Bratton's Drumbeat
How does the Chief really intend
to fight the gang war?


This appeared in the LA Daily News, on Sunday, January 12, 2003:

Bratton's Drumbeat
How does the Chief really intend to fight the gang war?

by Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman
email to:

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 approach:

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 problem-solving approach.

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 their police.

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 the public."

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 community-policing system.

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 forces.

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.

For additional information or a complete list of references, contact:

Dr. Arthur Jones