In a town filled with celebrities, it can be pretty hard to stand out. But L.A.'s police chief clearly has achieved his own star status. Bill Bratton is leaving the department Saturday for a job with a corporate security firm.
This has been Bratton's farewell week, and one moment he'll remember is the surprise tribute from his officers. They lined up outside Los Angeles' new police headquarters for a final salute.
It began with a radio dispatch: "Attention all units. Attention all units. This is an end of watch broadcast for William J. Bratton, serial number 36573."
Bratton seemed to savor the applause, handshakes and hugs from his troops. Then he addressed them for one last time as chief.
"I'm really gonna miss all of you. And thank you for this," he said, choking back tears. "I'm never at a loss for words, but I am."
During his seven years as chief, Bratton, a brash Bostonian by way of New York, had a lot of words for criminals and troublemakers. He called them knuckleheads and nitwits.
He repeated his mantra "cops count, police matter" throughout his years on the force.
After clashing with New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Bratton came to Los Angeles and was embraced by two mayors and, most of all, by Angelenos. They had grown frustrated by the LAPD's embarrassing headlines.
Under Bratton, crime went down and the department changed. Cops who got out of line faced consequences.
Three years ago, at a rally for immigrant rights in MacArthur Park, officers in riot gear beat protesters and news crews. Bratton faulted two top commanders. One quit; the other was reassigned. Several officers were disciplined.
"I like to think of myself as media-friendly," Bratton said the next day to reporters and photographers who were injured during the incident. "The treatment that you received yesterday at the hands of some Los Angeles police officers, as well as some of the residents of the city, is something we cannot tolerate. I won't tolerate it."
That kind of attitude earned Bratton respect, even from some hard-core gang members. Recent parolee Hector Garcia said by declaring war on street gangs, Bratton made the Mara Salvatrucha famous. The gang is also known as MS-13.
But Garcia also gives Bratton credit for reform.
"There's more respect in officers," Garcia said from the offices of Homeboy Industries, where Bratton had breakfast every Tuesday. "I guess after the MacArthur Park thing, they're being respectful. The mentality about how to react against the community, it really worked a lot."
Bratton made it clear that he would be a different kind of chief. He wanted a department more diverse and community-oriented than it was in the old Dragnet era of legendary chief William Parker.
In an interview with NPR a few years ago, Bratton reflected on Parker's era: "Did you ever see Joe Friday ever put his arm around a victim? 'Just the facts, ma'am.' The police department of the Parker era was that."
Bratton added that Parker coined the phrase "the thin blue line."
"It was the idea of 'leave us alone — we'll take care of business. And you, the public, really have nothing to do with how we take care of business.' That's certainly not how we look at policing today," Bratton said.
Bratton is returning to New York as a security consultant for police departments around the world. As he has done in the past, he'll rely on the latest computer technology as a crime-fighting tool — something he calls "predictive policing."
"Like doctors, we're getting sophisticated, looking at the symptoms and creating medicines, if you will, to prevent them [crimes] from happening," he explained.
The private sector pays a lot more than being a police chief, but Bratton said he'll miss wearing a badge: "Being a cop is the best thing you could ever want to do in life. It's full of fun, a sense of doing something important."
"I think in my almost 40 years as a policeman, my life has counted for something," he said.
As the surprise tribute wrapped up at headquarters, a police helicopter and motorcycle brigade escorted Bratton off into the sunset.
But not before someone had to remind him to turn in his LAPD badge.