This appeared in the LA Daily News, on Sunday, January 12, 2003:
How does the Chief really intend to fight the gang war?
by Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman
email to: Arthur@lacp.org
The year 2002 ended in Los Angeles with a toll of 658 homicides,
up from 422 in 1998. More than half were gang-related. Los Angeles
Police Department Chief William Bratton is devoting considerable
effort to crafting a new, aggressive anti-gang campaign, which he
will soon unveil.
Some major points of his plan are already known: beefed-up patrol
units, the appointment of a deputy chief as a gang-suppression czar
and a request for federal aid. All of these are positive steps to
help stop the violence.
Chief Bratton also intends to lobby the Department of Homeland Security
for support, as he equates gang violence with domestic terrorism.
But concern is rising in many quarters that, apart from repeatedly
calling for community help in identifying gangsters, Bratton has
taken few visible or tangible steps toward adopting a thorough,
comprehensive community-policing structure.
In fact, he has not in past years demonstrated either the instincts
or the inclination to develop real community policing.
David Bostrom, program director with the International Association
of Chiefs of Police, has recently published articles on the New
York Police Department and Bratton's term there as commissioner,
from 1994 to 1996. He states, "Like his predecessors, Bratton called
his policing style 'community policing,' but with a big twist. Community-police
partnership was not part of the equation. Problem solving was the
province of the police. Zero tolerance defined the problem."
In fact, during Bratton's term, officer-involved shootings resulting
in death nearly doubled, as did the number of suspects dying in
custody. Police brutality complaints rose 41 percent in the second
year. Damage settlements went from $13 million to more than $26
million per year.
We cannot forget that community policing was the most frequent and
articulate demand made by Los Angeles citizenry in the many public
meetings, questionnaires and polls, as well as in the Blue Ribbon
Criteria Committee deliberations of last summer in the process of
selecting a new chief of LAPD. That public consensus was more than
justified. Community policing is both a philosophy and an applied
science with a proven track record in combating gangs and stopping
the violence they cause.
Over the past eight years, community policing has made enormous
inroads on urban street gangs nationwide by developing a five-pronged
1. mobilizing community leaders;
2. engaging gang-involved youth through outreach workers;
3. facilitating access to educational, economic and social opportunities;
4. suppressing gang activities and holding gang members accountable;
5. helping community agencies address gang problems through a team
This strategy features street-based outreach workers -- assisting
other social service agency employees, probation officers, job developers
and vocational rehabilitation counselors, youth authority workers,
religious and educational leaders and city police assigned to community
policing tactical units -- and other services, both public and private.
These are not superficial ploys. They do not coddle thugs; nor do
they entail grilling hot dogs for gangbangers. They are aggressive
crime-prevention actions that work when impacted communities trust
But community policing doesn't stop there. It also features community
parenting and guidance courses, individual counseling and juvenile
truancy programs. All of them have proven their worth many times,
in many cities. A nationwide Department of Justice survey published
in February 2002 revealed that the continued, concentrated use of
suppression coupled with expanded outreach programs resulted in
more than 50 percent of the respondent cities reporting no increase
or slight decreases in gang activities and crimes. More than 29
percent reported that conditions had substantially improved. Even
in the small percentage of cities reporting worsening gang activity,
most of the increase was in lesser crimes -- graffiti tagging, fist
fights or minor drug dealing.
Against this background of consistent community policing successes
elsewhere, it becomes increasingly unclear just what Bratton expects
from Homeland Security in his quest to persuade that department
to "get preoccupied with domestic terrorism" -- i.e., street gangs.
We should all remember that many millions of dollars of funding
were removed last year from federal community-policing programs
nationwide, and most of the money was diverted to Homeland Security.
Logically, Bratton should try to convince the Homeland Security
people of the benefits of community policing. Prominent consultant
Joseph Brann, director of the Community Oriented Policing Services
or COPS grants during the Clinton administration, tells us: "An
essential currency of the war on terrorism is information provided
by communities. Homeland Security depends on close cooperation with
Also, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge two months ago praised
Italian achievements in the war on terrorism. The linchpin of the
Italian anti-terrorist network is its highly evolved and respected
But we should not expect a new federal department that directly
benefits by taking money away from successful community-policing
programs -- such as the Distressed Neighborhoods inner-city grants,
Weed and Seed community youth development and the anti-game team
effort called CLEAR -- simply to give back the money to local police
Thus, given the political realities, Chief Bratton will find it
difficult, if not impossible, to reverse the money flow and combine
Homeland Security aid with real community-policing programs. On
the contrary, a chief task of Homeland Security is to expand the
use of the military in domestic law enforcement. Another is to establish
a blanket surveillance system and to expand searches without due
process or probable cause.
Thus, Bratton's strategy becomes opaque, bordering on the ominous,
when we consider the likelihood of war with Iraq. In that event,
community-based social and economic initiatives would predictably
be placed on hold for the duration of the conflict.
Four years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist
wrote in his book "All the Law but One: Civil Liberties in Wartime"
that freedom is always a victim of war. Major war necessarily results
in the curtailment of civil liberties. Homeland Security will be
the agency enforcing those wartime restrictions.
Terrorists seek out alienated and marginalized persons to hide among,
influence and convert. That risk can be used as a pretext for clamping
down on entire disadvantaged communities.
In the extreme, wartime curtailment of freedoms could inform Chief
Bratton's entire anti-gang effort. Militaristic response measures
could include blanket curfews for large -- mostly African-American
and Hispanic -- communities; closures of bars, restaurants, other
businesses; massive saturation stop-and-search operations; "no go"
neighborhoods requiring passes or permits; checkpoints and restrictions
on movement; and constant media fear-mongering campaigns.
Such "anti-terrorist" measures would prove devastating to minority
communities, their economies, cultures and family life. They may
impede gangs, but they would also destroy every last vestige of
trust in the police, leading to estrangement and volatile resentment.
Unintended consequences lurk in equating youth gangs with al-Qaida
or Islamic Jihad. We should be engaged in saving our at-risk young
people, not rounding them up for court marshal. We must rehabilitate
all the youthful offenders we can, not merely eliminate them.
Even those who are less than enthralled with community policing
must agree that it produces an economic revitalization of formerly
gang-infested neighborhoods. Obviously, that would hugely benefit
the financial health of the city of Los Angeles.
Chief Bratton clearly needs to spell out in detail his plans for
full, comprehensive and effective community policing as the cornerstone
of his gang-suppression, intervention and prevention efforts. He
also owes the city his solemn promise that his current preoccupation
with the militaristic responses offered by the war on terrorism
and a war against Iraq will not translate into LAPD policy. The
goals are different. The methods should also be different.
--- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human
rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe.
They are consultants and authors on international policing, social
policy and human rights.
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