William Bratton Is the Most Famous Cop in America

He’s hot-tempered and can be as blunt as a Billy club. But Chief Bratton gets the job done
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On a rainy afternoon Captain Walter Schick and Detective Godown are setting up a conference room on the second floor of the L.A. Mart for the weekly Compstat meeting. The computerized crime-tracking system, developed under Bratton in New York, puts pressure on commanders to identify crime patterns in their areas—then stop them. Each week one of L.A.’s four geographic bureaus is in the spotlight. Today it is Central Bureau. More than 100 men and women file into the room. Those who will be reporting sit along U-shaped tables positioned before three large screens. Rows of seats are filled by support people who might be called on to speak. Three-ring notebooks, two inches thick with mind-numbing statistics, are distributed. “It looks like a Senate hearing,” one narcotics officer deadpans.

Bratton slips into the room and takes his place at the table to the right of Anemone and Assistant Chief McDonnell. Playing good cop (McDonnell), bad cop (Anemone), the two grill officers from the five Central Bureau divisions as maps of their territories, with colored dots signifying crimes, flash on the big screens. It can be a grueling—What are you doing about that string of robberies? Did you try this? Why aren’t you doing that?—sort of thing. On and on until McDonnell and Anemone are satisfied.

“Some commanding officers cram the night before,” Schick says. But on this day all are prepared, and no one—as has happened in the past—is shredded. Bratton asks just one question, but his presence is felt. Although Parks instituted a form of Compstat, “I only saw him at one meeting in five years,” Godown says. “He gave the impression he didn’t care. Bratton hasn’t missed one. Everybody’s pretty charged up. There’s a willingness to do a job.” In the dumps for years, morale finally seems to be on the rise.

And crime went down. After Bratton reassigned cops to crime-prone areas, started detectives working nights and weekends, and made uniformed officers more noticeable in gang territories, crime fell 5 percent. Homicides, which had risen 51 percent in the three years before he arrived, dropped 22 percent to 506 in 2003. At the same time, citizen complaints against the LAPD rose 4.5 percent, which, in Bratton’s mind, only proved his guys were on the job.

Despite this promising start, Bratton faces at least one major hurdle: getting the city energized—or unnerved—enough to spring for more police. The more police on the streets, history has shown, the less crime. With no immediate budget increases in sight, Bratton’s only hope is to push for a revenue-raising referendum to be placed on the November ballot.

“The people have to understand there’s a limit to how much more we can do,” he says over the phone. “By doing more with what we have, I can make a stronger argument—give us more, and this is what I can get for you. Last year we had a 22 percent reduction in homicides. This year crime will be down more dramatically, but we’ll reach a point where there ain’t no more. You can make this city relatively safe, but to make it safe you need more cops than we have, and this city is gonna have to decide, does it want to get serious about reducing crime? We’re starting to see an increase in West Los Angeles with house break-ins, which scares the hell out of people. There’s the potential, despite our best efforts, for this to spread.”

Asked if there’s such a thing as an acceptable murder rate, Bratton says no. “It’s like the limbo. You don’t know how low you can go till you try.”

After 16 months, it appears Bratton is acclimating to life in L.A. “The paradox here is that the engine that drives the city is the entertainment world. There’s no more cutthroat, in-your-face group than that. Those people are not polite to each other. The irony is the rest of the society here is very focused on congeniality and not getting in each other’s face. What’s the old adage? In New York, they stab you in your chest. Here, they stab you in your back.”

Given his short attention span—or the speediness with which he accomplished his goals in the East—some wonder if he will leave before his five-year term is up. Bratton says he intends to stay, and Klieman, who has signed on as a legal analyst for Court TV and The Today Show, is emphatic. “I will tell you, there’s not a chance in Christendom that he is leaving here without at least one term,” she says. “I changed my whole life. When I hear he’s only gonna be here two years, I go out of my head. I want to say, ‘Forget about him. I’m gonna tell you about me.'”