Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief William Bratton’s pending departure makes now a good time to give him credit for a habit that draws scant attention amid talk of his traveling ways and unapologetic ego: The guy works very hard at every aspect of his duties.
It’s a habit that can touch other lives as a matter of course. It touched me one morning at the Los Angeles Police Academy. Bratton had invited me there to address a graduating class with a reading of a column I had written about the challenges of policing our city. I sat on the main dais with my wife, while some of my other family members were in a front row to the right, where the sun soon drew a bead on them.
At one point Bratton had finished an inspection of the graduates arrayed on the greensward and was returning to the main dais when he stopped smartly and told my family members to feel free to move back a row or two for some shade.
It was a considerate gesture amid a precisely timed ceremony – made all the more so because Bratton had no way of knowing that one of my sisters had recently been treated for skin cancer. This is a younger sister of mine, and it’s been some time since she’s needed me to look out for her, but I still do in small ways.
I took Bratton’s courtesy personally, as a helping hand. It was one of those moments when someone extends themselves without knowing the full effect of their effort. It was the residue of a solid work ethic. It was the by-product of a constant dedication to the protocol that helps inform a sense of duty.
Bratton has it – and he will be missed.
There are also plenty of very public reasons to regret Bratton’s departure. Crime has gone down consistently on his watch. Relations between LAPD and the city’s ethnic communities are better than ever, although there’s still work to be done. In any case, the agency has seen broad reform and earned a release from federal oversight.
Yet there’s an opportunity to be found in taking a break from the intensity Bratton brings to his work. This is a fellow who comprehends much more than the core of policing, taking pains to understand anything that could have a significant bearing on the job, including technology and statistical analysis. Lately he’s talked about using those disciplines in something called predictive policing, an effort to pinpoint who is likely to commit crimes, at what times, and in which locations.
I think we should all appreciate the fact that substantial individuals are dedicated to an exhaustive pursuit of new tools for law-enforcement.
We should also remember, however, that Bratton is a cop who views the world from a cop’s perspective. That is altogether appropriate for him — and it leaves us with the responsibility of considering whether a hard-charging chief who is intrigued by predictive policing could hold the potential to bring serious erosion to our civil liberties.
It’s true that we have elected officials and a judicial system to stand guard against incursions on our civil liberties, adding more than a cop’s view to the debate.
That’s a bit shaky, though, given political trends of recent years.
Bratton adds to my worries because he’s as good at politics as any politician in our city. I worry about having a police chief who not only has the ability and drive to get a grasp on something like predictive policing but might also have enough political skill to sell the notion in a way that bypasses healthy debate.
Perhaps Bratton’s departure will provide time for Mayor Antonio Villaragiosa and others at City Hall to ponder the balance of liberty and security – and to consider how much of one we are willing to trade for the other.
I thank Bratton for his dynamic approach to reshaping law enforcement in our city, and I certainly don’t intend to diminish his success at fulfilling the mission he took on in Los Angeles.
I address my concerns to our elected officials, all of whom should recalibrate their relationships with the sort of authority figures who possess the ability to make folks feel safe.
It could be downright unsafe to get in the habit of relying on a top cop to handle the whole job.
Jerry Sullivan is the Editor & Publisher of the Los Angeles Garment & Citizen, a weekly community newspaper that covers Downtown Los Angeles and surrounding districts (www.garmentandcitizen.com)