L.A.P.D. Chief Bill Bratton Seeks Second Term

Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton says he wants to serve another five years as head of the nation's second largest police force. Bratton says he deserves re-appointment, because crime is down and officer morale is up on his watch. Others contend the chief's record is mixed. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn (in 2002): Chief, will you raise your right hand. I William Bratton do solemnly swear.

LAPD Chief Bill Bratton (in 2002): I, William Bratton do solemnly swear.

Frank Stoltze: Bratton's swearing in nearly five years ago signaled hope for change at an L.A.P.D. reeling from the Rampart corruption scandal, sinking officer morale, and rising crime.

Bratton: From my perspective as a police leader who's always looking to use crisis to create change, it was the perfect situation to come into because everywhere you looked there was something to fix.

Stoltze: In his sixth floor office at police headquarters downtown, 60-year-old Bratton reflects on his accomplishments.

Bratton: Homicides down by almost 29%. Overall part one crime down by about 25% over the last four years. We have achieved the counterterrorism capability that was desired.

[Sound of LAPD recruits at Police Academy, gunfire]

Stoltze: At the Los Angeles Police Academy tucked in Elysian Park just north of downtown, L.A.P.D. rank and file speak well of the chief. Officer Joe Galindo says he's been a welcome change.

Officer Joe Galindo: Under the prior two chiefs, officers were looking to retire soon, find other jobs, other places. Nobody was willing to confront suspects on the streets because if you did the wrong thing, they micromanage you and you were terminated. So officers weren't out there aggressive enough.

Stoltze: Bratton, he says, stands by his officers. The chief has approved a three-day work week, upgraded weaponry, and encouraged officers to engage in creative problem solving. He's initiated sophisticated computerized tracking of crime and sought to hold commanders more accountable for reducing crime.

Some cops remain angry that Bratton fired the officer involved in the Stanley Miller flashlight beating case. But Bratton supported the cop who killed 13-year-old Devin Brown, who was backing a car at the officer. Officer Robert Albert says it shows the chief is fair.

Officer Robert Albert: It's not just backing the officer for the sake of backing an officer. He is showing spinal fortitude and standing and saying "no, I'm going to analyze this." He doesn't try to be swayed by what the political climate might be.

Stoltze: The L.A.P.D. continues to face abuse accusations, including one in which an officer was caught on videotape pepper-spraying a handcuffed suspect in Venice.

[Sound from videotape of officer pepper spraying screaming man]

Luis Carrillo: It's business as usual in many divisions of the police department of the city of Los Angeles.

Stoltze: Attorney Luis Carrillo regularly sues the L.A.P.D. on behalf of alleged victims. He opposes Bratton's reappointment.

Carrillo: There continues to be a culture where the code of silence is still enforced – that police officers commit excessive use of force and that the sergeants back up police officers who commit excessive use of force.

Stoltze: One report describes a warrior culture that leads to brutality. Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southland's American Civil Liberties Union chapter, shares those concerns. She also points to a recent federal court ruling that the L.A.P.D. conducted unconstitutional searches on Skid Row.

But Ripston notes that Bratton, unlike his predecessor, has embraced federally-mandated reforms – and that it's paid off.

Ramona Ripston: We used to get so many complaints. We get far fewer complaints.

Stoltze: Merrick Bobb heads the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center, an independent law enforcement watch dog.

Merrick Bobb: One of the things that I so much like about Bratton is that he recognizes, I think, some of the flaws in L.A.P.D. culture and is prepared to move forward to change that culture.

Stoltze: Bratton calls it a culture of "isolation." He says officers have been forced to be "assertive" and "confrontational" because the department is understaffed. He remains a fierce defender of the L.A.P.D. He's lashed out at critics – he called one community activist a "nitwit."

Bratton: The officers of the L.A.P.D., despite the efforts of many out there to color them as brutal, racist, violent, corrupt, they are not. They are an extraordinary group who exercise enormous restraint.

Stoltze: The often brash Bratton has also reached out to political and other law enforcement leaders in ways previous chiefs have not, marshalling new cooperation and funding for more cops. He says he's rebuilt public trust in the department and wants to continue to do so in another term.

Bratton: From my perspective, we are well on our way but we have 30, 40 years of history to overcome and deal with. And I think we are dealing with it.

Stoltze: It's up to the Los Angeles Police Commission to decide whether to re-appoint Bratton. The panel is appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He's vigorously endorsed the chief for another five-year term.