Once again, I have a bone to pick with the Los Angeles Times.
In an editorial in Sunday’s edition, the Times made the early case for retaining William Bratton as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department when his five-year contract expires in 2007. Bratton may indeed prove deserving of another term when the time comes, but for now many LAPD officers are unpersuaded.
Granted, when compared to his two most recent predecessors, Bratton stands as a giant. But theirs were hardly large shoes to fill. Bernard Parks was a tyrant, one whose draconian disciplinary system and towering ego led to higher crime and an unprecedented exodus of police officers to other departments. Willie Williams before him was amiable enough, but he was completely overmatched by the job of running the police department in the nation’s second-largest city. Neither of these men deserved to be appointed in the first place, much less to a second term.
No one was more welcoming of William Bratton than I, a sentiment I expressed many times here on NRO, but recent events have given me, like nearly every cop I know, cause to reconsider. Unlike the editorialists at the Times, the city’s street cops see the recent firing of John Hatfield, the officer shown on television striking a fleeing car thief with a flashlight last June, as a nakedly political move, completely unjustified by the evidence.
In choosing to fire Hatfield, Bratton showed himself willing to accede to the wishes of the local grievance industry, subordinating his role as leader of the department to the demands of racial politics. Bratton has a deep well of political capital in town, but he was unwilling to spend even a drop of it to spare a cop who, though he may have made a mistake, did not deserve to lose his job.
The Times rightly lauds Bratton for the drop in crime brought about since his arrival, and it is the crime figures that should count most when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his police commission evaluate Bratton’s bid for reappointment in two years. Reported violent crime citywide is down 39 percent from two years ago, an accomplishment that would have been unthinkable had Bernard Parks remained as chief.
But there are signs of trouble ahead, particularly in the city’s higher-crime areas. In the LAPD’s South Bureau, where a disproportionate amount of city’s crime takes place, arrests for violent crime are down 5 percent from two years ago. This is no doubt partly due to the fact that reported violent crime is down 30 percent over the same period, but a hidden factor might also be in play. As was the case during Bernard Parks’s tenure, when many cops adopted a “drive-and-wave” attitude out of fear of drawing citizen complaints, officers again see the peril to their careers that accompanies proactive police work.
The risk to life and limb is seen as part of the job, but no one wants to be the next cop on the hot seat and find himself, like John Hatfield, out of a job. South L.A.’s gang members, perhaps emboldened by what they may perceive as a police retreat, seem to be taking advantage of the situation: the number of shooting victims in the area increased by 37 percent from June to July, and the number of murders during the same period went from 12 to 28. In the Rampart Division, another of the city’s most violent, the number of shooting victims went from 3 to 23, while the number of murders went from 0 to 6.
Only a motivated police force can bring these numbers down, and as things now stand William Bratton isn’t supplying the motivation. He has two years remaining in his current term, two years to find the spine he showed as commissioner of the NYPD ten years ago and when he first arrived in Los Angeles. How many more people will die before he does?
–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.