Fresh off losing in the city council, which won't let voters decide if they want a sales tax boost for more cops, LAPD chief William Bratton warns on the Times op-ed page that "the people of Los Angeles must make a decision. Do you want a city that is safe for families and businesses to thrive? Or do you want to rely on hope that the gangs and violence endemic to some neighborhoods won't threaten the places where you live and work?" Reading his piece, I wonder if Bratton might be getting close to realizing that the LAPD is never going to get the political support he feels is necessary. His first term is up next year (actually 2007—ed.), he has never cut his ties to New York, and his name already surfaces in connection with other jobs. Higher taxes for cops was supported by about 64% of L.A. voters in November, and 9 of 15 council members tried but failed last week to put it on the ballot in the city. Even big majorities aren't enough to get it done in L.A. Would you stay?
The chief says that being understaffed is one reason the LAPD developed the aggressive culture that fuels the black community's mistrust of the Devin Brown shooting:
Throughout our history, we've been asked to do too much for too long with too little....Officers, who could not be certain that they would get enough backup in time to deal with what could quickly become overwhelming odds, took the kinds of actions they thought necessary to preempt every contingency. This is not the way we want to do the job.
The LAPD can — and has found — innovative ways to use our officers more efficiently. That's part of the reason serious crime is down 16% in the last two years. But there is a limit to what too few officers can accomplish, even with excellent strategies and tactics.
Like many big-city police departments, the LAPD was once racist and was often brutal in its practices. This created what can only be described, at best, as an ambivalence toward police and reluctance to trust us with greater resources to do our jobs. Today, any questionable action by an officer inflames the deep-rooted anger and mistrust born in those days.
But that anger is fed even more by a widespread conviction in many of our minority communities that the leadership of this city doesn't care enough to solve the crime problem in their neighborhoods.
The fact is that police, as has been proved in New York and other big cities, can take back mean streets. We can help good kids stay that way by alleviating the need they feel to carry guns to be safe or to join murderous gangs. We have shown that we can help catalyze economic and social revival (though we can never be the full answer to every social problem).