Seeking to shore up federal funding and resources to aid in their campaign to cut crime, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn and Police Chief William J. Bratton spent the day in the nation's capital Tuesday, lobbying government officials for assistance and introducing a newly refocused Los Angeles Police Department.
Hahn, traveling to Washington for the fourth time since he became mayor in 2001, has launched a new effort -- involving more federal, state and community partnerships -- to reduce crime.
"We're going to have a very coordinated approach to dealing with our gang violence problems in Los Angeles," Hahn said between meetings on a snowy Tuesday morning. "It took a long time to get as bad as it has in Los Angeles, so I don't expect overnight results. Our hope is the partnership with federal agencies will make a big difference."
Hahn and Bratton were joined by City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who heads the Public Safety Committee.
The Los Angeles officials sought commitments for more cooperation from the U.S. Department of Justice; more agents to target gun trafficking from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; a team of agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration to work with the LAPD in South Los Angeles, where the most gang crime occurs; and ongoing and additional partnerships with the FBI.
As part of that effort, the group met with the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, Michael Chertoff, in an attempt to further solidify the relationship between Los Angeles and the federal government. The Justice Department holds the purse strings for the federal law enforcement agencies.
But when the mayor and the chief emerged from their meetings, they acknowledged that the federal government's own fiscal issues make this a difficult time to be pleading for money.
"We'll be looking at their budgets as anxiously as they will," Bratton said after one meeting.
Miscikowski said Los Angeles leaders believe they must establish a presence now, as agencies deal with their budgets and as the Office of Homeland Security organizes and develops its priorities. They will meet with Tom Ridge, director of the homeland security office, at the White House today.
While terrorism and national security form part of the backdrop for this week's meetings, Hahn was blunt about the need for the federal government to step in and help cities facing more traditional crime issues.
"I don't think we can forget we have a domestic crime problem that has to be addressed," Hahn said. "Of course we have to be concerned about the threat of international terrorism, but to someone who lives in a neighborhood terrorized every day by gangs, that's terrorism, too.... It's a tough time, but we can't keep silent about it either."
DEA Deputy Administrator John Brown said he will provide Los Angeles with as much help as he can -- and he committed to giving the city a team of agents to work with the LAPD to fight gang crime. But he acknowledged the difficulties.
"We have limited resources, but whatever we can do together, we will," Brown said after his meeting with the Los Angeles officials. "They have a serious problem out there."
As they urge federal officials to help in Los Angeles, Hahn and Bratton are attempting to convince those officials that the city's efforts against gangs stand a good chance of succeeding.
Bratton, the city's new police chief, briefed his federal counterparts on his reorganization of the LAPD, which he argues will make the Police Department more capable of addressing the problem. He said he is looking to create a more strategic approach because he believes the LAPD did not have enough coordination among its various internal units.
According to the LAPD, there wasn't one area of the city where violent crime declined between 1999 and 2002.
This trip is especially important to the chief as he seeks to continue federal grants to pay for officers and to deal with the federally negotiated consent decree under which the LAPD is making a number of changes. Bratton is holding some meetings apart from the mayor to deal with those issues.
Together, Bratton and Hahn also are attempting to organize a coordinated effort to combat crime with other mayors from around the country. The mayor and chief will speak today to a U.S. Conference of Mayors panel to urge other elected officials to consider gang crime as a national problem, much as they now consider terrorism.
Bratton said an FBI report showed that about 180 communities in 42 states are affected by gangs from Los Angeles. A shooting in New York, in fact, recently was attributed to the Los Angeles-based 18th Street gang, Bratton said.