By Kenneth Miller Sentinel Managing Editor
Christine G. Sabathia Sentinel Staff Writer
Just months into his second five-year term, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton is as optimistic as ever, noting healthy improvements in policing the streets of Los Angeles and within the department itself as well as a decline in crime statistics and better police-community relations. He took time out of his hectic schedule on Monday to share with the Los Angeles Sentinel a review of his past five years with the department and an overview of his next.
When asked about his goals for his second term, Chief Bratton said that this next term will be a continuation of the last, in which much of his focus was on three main priorities: reducing crime, bringing the department in compliance with the consent decree, and protecting the city from terrorist threats.
But this term, he said, some areas will be magnified while others will have less of a focus.
Bratton explained, “In the area of crime, I think we’ve been very successful. For the last six years now it’s gone down significantly...particularly issues of homicide and other acts of violence, and even gang crime overall.
“As of this morning (Monday) we are down in excess of 70 fewer murders, which is about 16 percent. In the area of crime we’re doing pretty good and we are projecting another decline next year. That effort we’ll be continuing and it will be our top focus.”
He then went into a discussion the consent decree, citing discrepancies with the computer system as the reason for the department not being able to comply within the projected time-span of five years.
“The heart and soul of it all was the computer system that tracks all of our officers and their activities in an effort to try and help us identify officers who are at risk. That system proved to be much more complicated. We lost ground on that.”
However, he added, “It’s now been up and running, and it’s been running very, very well. So that along with the many other requirements in the 162 paragraphs in the consent decree, we believe that we are there in spirit and we are there in actuality.”
Bratton said that this is one priority of his past term that will get less of a focus in his next, but the department will continue to practice the requirements met within the consent decree - personnel management, risk assessment, risk management, use of force investigation, auditing capabilities.
He continued, “With the consent decree we’ve been able to develop some of the best systems in the country with policing to the extent that people come from all over the country to learn from us now. The very significant cost of the consent decree has been a great benefit to us.”
As for his third goal, in the area of counter-terrorism, Bratton says Los Angeles is as good as it gets in American policing right now and he will remain committed to keeping it that way.
“We’re on par with New York City, Washington D.C. as far as our counter-terrorism capabilities,” he says. “That’s very important because Los Angeles, along with New York and Washington (D.C.), is one of the three most likely significant terrorist target in the country.”
Bratton also expressed that this goal was a great challenge in terms of people supporting the idea of funding counter-terrorism. “There were people who would prefer those cops (working on counter-terrorist efforts) to be in ‘black and whites’ (police unit), but as chief of police I have to balance all the potential threats and apply resources to keep all those potential threats from becoming a reality.
“And, the reality is if we were to have a significant terrorist attack, the impact on the city would be devastating, independent of whatever fiscal damage and personal injuries it would cause, the economic impact that would be huge. And, it would be particularly huge in the poor and middle class neighborhoods that are so dependent on tourism and the transportation industry...and the service industry.”
Bratton also went into detail about an additional fourth priority - recruitment. In a combined city-wide effort, which also involves Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the hike of the trash fee, the department is now able to hire 1000 additional officers. But, it will take several years to see the actual numbers of those officers due to the intensive training at the police academy.
At the start of his first term, Bratton said there were less than 9300 officers within the department and about 150 in the academy. As of Monday, he said there are now an additional 250 officers on the force and nearly 400 recruits in the academy at any given time.
While the focus of his energy has been on these four major priorities, Bratton said there are many “sub-priorities” that he has focused on and will continue to do so in his second five-year term, including developing good community relations, enhancing the department’s level of technology and scientific capabilities, supporting gang intervention programs and cleaning up downtown’s Skid Row area.