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From the Limelight to the Hot Seat

So Bill Bratton wins the beauty contest.

A surprise?

Not really. Mayor Jim Hahn was hot for someone from outside the Los Angeles Police Department to air out Parker Center. That meant Oxnard Chief Art Lopez, who spent the bulk of his career in L.A. blue, had about as good a chance as Trini Lopez.

It was always a contest between ex-NYPD boss Bratton and his pal, ex-Philadelphia commissioner John Timoney. I don’t know whether Slim Jim flipped a coin, or decided on the basis of which guy could name three Los Angeles neighborhoods without crib notes.

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Speaking of which, a colleague from back East dropped me a line to say they must not have told Bratton that Beverly Hills isn’t in the LAPD’s jurisdiction. And that’s just one of several things that concern me.

Bratton’s got a nose for the camera, and New York City wasn’t big enough to contain the egos of both Bratton and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. When they banged heads over who deserved the curtain calls for New York’s declining crime rate, it was like planets colliding.

Jim Hahn cuts a slimmer profile, one that’s invisible to most of us who live in L.A., and I’m worried that Bratton will work him like a punching bag.

It was Bratton, after all, who wrote a book about, guess who, in which he compared his arrival as New York’s police commissioner to Babe Ruth at the plate, pointing to where his home run would land.

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In other words, like most New Yorkers, Bratton is half Hollywood. And, hey, as a columnist who’s always on the make for material, I like a brash, bold personality. Lord knows that cup does not runneth over at City Hall.

But as a former New Yorker myself, I’d like to take this opportunity to give Bratton a few things to chew on.

Before you unpack your bags and close a deal on the house in Brentwood, Billy Boy, be aware that we aren’t looking for another star. We already have enough of those.

We’ve also got gangs surging, bullets flying, children dying and a demoralized Police Department that’s down a thousand cops. So we’re not looking for someone who’s going to hang around for a couple of years, see how many movie stars he can meet and how many headlines he can score, and then run home when he doesn’t get his way.

Giuliani won the war of egos in New York, and Bratton, who changes jobs as often as he changes wives, bailed out a mere 27 months after filching the following Winston Churchill quote at his swearing-in:

“We will fight for every house in the city. We will fight for every street. We will fight for every borough. And we will win.”

That kind of maudlin drama might have dazzled New York City’s tabloid press corps, but what worked back East won’t necessarily fly in Los Angeles.

For starters, part of the LAPD’s problem is that it has acted like an occupying army at times, so a declaration of war might not be the best way to convert the troops.

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With only 9,000 cops, compared to New York’s 40,000, the only way to “win the war” is to stop calling it a war, and to get entire communities to trust and respect the Police Department enough to work hand-in-hand with cops.

I personally like Bratton’s unapologetic philosophy of going after the little things like broken windows before a young thug graduates to more serious mayhem. But not if it turns into a blitzkrieg, as it often did in New York, and leads to a flood of citizen complaints that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

You can’t expect to get anywhere, one LAPD cop told me, by “riding into a neighborhood and jacking up every kid in baggy pants. There might be a short-term reduction in crime, but you pay a long-term social cost if you alienate the community.”

Los Angeles defense attorney Stephen Yagman, who since 1978 has made a career of suing overzealous cops, was practically ready to go out and buy a new car Wednesday upon hearing that Bratton had gotten the job.

Yagman says he was at a conference last year in Colorado and heard Bratton say racial profiling “was an important first tactic to use in getting criminals off the street.”

“I’m really disappointed,” Yagman said of Bratton’s appointment. “I would prefer real police reform to making a lot of money off the bad deeds of the LAPD.”

To be fair, I think it’s a little early to predict that Bratton’s fourth wife, Rikki Klieman, who made her name during the O.J. trial and now works as a Court TV anchor, will end up covering his new department at a brutality trial. (They might actually be the perfect L.A. couple.)

But if Bratton spends more time straightening his tie than straightening out the department, the honeymoon may be over in a hurry.

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And if you think this is a heck of a way to welcome a New Yorker to town, you’re taking it the wrong way.

I just wanted to make him feel at home.

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Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com.


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