Police Chief William J. Bratton abruptly resigned recently and not too many Blacks are shedding tears. They are relieved because Bratton, who is deified by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and much of the city, insists that racial profiling no longer exists in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). This is particularly galling because arguably, racial profiling is Blacks’ top complaint against LAPD. Bratton’s baseless denial is strange; even street cops admit it still exists.
Local politicians and pundits outdid each other in exalting Bratton’s leadership, and after he announced his resignation a blitzkrieg of accolades followed. Of course, hardly anyone notes Bratton’s reported insensitive, contentious relationship with Blacks and Latinos in Boston and New York. Similar distrust informs the feelings of many Blacks over Bratton’s resignation while the silence of Los Angeles’ Black leadership reinforces the mistaken notions that Bratton cares for Blacks and that they hold him in high esteem.
A close look at Chief Bratton’s tenure in Los Angeles reveals a propensity to embrace policies and practices often unfavorable to people of color. For example, in 2005 the Police Commission found that the officers who shot and killed unarmed 13-year-old Devin Brown were “out of policy.” But Bratton sided with the Board of Rights that ruled the officers’ actions “in policy,”i.e., justified. (A three- person Board of Rights makes the final decision in LAPD personnel disciplinary matters.)
Later in 2005, 19-month-old Suzie Pena, who was being held hostage by her armed, drug-crazed father, was shot and killed by LAPD SWAT. Again, Bratton argued that Suzie’s death was “in policy.” Many Latino and Black residents felt that Suzie need not have died and that the officers made a fatal mistake by rushing the father, who was also killed. As with Devin Brown, the incident emboldened Blacks and Latinos belief that Suzie’s death was unnecessary and unjust.
Although Bratton said he was committed to LAPD’s becoming more transparent, he accepted the non-binding advice of the L.A. City Attorney that the department need not provide the names of police officers in disciplinary hearings.
The California Supreme Court in Copley vs. San Diego County Superior Court ruled that the law does not require disclosure of records relating to a peace officer’s administrative appeal of a disciplinary matter. The Court did not address disciplinary hearings but the City Attorney said the decision did apply to such hearings. Bratton accepted this interpretation, opting for less, not more, transparency; Blacks saw this as hypocritical in light of Bratton’s public stance for greater transparency. His doublespeak on issues of vital importance to Blacks and Latinos has kept many distrustful of Bratton and LAPD.
LAPD’s glowing published crime statistics for the first months of 2009-some of which were grossly inaccurate- also were met with skepticism. Day-to-day relations between officers in most Black neighborhoods have changed imperceptibly, if at all. Bratton brags about LAPD’s improved relations throughout the city, but this is news to most residents in poor inner-city areas.
Then there’s the longtime relationship between Bratton and his new boss, Michael Cherkasky-who was also the monitor for the recently terminated federal consent decree between the Department of justice and LAPD. Cherkasky is the head of Altegrity, the international security firm under whose auspices Bratton will operate. Did they discuss the possibility of Bratton’s working for Cherkasky while the consent decree was still in effect? Did their relationship influence Cherkasky’s recommendation to lift the decree? Having worked together before raises legitimate questions of possible conflict of interest.
In an August 8th L.A. Times Op-Ed, Bratton claims to have reduced crime “in every neighborhood…and to have fully embraced and implemented the federal consent decree.” More than hyperbole, this is simply not true. The judge mandated a transition period following the consent decree, during which “the consent decree can be fully implemented.” Bratton also said, “Perhaps most important, we committed to bias-free policing, to reducing tension……and compassionate and consistent policing in every neighborhood.” This is the height of hypocrisy because he knows full well racial profiling still exists in LAPD, yet continues to adamantly deny it.
Blacks have sound reasons for distrusting the outgoing chief: Most are not among those Bratton refers to as “the majority of Angelenos who feel that the Department is a better, more sensitive organization than in the past…(and) feel it is their LAPD. Blacks know it not their LAPD, so goodbye Chief Bratton, and good riddance.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org