Eighteen months ago, I wrote a memo identifying long-term barriers to permanent transformation of the Los Angeles Police Department. I've written a lot of memos about the department over the years in preparation for lawsuits, but this one was prepared at the request of the LAPD's top commanders. That's something that never would have happened seven years ago.
Back then, in the pre-William Bratton era, I and my memo would have been summarily shredded. But under Bratton, not only was outside criticism invited, he assigned his first assistant chief to work through the issues. While the road to permanent transformation stretches a long way in front of us, there is a key reason that we are on it at all.
Bratton has been an extraordinary leader who has recast the LAPD's approach to policing. In my opinion, he and William Parker are the only transformative chiefs in LAPD history. With a talented team, a determined federal judge and an unusually capable Police Commission, Bratton has accomplished a remarkable turnaround of a department that had defied all previous interventions to rein in its behavior.
But no chief could completely alter the DNA of the LAPD in just seven years. Permanent reform will take much longer, and it will happen only if the next chief can continue to drive the mandate down to the squad rooms, where there are still holdouts itching to reverse course.
Bratton will leave behind a blueprint, but in some ways the next chief will have a more difficult job. He or she will need determination to make the changes stick, a deep knowledge of the LAPD, the ability to win the buy-in of the lower ranks and the courage to touch third-rail issues.
These must be the next chief's top priorities:
Making Bratton's "high-road policing" the LAPD norm
The main mission of the next chief of police should be to complete the LAPD's transition to what Bratton calls "high-road policing," a style of policing that reduces crime, wins public trust, heals racial rifts and attempts to solve problems that fuel crime. Still dismissed by some officers as social work, this problem-solving model of policing is not sufficiently accepted as effective crime-fighting or as a way of thinking. As a result, successful community initiatives are still dependent on exceptional LAPD individuals and too often collapse when those individuals leave. We saw this happen with the successful Rampart Division turnaround after LAPD innovators transferred to other divisions
Closing the supervision gap
The Rampart corruption scandal resulted from weak, overwhelmed, intimidated and, in a few cases, corrupt supervision. The LAPD has improved supervision, but too many inexperienced, overloaded and/or overwhelmed supervisors still struggle without needed training and resources.
Providing rewards and incentives that match the mission
Currently, LAPD incentives overprize arrests and specialized units. They fuel rapid transfers and place the least experienced and least supported officers into patrol, the most important public-interaction position. Officers are not sufficiently rewarded for staying in a community long enough to solve problems or build trust.
Better balancing of qualitative and quantitative policing
Bratton revolutionized the use of crime data in crime-fighting. The next chief should continue the strategic use of crime data but needs to also improve the quality of investigations and reward the accuracy of arrests as much as the number of arrests. This will help officers build the community trust necessary to reduce the backlog of 7,000 unsolved murders.
Developing new ways of assessing and combating bias in policing
Bias must be addressed, but it should not be confused with other dynamics. The complex racial dynamics within the department and between the LAPD and the communities it serves require a more sophisticated treatment. For example, in high-crime, predominantly minority areas, police of all races tend to use preemptive shock-and-awe tactics that are not used in low-crime neighborhoods. This dynamic is often mistakenly conflated with racial profiling, when the problem is actually something very different. Questions about the effectiveness of that kind of policing need to be asked outside the context of a racial inquiry.
Establishing effective internal responses to high-profile incidents
Bratton deserves praise for the unflinching after-action report on the May Day debacle, but it happened only after a "circle-the-wagons" first draft was rejected and sent for redrafting to a key civilian deputy and a deputy chief who was expert in public demonstrations. The new chief will need to instill in the LAPD the ability to internally review its controversial incidents.
Weeding out pockets of "hostile-warrior" mentality within the department
Public approval of the LAPD has soared, in part because many officers now treat Angelenos with respect instead of hostility and unwarranted intimidation. This is not the case across the board, however. Just this summer, openly hostile officers clashed with city staff in the Summer Night Lights safe-parks program. Command staff quickly intervened, but it was a reminder that even some younger officers have been taught the old "warrior" mentality.
Changing skid row policies
The LAPD's sweeping crackdown on the homeless in skid row, Hollywood and Venice is out of step with the ethos of compassionate, problem-solving policing, and significant aspects of it have been found unconstitutional by a federal court. Some skid row agencies refuse to call the LAPD to report crime for fear of harassment and because of the department's inability to protect witnesses.
Continuing the accountability procedures required by the consent decree
Now that the federal consent decree has been lifted, the next chief needs to commit to continue collecting the data that support accountability, create measures to check ongoing retaliation against whistle-blowers and counter turf tussles that endanger investigations and witnesses.
The budget crunch will be a challenge for the next chief. But it will also create the opportunity to break down wasteful barriers between specialized and regular forces, assign a wider swath of officers to patrol duties (only 5% of officers patrol on any given watch) and reexamine the revolving-door transfers that abort lasting community policing. The new chief should also reduce the negative impact of the three-day workweek and fix rules that block effective public safety.
The next chief will take the reins of the department at a pivotal time in LAPD history. This term will determine whether the Bratton era was a brief interlude of progress or the beginning of a lasting transformation. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's choice should be determined solely by the ability of the candidate to make it the latter. He will make no choice more important to the future of this city.