As Police Chief William J. Bratton stood before The New Leaders, he scanned the audience of nearly 100 at the Saturday meeting in Los Angeles.
"It is so good to see an audience -- an African American audience -- where there are so many young men," he said of the black professional civic organization. Males made up more than half of the audience, which included entrepreneurs, preachers, financial analysts, psychologists, writers and community leaders.
Bratton talked about community policing, rising crime, racial profiling, gangs and police officer recruitment for an hour at the FAME Renaissance Center, near Adams Boulevard and Western Avenue. He acknowledged that much of the crime in Los Angeles occurs in their communities. He said it is tough to recruit African American police officers because many black males in Los Angeles "never make it to their 20s without developing a crime record."
And those who do qualify often harbor horror stories about confrontations with police, the chief said, so "why join an organization that never treated you with respect?"
Robert Cole, president of The New Leaders, said Bratton's forthrightness was refreshing.
"I appreciate his honesty and candidness," said Cole, 37. "He was letting us know what is going on in this community. Yes, there is black-on-black crime. Yes, we are losing our young black men to crime. The bottom line is, crime in our community has to be reduced."
Kymberly Horner, a financial management analyst, said, "People need to deal with the fact that if we are committing crimes, and our kids are committing crimes, we need to have conversations about that."
"He's focusing in on the black community, and that is good for us," she said.
Bratton said the Los Angeles Police Department plans to develop stronger relationships with communities and track crime patterns. He said he is restricting the practice of swarming neighborhoods with patrol cars and officers whenever crime spikes. He wants officers to question suspects and sources with gang affiliations when crimes occur, instead of interrogating every teenager in hip-hop attire, he said.
The chief also said he is trying to hire more black officers. In doing so, he said, he is considering changing some requirements that bar candidates from becoming police officers. He wants to revise rules that disqualify an applicant who has used drugs in the past or knows a gang member.
"How the hell do you grow up in this community without associating or knowing a gang member?" he said, adding that the no-drug-use policy has caused the department to lose a lot of college graduates, who may have experimented with drugs but did not become regular users.
Bratton called on the African American community to help stifle violence that has been steadily increasing over the last five years.
"We will try to do a lot more, but we cannot do it alone," he said.
There were 658 killings in Los Angeles in 2002, up from 596 in 2001.
As of Jan. 18, there had been 35 homicides this year, police said. On top of that, between 1:25 p.m. Friday and 4:10 a.m. Saturday, there were four homicides and one murder-suicide in the city, Bratton said.
Three of the killings occurred in the San Fernando Valley and one took place in South Los Angeles; the murder-suicide was in Hollywood.
Bratton called the latest slayings "a reminder of how violent the streets of Los Angeles have become."