Politics and Police Work
A strange mix.


As you read this, whether you’re at home or at work, in a big city or a small town, there are police officers somewhere nearby deciding how best to spend their time on patrol. They have been briefed on the latest crime trends in the area, and they have been provided with descriptions of wanted suspects and of the cars those suspects drive. Ideally, the officers serving your community are putting this information to good use by placing themselves in an area where they might find and arrest those suspects, and where their very presence will deter further affronts to the commonweal. Here in Los Angeles, for example, a computerized database and mapping system, known as COMPSTAT (born in New York City), is intended to direct officers to those areas most affected by crime.

But in Los Angeles and New York, as in any number of cities across the country, police officers have other considerations in mind as they take to the streets each day, considerations that are only tangentially connected to fighting crime. The questions of how large a police department a city should maintain and how to distribute the officers are, like any question on the allocation of government resources, political ones. The NYPD has about 37,000 officers spread across the five boroughs while the LAPD has only 9,600 to cover the city’s 469 square miles, reflecting each city’s priorities in regard to how it combats crime and maintains order. Unfortunately, political questions do not end with deployment of officers, but instead creep into nearly every aspect of police work, often to pernicious effect.

Here in Los Angeles, politics now intrudes into police work to a greater extent than in any time in my long career as an LAPD officer. For example, last week Fox 11 News reported that gullible city-council members are funneling money to gang members under the dubious claim that they are assisting in “gang intervention.” One man on the program’s payroll could have benefited from a different kind of intervention: He was recently sentenced to life in prison for rape. And two LAPD officers have filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that City Councilwoman Janice Hahn exerted pressure on the department to have them removed from anti-gang duties in the Watts section of South-Central L.A. The officers claim that Hahn was influenced by so-called gang interventionists, who in reality are the very gang members whose criminal activities the officers were trying to curtail.

And we are still embroiled in a debate over how LAPD officers should deal with illegal immigrants, with the mayor, the police chief, and virtually the entire municipal political apparatus openly hostile to the notion that police officers should expand their role in enforcing immigration laws. The LAPD is currently governed by the terms of Special Order 40, a 1979 modification to department regulations which prohibits police officers from taking police action based solely on a person’s immigration status. A recent high-profile murder prompted City Councilman Dennis Zine, a retired LAPD sergeant, to propose a modest amendment to the regulation that would authorize officers to report illegal-alien gang members to federal immigration authorities. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a man openly and enthusiastically sympathetic to illegal immigrants, has been vocal in his opposition to such a change, as has LAPD Chief William Bratton.

That Bratton should echo the mayor’s sentiments comes as no surprise to those of us who have witnessed his transformation from the no-nonsense police chief who arrived in L.A. in 2002 to the uniformed politician he is today. Indeed, he has shown himself to be capable of all manner of intellectual contortions in advancing causes dear to the city’s leftist political establishment. Back in March, I wrote about the effort to relax the admission standards to the LAPD’s SWAT team so as to allow a woman into the unit for the first time. “I’ve made it a point to break all the glass ceilings in the LAPD that kept women out of many units in the department for many years,” Bratton told NPR recently.