Politics & Policy

Honeymoon’s Over

Chief Bratton gets Los Angeles politicians fuming.

Well, it took a bit longer than most people expected, but after seven months as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, William Bratton once again has the politicians fuming. Recall that Bratton, as chief of the New York Police Department from 1994 to 1996, oversaw a decline in the city’s crime that can best be described as miraculous. Most notably, homicides were cut in half during his 27-month stewardship of the NYPD. Oddly, it was his success as a crime fighter that led to Bratton’s undoing in New York. So spectacular were his accomplishments, so unbounded was his ego, so unrestrained and adoring was the media attention that he soon clashed with then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another man whose name fairly leaps to mind when the discussion turns to accomplishments, ego, and media attention. When Bratton got more column inches in the papers and more mentions on the news shows than the mayor who gave him his job and at whose pleasure he served, well, that was just a little more than a man with aspirations far beyond the gates of Gracie Mansion could take. Bratton was handed his hat and rather unceremoniously shown the door.

Bratton worked in the private sector as a security consultant before being selected to succeed Bernard Parks, under whose direction the LAPD saw a sharp rise in crime and a similarly sharp decline in officer morale. Back in September 2000 I wrote that things in the LAPD would begin to improve the very day Parks was ushered to the exit, and I’m happy to report that this happy result has indeed come to pass. Homicides are down 26 percent from a year ago after years of double-digit increases, and officer morale is on the upswing with the abandonment of Parks’s ludicrously draconian disciplinary system and the retirement of some of his more loathsome underlings. Chief Bratton, however, seems to have forgotten one hard-learned lesson from his time in New York: Thou shalt not embarrass the politicians, for theirs is a wrathful vengeance.

Unlike his experience in New York, Bratton enjoys the full support of L.A.’s mayor, James Hahn, who made law and order the centerpiece of his 2001 campaign. It is the city council, rather, that has thrown sand in the gears of Bratton’s plans. Bratton and his staff have worked on reorganizing the LAPD, placing the new chief’s imprint on an organization he saw as moribund and inefficient. In this effort Bratton has promoted or transferred some senior officers and nudged (or shoved) others toward retirement. In the LAPD budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, he has asked for the funding required to complete the reorganization and to hire an additional 320 police officers, a modest enough desire for a man who in New York commanded nearly 40,000 officers but now has fewer than 10,000 to police a city of nearly four million residents.

Rebuffing the mayor and the chief, the council’s budget committee voted 4-1 to delay any increase in spending for the LAPD by six months, setting off a war of words that has them positively giddy over at the Los Angeles Times. “Bratton and Hahn Pull No Punches,” read one Times headline from two weeks ago. “Hahn, Chief Rip Council Over Funding,” read another. The Times reported on a joint interview given by Hahn and Bratton to public radio station KPCC, in which both the mayor and the chief blasted the committee vote. Bratton was particularly strident in his criticism, likening himself to a battlefield general. “It’s like if Eisenhower at D-day had already launched the boats to go toward the beachhead at Normandy,” Bratton told radio host Larry Mantle, “and then all of a sudden he gets the call from Roosevelt to have the boats circle for the next six months to see if we can afford the invasion.”

Okay, a little over the top, perhaps, but the underlying point is nonetheless valid. Bratton was hired to do a job and has now been denied the resources he feels necessary to do it properly. The chief’s outburst was soon met by the full city council’s veto-proof 11-4 endorsement of the budget committee’s action. And it won’t get any easier for Bratton, either. Though no one on the L.A. city council is as far out on the lunatic fringe as, say, New York Councilman Charles Barron, it has tilted left for years. And the tilt is now even more pronounced with the election of such as former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, whose political views lie only slightly to the right of Che Guevara’s. When the newly formed council takes over on July 1, it will bring what the L.A. Times described as a “commitment to a liberal social agenda.” (Read: Hang on to your wallets.) Making things even more interesting on the council is the presence of Bernard Parks, who rebounded from his ouster from the LAPD to win a seat. As a 37-year veteran of law enforcement, Parks would seem an unlikely addition the council’s liberal bloc, but the ex-chief is nothing if not vindictive; how gleeful he must be at the prospect of standing in Bratton’s way.

All of this will make for high drama in the coming months, and it will no doubt be fodder for discussion among those who pay attention to such things. But what a pity it will be if the decline in crime already brought about in Bratton’s tenure is sacrificed in the din of politicians’ petty squabbles. The LAPD’s success or failure will be measured in lives, not dollars. Get ready for a long, hot summer.

— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.

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