LAPD chief Bratton leaves a police force transformed

Bratton, who ends his tenure at the LAPD this week, is credited for reinventing a police force once known for brutality and corruption, and bringing down crime to historic lows.

Reed Saxon/AP
Outgoing Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, with his executive secretary Mary Helen Ayala, looks up as police helicopters make a flyby as he walks past applauding rank-and-file officers and staff at an "End Of Watch" ceremony, at police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 28.

When he was selected to head the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in October 2002, William Bratton was one of the most successful names in American policing being asked to turn around one of the nation's largest and most troubled police departments.

Seven years later, Mr. Bratton ends a tenure that has seen crime drop 30 percent and a police force transformed.

"Los Angeles' police force is better trained, more diverse, better disciplined and better led than the one that betrayed the city's trust in 1992," The Los Angeles Times declared. "Its work is appreciated by residents across racial lines. Its record, though not perfect, is far less inflammatory and far more constructive."

It's a view shared among neighborhood leaders and police watchdog groups.

The fact that three possible successors to Mr. Bratton all come from the LAPD itself – announcement of the mayor's choice from the three finalists could come as early as Monday – is further tribute to Bratton's success in turning around decades of entrenched dysfunction, say national watchdog groups. That includes charges of racism that have strongly divided this city in incidents from the Rodney King riots to the altercations surrounding the O.J. Simpson verdict – and that Bratton has helped to bury.

"If Bratton's regime has achieved a choice-of-successor atmosphere that precludes the race factor being paramount in its selection of a new chief, that is a tremendous achievement," says Mary Powers, director of the National Coalition on Police Accountability in Chicago. "He leaves a valuable legacy to the city, and one that calls for analysis of how and what means he used to bring the process into a new progressive stage."

How did he do it? Through personal investment of extra time, Ms. Powers and others say, time spent going into troubled communities, schools, and churches to listen and address people's concerns.

Bratton also made institutional changes. He reconfigured the gang, homicide, and drug units of the police and emphasized computerized crime reporting, which allowed better utilization of limited police forces. He formally tracked racial profiling, and tackled graffiti as a way of establishing civic pride.

Bratton's methods – which he used to turn around the Boston and New York police departments before the LAPD – are well documented in his 2002 autobiography, "Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic." One key to Bratton's leadership skills, say observers, is that he knows what beat cops face on the job from his own experience coming up through the ranks.

It was not a given that his ideas would work in Los Angeles, however. The NYPD has about 40,000 police, or one for every 209 residents, compared with L.A.'s 9,000, one for every 409 residents. And the last LAPD chief to be brought in from outside, Willie Williams, a successful, black police chief brought from Philadelphia after the Rodney King riots, didn't succeed in reforming the force.

Bratton will be taking up a job as chief executive officer at Altegrity Security Consulting, a private security firm based in Virginia. By all accounts, he finished out his last week in L.A. with aplomb in a series of tear-filled goodbye dinners and celebrations. Bratton used the occasions to turn the spotlight on the three finalists that could succeed him as "extraordinary individuals, consummate professionals."

The Police Commission Tuesday recommended Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell and Deputy Chiefs Charlie Beck and Michel Moore to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"They're all creative, innovative, committed to improving relations with the many diverse communities in the city," Bratton said. "The city is going to be in good hands under the stewardship of whichever one of them is privileged to be the next chief."


How did the LAPD go from reviled to respected? Click here to read more.


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