Bratton Vows to Reduce Crime by 8%

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton on Thursday vowed to reduce crime by 8% in 2006 and said his officers would make a particularly aggressive effort in high-crime areas such as skid row, which he compared to New York’s Times Square in the early 1990s.

Bratton, who was New York police commissioner then, is credited with helping begin a major turnaround at Times Square, which went from a high-crime area to a tourist destination and the backdrop for TV programs.

He plans to lead a delegation of L.A. officials and business leaders to New York later this month to look at the Times Square policing effort.


“Times Square in many respects in 1992 looks like our skid row today,” he said in an interview. “If you go back to Times Square you can see what can be achieved.”

As part of the crackdown, the department plans to begin arresting skid row denizens who repeatedly block sidewalks, said Capt. Andrew Smith.

Currently, the department only cites them.

Bratton said a drug bust last month that led to the arrest of actor Brad Renfro and the forced closure this week of a liquor store are just the first of several major operations designed to break down the thriving drug trade and curtail businesses that attract crime downtown.

LAPD officials declined to outline the entire strategy, saying they want to keep an element of surprise. But sources have said that the department is embarking on a major surveillance operation designed to better understand the drug gangs that detectives suspect are supplying the narcotics in skid row.

The LAPD also plans to expand the number of hidden cameras in the area from 20 to 68.

“We will be doing more targeting of problems in that area, whether it be liquor stores or clubs,” the chief said.

Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke Thursday at a news conference to tout the LAPD’s meeting the chief’s goal of a 10% drop in major crimes in 2005. The LAPD released statistics showing that in 2005 there were 36 major crimes per 1,000 residents. The last time it was nearly that low was in 1956, when 37 crimes per 1,000 residents were reported, they said.


“We are not going to let up. We are going to keep pushing crime down,” Villaraigosa said. “Crime is at an impressive low in the city. In fact, this crime level has not been seen in our city since I was 3 years old.”

Assistant Chief George Gascon said that having set the 8% goal, the LAPD will now increasingly emphasize the crime rate and is aiming for fewer than 33 crimes per 1,000 residents this year.

Crime was down across the city, but Bratton acknowledged that the LAPD still has work to do to improve some pockets such as downtown’s skid row, where a fifth of the city’s narcotics arrests were made in 2005. The area has a crime rate of 128 per 1,000 residents.

Bratton, who received national attention for cleaning up Times Square, says Los Angeles can learn from that experience. His tour will focus on a community court the city of New York set up to quickly deal with offenders in the Times Square area.

State Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) has proposed establishing a similar community court in skid row.

It was during Bratton’s New York tenure that the “broken windows” approach to policing was first applied in a major American city. The NYPD significantly increased arrests -- often for seemingly minor offenses such as littering and loitering. But the efforts, supporters said, reduced residents’ fear of street crime and cleared the streets of many beggars and crooks. Bratton said such efforts removed the conditions that allowed more serious crimes to occur.


Although skid row is unlikely to become the draw that Times Square is, there are similarities. The drop in crime in Times Square coincided with a major redevelopment effort that brought Disney and other major corporate names to the once-seedy area. In L.A., the blocks around skid row are undergoing a revitalization, with lofts and high-end condos rising and two major shopping districts planned -- one on Bunker Hill, the other near Staples Center.

Some downtown activists are encouraged by the LAPD’s efforts and note that despite the improvements downtown, skid row remains a major problem. In recent months, revelations that hospitals and outside police agencies dump homeless people in the area have lead to a criminal probe of medical facilities and demands for change from political leaders.

“If we in the U.S. knew of any other country where people who are physically sick, mentally sick or has a drug addiction were allowed to live in filthy dangerous conditions such as that on skid row, we would be calling” for the United Nations to intervene, said Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Assn.

Bratton said Los Angeles now ranks behind New York as the safest big city on a per capita basis with 1 million people or more despite having fewer than half the officers per capita. The chief said the 9,302-officer department would be expanded to 9,552 officers by year’s end.

In 2005, preliminary LAPD statistics show, major crimes dropped across all categories and geographical areas. It was the third year since Bratton’s appointment that crime declined. Homicides dropped 6% to 487 -- the fewest since 1999 and 160 fewer than 2002. Robberies declined 4%, while property crimes dropped 9.6%.

Despite the drop in homicides, Bratton said he would not set a goal for reducing homicides in 2006. Bratton did, however, set a goal of reducing traffic collisions by 5%.




Crime drops

The LAPD reported that all major categories of crime were lower in 2005 than in 2004.

Other crimes have also dropped.

*--* 2003 2004 2005 Rape 1,177 1,109 928 Robbery 16,486 14,024 13,453 Burglary 24,871 22,811 21,543 Auto theft 32,038 28,455 26,573


Source: LAPD