Practically nobody is facing that test more directly than Los Angeles’ top cop, former New York City police chief William Bratton. He’s trying to slap down L.A.’s crime using the same theory that made him a celebrity in New York: If you clean up minor signs of disorder—such as graffiti, vandalism and broken windows—you’ll prevent more serious crime. In New York, arresting turnstile jumpers yielded ex-felons and fugitives with guns that the police could return to jail.
Bratton’s chief challenge: L.A. has only half the number of police per capita as New York, and it has to spread them over an area nearly twice the size. In New York, if a cop lands in trouble and calls for backup, he can expect a dozen cars in five minutes. An L.A. cop has to wait up to three times as long, so he’s exposed to more danger and has to take on every situation more aggressively.
What’s more, California’s fiscal crisis keeps even an adoring city council from giving Bratton any of the 3,000 new cops he needs. And to make a difference, he’s going to have to do something no police chief has ever done: break up crime among an estimated 60,000 gang members.
“This is basically my Rubicon,” Bratton says; “my opportunity once and for all to make the case that a philosophy I have helped champion—that I am famous for espousing—works.”
Bratton does have a few things going for him. The best is perception. L.A.’s police greeted him as a “cop’s cop.” He promised them Glock 9 pistols and installed software that pinpoints trouble spots.
Bottom line: Bratton has to apply his theory, under existing conditions,and show at least modest success. If the city puts more police on the street, he’ll have to show more. Until then, his biggest advantage is the perception that he’s the real deal.
— Adapted from “Gangbuster,” John Buntin, Governing.