers by 2010, that'll only get us to 10,500.

New York City in the early '90s finally recognized it needed more police and hired 7,000 in a short period of time. And with a huge police force had a huge drop in crime and that crime continues throughout the city, with spikes periodically.

BROOKS: But Chief, I think I've heard you say, or certainly people who support you, that you can't arrest your way out of this problem.

Chief BRATTON: Exactly. Well, in the terms of continuing my comment, the police are only one medicine, one significant part of the medicine. Basically, we're the trauma room, that we can basically get the violence under control. But to institutionalize that you need a combination of intervention, prevention and, with the huge, huge prison populations we have here, re-entry medicine, if you will.

Good news for the United States is in the 1990s we had a lot going for us. We had federal government partnership with local - state. And violent crime went down 40 percent, overall crime 30 percent, after going up for 25 straight years. What happened after 9/11, federal government basically diverted its attention to the war and the partnership was frayed. The federal agencies still attempt to work with us, but their resources are much less than they had in the 1990s.

At the same time, there's room for optimism. We know what to do about this. It's just a matter of getting political leadership, the resources, and the partnership. It's about getting the federal government back into the game again in a very significant way.

Local crime is not a local problem. It is a national problem that is locally focused, but local agencies on their own cannot deal with as effectively as we can when we partner up with the feds. And we saw that in the 1990s.

BROOKS: Let me ask you finally about Los Angeles in particular. California, specifically Hollywood, is known as a kind of cash machine for political candidates and political causes worldwide. And yet, you don't see that same kind of high profile attention being focused on L.A.'s own gang violence problem. Do you ever think about that? Is that a frustration to you?

Chief BRATTON: You're correct. There is kind of a disconnect. That there's so much money here, in terms of supporting political campaigns and supporting many, many causes. This is a very philanthropic community. But the real money has to come from government. And in this city, this city and this region has never wanted to spend money on this issue. It - from time to time it will, but it's like pulling teeth to get money focused on public safety.

BROOKS: Chief Bratton, thanks so much for joining us.

Chief BRATTON: Thank you.

BROOKS: And good luck to you.

Chief BRATTON: Thank you.

BROOKS: That's Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.

(Soundbite of music)

And stay with us. There's more ahead on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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