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Hahn Picks Bratton to Lead Police Force

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

William J. Bratton, the brash former boss of the New York City Police Department, was tapped Wednesday by Mayor James K. Hahn to lead the Los Angeles Police Department, city officials said.

Hahn informed City Council members of his decision Wednesday afternoon and was expected to formally announce his choice this morning at the North Hollywood police station.

Bratton gained nationwide fame during his two-year tenure as New York City police commissioner because he oversaw a steep drop in crime. His selection to head the LAPD provoked widespread praise from political leaders and the police rank and file--and only muted disappointment from others.

Hahn has characterized the selection of a police chief as the most important of his administration and has said the LAPD is a deeply troubled institution in need of strong leadership.

His choice of an outsider disappointed many council members and LAPD officers who had supported Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez, the only Latino candidate and the only one on the list with LAPD experience.

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Others had considered former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney, once a deputy to Bratton, a formidable blend of old-fashioned beat cop and progressive intellectual.

Police Commission President Rick Caruso, who led the five-month search for police chief candidates, praised the choice, as well as what he described as Hahn’s “very careful and methodical” deliberations.

“He’s been tested,” Caruso said of Bratton. “He knows the players. He’s an incredibly accomplished guy. We had three great choices, but I think Bill is the best of the best. We need that to make Los Angeles the safest big city in the country.

” ... I thought he could hit the ground running,” added Caruso, who along with the mayor was impressed by Bratton’s knowledge of the department.

Bratton, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, could begin work as early as next week if a majority of council members approve the appointment, as expected.

Councilman Jack Weiss, a Bratton backer, called the nod “a terrifically strong choice. Bill Bratton will come to Los Angeles and turn the LAPD around. It’s an on-the-merits pick, and that’s good news for the city.”

Capt. Jim Tatreau, who heads the department’s Robbery-Homicide Division and is president of the Command Officers Assn., said Bratton is the right choice not only because of his considerable experience but also his proven record of reducing big-city crime.

“While in New York, he demonstrated that he knew how to reduce crime on city streets, and we absolutely need that here,” Tatreau said. “Crime reduction has not gotten the emphasis at all times that it should in this city, and Bratton will make it a top priority.... Los Angeles street cops are going to be excited to come to work for Bill Bratton.”

The president of the police union, Mitzi Grasso, agreed that officers will get behind Bratton. “This selection will not only create a better department but a safer city. We are looking forward to working with Chief Bratton. I left him a message on his voice mail saying, ‘Hey, boss....’ ”

Councilman Eric Garcetti was among those who pushed for Lopez. “There were all kinds of reasons we could have gone with other people, and some of us may have preferred other candidates, but this is the mayor’s hour and we need to get behind his choice,” Garcetti said.

Bratton will inherit a department contending with low officer morale, a shortage of 1,000 officers, a rising crime rate and a slate of court-ordered reforms.

Lopez, a former LAPD deputy chief, said he was disappointed and a little surprised, but not envious.

“I think it’s going to be a really difficult situation for him,” he said of Bratton.

Timoney said he will not comment publicly until the decision is announced by Hahn.

The mayor called Lopez about 1:40 p.m., but did not explain why he chose Bratton, the Oxnard chief said.

“But I really think the fact that he had that big-city experience was probably the biggest selling point to the mayor,” Lopez said. “I just told him that I was disappointed but I thought he was doing what’s right for the city of Los Angeles, and that I feel confident that Bill Bratton would do a good job for the city.”

Insiders said Hahn started leaning toward Bratton after his first interview last week, shortly after the Police Commission gave the mayor its list of finalists. But Hahn continued to meet with top advisors late into the night Tuesday, and reconvened them Wednesday morning.

“I gave the mayor my advice, and I know he talked to a lot of people,” Caruso said. “As of last night, the mayor was still giving it a lot of thought.”

Those familiar with the selection process said the 54-year-old former NYPD commissioner demonstrated an “intimate knowledge” both of the LAPD and Los Angeles, garnered during his year spent as a member of the team overseeing the Police Department’s compliance with a federal consent decree.

Bratton left that team after he decided he wanted the chief’s job. He enjoyed the backing of public figures such as businessman-philanthropist Eli Broad. He also spent time with members of the Christopher Commission--which recommended widespread changes in the LAPD after the 1991 Rodney King beating--and met with current and former police commissioners, including Gerald Chaleff, who advised Bratton in his quest for the post.

“He’s been successful in improving every department that he has headed,” said Chaleff, who is senior advisor to City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. “His reforms have been maintained in each one of those departments. He will provide the Los Angeles Police Department with the leadership to improve the morale of the officers of the department and will assist the city in completing the tasks required in the consent decree.”

Aware that he brought with him an outsized reputation in a laid-back political city, Bratton reached out to community leaders during his campaign, and was the only candidate to approach the Los Angeles Urban League, said its president, John Mack.

“That said something to me about his desire to work in partnership with the various segments of Los Angeles as he tries to get a handle on running that department,” Mack said.

“In my opinion he possesses the track record, the leadership that’s going to be required to really turn the institutional culture of the LAPD around, to bring about the kind of lasting, long-term reform that needs to be brought about,” he added. “He will have his hands full. It will not be an easy task.”

Bratton, who headed the NYPD from 1994 to 1996, is not shy about touting his own achievements, including a crackdown on crime--from the petty to the felonious--that provoked a reexamination of police methods nationwide. On his watch, serious felonies--murder, rape, robbery and the like--dropped by a third. The homicide rate was cut in half.

Experts continue to argue over whether Bratton’s tactics or economic and demographic changes were mainly responsible for the decline.

Nonetheless, Bratton became a celebrity and penned an autobiography, “Turnaround.” But his upstaging of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani proved his undoing, and he was forced from office after a public and bitter feud.

As a result, Bratton worked hard to portray himself as a team player who will serve at the will of Hahn.

“Obviously Jimmy was sufficiently comfortable that there is not going to be a one-act show in the Police Department,” said Melanie Lomax, president of the Police Commission in 1991 and 1992. “I think Bratton understands who his boss is, but he has enough of a commanding presence to win the respect of the rank and file.”

Bratton faces a daunting task, both within the ranks and on the streets. As the fourth chief in 10 years, he will take over a department wounded by the King beating a decade ago and stung by more recent corruption scandals. In addition, violent crime has risen in recent years after falling through much of the 1990s.

Bratton will have to combat crime with a much smaller force spread out over a much larger territory than he did in New York. The NYPD has about 40,000 officers, compared with 9,025 in Los Angeles.

During the last year of his tenure, former LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks was roundly criticized for failing to stem three successive years of increasing violent crime, particularly homicides.

After hitting a 30-year low of 419 killings citywide in 1998, the homicide rate rose more than 40% through 2001, when the city logged 579 slayings, according to LAPD crime statistics.

Most of the killings occurred in the urban core, where less than half of the city’s 3.7 million people reside, but where three-fourths of the homicides occur.

Dean Hansell, former vice president of the Police Commission, said he thought Bratton would be up to the task.

“He really is one of the top cops in the United States,” Hansell said. “He’s a strategic thinker.”

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Times staff writers Daryl Kelley, Massie Ritsch and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.


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