The city of Los Angeles is in the final process of selecting a new police chief to succeed William Bratton, who steps down on October 31. Many of us who serve at the lower ranks of the LAPD are understandably a bit on edge as we await the announcement, as we know very well that the process, fraught with politics as it is, is not designed to produce the most capable leader for the 10,000-officer department. Rather, it is designed to produce a police chief who suits the needs and desires of the mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.
The five members of the civilian police commission — mayoral appointees all — have just concluded interviews with the remaining applicants, i.e., those who survived the screen-down process conducted by the city’s Personnel Department. The commission will soon submit the names of three finalists to the mayor, who will then choose the new chief from among them. Those left under consideration include most of the LAPD’s upper command staff as well as two police chiefs from other cities whose identities have been closely guarded.
For his part, Bratton has recommended that his successor be chosen from among his own subordinates. Unlike when Bratton was appointed in 2002, when the department was reeling from the effects of ten years of ineffective leadership, today there is little impetus for bringing in an outsider to head the department. It makes no sense to suggest that while the LAPD has for the most part been a success story for these seven years under Bratton, with crime decreasing and public approval increasing, none of the men and women whom he has placed in positions of authority is qualified to take his place.
But knowing that our next chief will in all likelihood be someone familiar to us does not necessarily put us at our ease, for we know that while there are senior officers within the department who have earned the respect of the rank and file, there are others at whom we look in amazement as we mutter to ourselves, “What were they smoking when they promoted these people?”
As cops everywhere know, there is a vast chasm between rank-and-file officers and those who serve as administrators. Those on either side of this chasm are mystified by and sometimes contemptuous of their counterparts on the opposite side. The cop in the squad car drives by police headquarters and wonders why anyone would want to be cooped up in an office all day, while the guy behind the desk looks out the window and wonders why anyone would want to spend twenty years or more with a black-and-white strapped to his rear end. This chasm was vividly illustrated just this week here in Los Angeles in an incident reported to me by several colleagues.
On Thursday morning, several hundred LAPD officers and FBI agents conducted raids intended to curtail the activities of the Rollin’ 40s Crips street gang. The raids came after a sixteen-month investigation that resulted in arrest warrants for 74 of the gang’s members. When the operation had concluded Thursday morning, 47 of the suspects had been arrested. Not a bad haul, as these things go, but I think I know why so many got away. This is where that chasm comes in.
As is understood by cops on the street (but not, apparently, by some of their bosses), maintaining a level of secrecy is crucial in mounting an operation such as this one, and officers often go to extraordinary lengths to conceal their preparations from anyone who might tip off the intended targets. For a recent gang sweep near downtown Los Angeles, for example, the command post was set up in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, well away from the neighborhoods where the warrants were served. So it came as something of a surprise to officers assigned to the operation Thursday morning to find that the command post had been set up in a parking lot at the corner of two of the busiest thoroughfares in South Los Angeles, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Figueroa Street. Worse, this intersection marks the northeast boundary of the area claimed by the very gang the operation was targeting. Assembled there for all the world to see was an array of command post vehicles from the LAPD and the FBI, added to which throughout the night were hundreds of marked and unmarked police cars as well as SWAT trucks and armored cars. Any fool could have driven by and known at a glance that something big was about to go down in the neighborhood.
Incredibly, it got even worse. At around three in the morning, the supervisors for the operation gathered for a briefing from one of the captains in charge. Using a P.A. system that could be heard for blocks, most assuredly in the apartment complex that overlooks the parking lot, an apartment complex in which members of the Rollin’ 40 Crips happen to reside, the captain gave an outline of the operation, even naming the targeted gang and the exact time officers would be serving the warrants. As the incredulous supervisors gaped in amazement, two deputy chiefs, both of whom have applied to succeed Bratton, stood there in blithe ignorance that their officers had been placed in jeopardy and the entire operation compromised. Fortunately, many of the wanted suspects chose to absent themselves from home rather than stick around and shoot it out when the police showed up. Given the warning that had been broadcast to the neighborhood, it’s surprising that even one of them was found at home.
So now perhaps you can understand why LAPD officers are anxious about who Mayor Villaraigosa might select to succeed William Bratton. May he choose wisely. There are lives depending on it.