05/04/2007

Profile: LAPD Chief Bratton came to LAPD as reformer

The Associated Press

By ANDREW GLAZER

LOS ANGELES, Calif.  — William Bratton was tapped to lead a Los Angeles Police Department shamed by scandal and to win public trust by stamping out crime in the gang-ridden neighborhoods most distrustful of police.

Five years later, Bratton _ among the nation's most notable men in blue _ is up for another contract and on the offensive with a public shocked by images of police violently clashing with protesters Tuesday at an immigration rally.

Police were videotaped using batons and firing foam rubber rounds at protesters and reporters. Bratton, who has worked hard to seduce the media with his blunt Boston brogue, said the use of force occurred while officers were facing off a group of 50 to 100 "agitators" who were trying to provoke police by throwing rocks and bottles.

But he expressed "grave concern" and promised a thorough investigation.

"The treatment you received yesterday from some Los Angeles police officers ... we can't tolerate and won't tolerate," he told reporters.

Bratton's bid for a new contract has earned endorsements from key groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and most City Council members. In a sign the chief has made important reforms _ and earned valuable political capital _ they are standing behind him and his promise to investigate whether police used excessive force this week.

Bratton, who opines on a blog and holds a news conference after each arrest of a gang member on the city's top 10 most wanted list, hasn't always been helped by his ease in the spotlight. When he took credit for a precipitous decline in murders as commissioner of the New York Police Department in the 1990s, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani felt overshadowed and sent him packing.

But like many who come to Hollywood, Bratton has reinvented himself as a humbler team player. Joining the LAPD after a scandal in which dozens of criminal convictions were tossed because members of an anti-gang unit were accused of beating and framing people, he has been quick to respond to civilian complaints.

In New York, he took a "broken window" approach to policing the city and rigidly enforced quality-of life violations such as getting drunks off the streets. He addressed critics who complained officers were too aggressive with a terse: "That's too damn bad."

In Los Angeles, he moved to ban police from using large metal flashlights in 2004 after TV news cameras showed a Hispanic officer using one to hit a black auto-theft suspect 11 times as the man appeared to surrender after a car chase. The images flared up police distrust that had been simmering since the 1991 Rodney King beating and subsequent riot.

In 2005, Bratton implemented a $35 million computer system that tracks civilian complaints against officers and alerts brass about problem officers. That year, after police shot to death a 13-year-old driver who rammed a squad car, he banned police from shooting at vehicles in almost all cases.

Ramona Ripston, director of Southern California branch of the ACLU, said that even the most reform-minded leader will find it difficult to penetrate what she described as decades-long culture of brutality in the LAPD.

"I think every boss has to be held accountable and I think that's why the image we have had of him as a reformer has been tarnished by this," she said. "But I believe you can only change people so much."

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