With three years still left before the end of his second term and less than two weeks after the federal government lifted the consent decree over his department, William Bratton—one of the few local leaders left in this era who inspires more adulation than invectives, yawns, or indifferent stares—announced yesterday that he would be stepping down as L.A.’s police chief. He leaves to become CEO of Altegrity Security Consulting, which will sell consulting, analysis, and training packages to law enforcement agencies here and abroad.
We talked to former Westside councilman Jack Weiss, who worked with Bratton on the council’s Committee for Public Safety and who received Bratton’s endorsement in his recent unsuccessful campaign for City Attorney, to take stock of his colleague and political ally as he prepares to surrender his badge.
Was this announcement something that you anticipated?
Not at all, I had dinner with the chief last week, and I just as surprised as anybody.
Why is he leaving now?
Chief Bratton will have to address that, but he certainly goes out on a high note. In my view, Bill Bratton is literally the finest public servant we have ever had in Los Angeles. Not only did he post a number of notable successes, he changed an organization that people have tried and failed to change for generations. His real legacy is cultural change, in part because he selected talented younger leaders in the department and because, just personally, he raised and changed expectations for every line cop.
Structurally, how did he change the department?
His principal innovation in the field of policing was introducing management techniques that you would learn in any business school into the department, including computer statistics. The police departments of America are among the last institutions to adopt modern management techniques, and he changed that.
There had been a history of brutality at the L.A.P.D., and a lack of connectedness to the community. If you really want proof that L.A. is better off today, then look at the confidence level of the police department in inner-city communities. He changed that by putting cops in communities in less confrontational ways.
Before Bratton’s tenure, there was a notion that the meager size of the L.A.P.D. relative to the population and the area under its jurisdiction made community policing unrealistic. Was this a valid excuse to begin with?
I think it wasn’t valid. While we’ve been growing the police department over the past four years, real advance has come about not because the chief had more cops but because he’s used cops more intelligently, based on data, trends, and community input.
But the Bratton era still had its debacles.
If you had to write about one thing, you’d write about May Day [the MacArthur Park demonstration in 2007, in which cops brutalized 200 demonstrators and journalists covering the event]. One thing it shows is how terribly difficult it is even for the best chief in America to turn things around completely. But within 24 hours he was holding cops accountable up and down, particularly at the top.
Will the next chief have the kind of popularity to make some of the politically unpopular moves Bratton made based on his analytics?
No question, it hurt me politically when the department moved cops out of West L.A. into higher crime areas of the city. I supported the chief in those decisions. I hope L.A. doesn’t go back to the old system, even if there’s political danger in keeping the changes Chief Bratton made. Both candidates who ran to succeed me for the council said they would fight for more cops in the district and I understand the political appeal of that.
Bratton has over the years garnered the reputation of a police department turnaround artist, uninterested in running the machinery he builds or refurbishes. Do you think that’s what’s happening in this instance?
Well, he served in L.A. three times as long as he served anywhere else, including New York and Boston, and he has been our longest-serving chief since Daryl Gates. He just didn’t turn the place around, he ran it, and the reason it has run so well is because of his command staff selections. He really found talent.
Will the next chief have the wherewithal to withstand the political pressures you mentioned?
One criterion that the mayor should add to his list when choosing the next chief is political toughness—a proven track record of standing up to political pressure. In L.A. that’s so double edged though. On the one side, you’ve got Bratton, a, good example of standing up to political pressure, and then there’s the Daryl Gates example of standing up to political pressure in all the ways we don’t want. The necessary ingredient for the next chief is for the next chief to be tough like Bratton, not like Gates.
Photograph courtesy Wikipedia/Dan Leveille