Thursday, October 08, 2009

Chief Bratton's Exit Interview

There are some things about Los Angeles that William Bratton is going to miss -- but there's plenty that the outgoing Los Angeles Police Dept. chief (who's heading back to New York) won't.

"This is a city that doesn't work in so many respects," said Bratton, who isn't a fan of how diffused the government is here. "There are all these different entities. In New York, all aspects of the criminal justice system are under the mayor. Here, the jails are under the county." And, he added, the idea of a police commission is "redundant."

Speaking at a breakfast thrown on Wednesday morning by Los Angeles magazine, Bratton reflected on his seven years as LAPD chief, and looked to cement his legacy as a boss who brought big changes to what had long been a beleaguered force. Bratton was interviewed by LA mag editor Mary Melton in front of a group at the Foundry on Melrose restaurant.

Despite his frustration with the city and county bureaucracy, the chief said he still believed "there's so much to celebrate here."

Bratton nonetheless is leaving the post fighting, taking aim at City Council plans to reduce the force. Bratton said he believes Los Angeles needs a police force of 12,500, and has brought the number up to 10,000 in recent years -- a growth now in danger of being halted, he said, as the Council appears "intent on dismantling the gains we've made."

If that's the case, then Bratton said the City Council should refund some of the trash fee hike, which he noted was earmarked specifically for public safety.

Meanwhile, Bratton noted that the murder rate has dropped by 400 since he's been in town. Citing a Rand study that calculated the economic cost of a murder in Los Angeles ($4 million per person), the chief calculated his team's impact on the city as $1.6 billion -- more than his annual $1.2 billion budget.

Bratton also defended his decision to keep 300 officers on counterterrorism duty, and spun the recent perjury charges for three officers as a positive thing, noting that the LAPD would have swept such instances under the rug, rather than thoroughly investigate, in the past.

Recalling the early reaction to his plans to reform the LAPD, Bratton mused that the force "was not open to it, not at all." The LAPD, he said, was still reeling from the impact of former chiefs William Parker and Daryl Gates -- a 30-year "legacy of a department that was very inclusive, very self-centered," and suffering from an image that it was racist, brutal and corrupt.

"The department had no sense of image," he said. "They thought they were doing a great job and doing what the public wanted. And they were not."

Bratton led a purge that got rid of much of the old guard; 40% of the LAPD was hired under his watch. With the much of the remaining force hired in the 1990s, Bratton notes that "most of the Parker/Gates generation is now gone." As a result, he said he was "confident" that the culture change in the force is permanent.

Asked what he'll miss about L.A., Bratton -- whose Los Feliz house was just marked down (and will be shown this weekend as an open house) -- said it wasn't the weather, as he's a guy who enjoys the different seasons. As for his proudest achievement, Bratton said he believed race relations have improved in Los Angeles this decade.

"We've turned a corner," he said. "We're maybe further on than the rest of the country."

Bratton hopes that his replacement comes from within the LAPD ranks. No one's been named yet.

On the LA mag front, Mary noted that publication marks its 50th anniversary next year -- and will mark the occasion with larger public gatherings and a series of lookbacks in the magazine. LA mag is also planning a "Future of L.A." event at LACMA.

(It was a breakfast, after all. Here's what I had.)

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