BY SUSAN ESTRICH
Last month, when reports surfaced that Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton and his wife, Rikki Klieman, were putting their house on the market, people in L.A. started getting nervous. The chief is in the second year of his second five-year term. It is the first time in the 20-plus years I’ve lived here that no one was trying to show him the door.
When the Brattons said it was just because of the pool they didn’t use, it didn’t seem entirely plausible. After seven years, they just woke up and realized they didn’t need a pool? But it certainly beat the alternative.
In announcing his decision to step down, Bratton admitted it wasn’t just the pool. His variable rate mortgage was going through the roof. Not that he was complaining about his salary, but it’s about to go up about 10 times over. And he deserves every penny of it.
In the 1980s, with the funding, support and participation of Attorney General Ed Meese, who really loved policing issues, I helped to run a series of meetings of the top cops in America at the Kennedy School of Government. It was a motley group, a mix of the first generation of black chiefs and the last generation of white tough guys. It was a mix that included Benjamin Ward from New York and Hubert Williams from Newark, as well as Richard Brzeczek from Chicago, Daryl Gates from Los Angeles and Bill Bratton from Boston, then a young “comer,” one of the new generation.
Brzeczek and Gates didn’t have much interest in the new research on how to identify the violent predators who commit a disproportionate amount of all crime. “We know who the bad guys are,” Brzeczek would say with a little smile, cutting off my concerns about what factors could fairly be taken into account and how many “false positives” should be tolerated.
Get involved in the community? Gates always had a perfect tan. I used to joke that maybe the guys from L.A. were involved with the people with pools. But beyond that, they just bragged about their “response time” – how fast they could respond to calls.
The problem with response time is that usually the crime is over and the criminal long gone before the first call gets made. Having officers spend all their time riding around in cars so they can get to places quickly may reduce response time, but it has nothing to do with cutting crime or making people feel safer. You do that by getting the police out of their cars and into the communities they police, by building relationships not walls, by being part of the community and not apart from it.
Chief Bratton has been doing that kind of “modern” policing for 30 years. He brought it to Los Angeles when he came here seven years ago. He brought new technology that puts resources where crime is greatest, where they are needed and not necessarily where the politically powerful people live. He increased both the size and the diversity of a department whose members had, for too long, been seen as hostile outsiders in the neighborhoods they were supposed to protect. Before Bratton, and certainly since the 1992 riots, almost every law enforcement issue was seen by almost everybody through the blinders of race.
Bill Bratton refused to play everything as a race issue. He didn’t see safety as an issue of black vs. white vs. brown. He refused to get bogged down in identity politics.
He made the department better and the city safer.
He did it with honor and integrity.
The City of Angels is a better place because of his leadership.
I just wish he liked that pool more.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer