Late yesterday afternoon, I got a note from a couple of staffers at the LA Weekly that read:
“We thought you would be interested in the following piece of hot LOL:
Chief Bratton responds to LA Weekly’s recent cover story “Bratton: L.A. Is as Safe as 1956″ by saying “I think they were smoking a little weed when they wrote that article,” and then “It’s kind of voodoo reporting.”
The subject head for the email read: LA Police Chief Calls Us Stoners.
Indeed I was interested. Who could resist?
When I followed the embedded links I learned that on Wednesday’s Ask the Chief segment of Patt Morrison’s show on KPCC, Chief Bill Bratton came back with a few testy retorts when asked about a recent LA Weekly cover story that stated Bratton was manipulating LAPD crime stats for political purposes.
Then on Thursday, the Weekly’s Steve Mikulan posted a short take on Bratton’s remarks. (Mikulan has done a remarkable job as a one person news machine for the Weekly’s website. I have become convinced that Steve never sleeps.)
Here is the relevant excerpt:
“Actually,” said Bratton, “I think they were smoking a little weed when they wrote that article.”
The crack got a chuckle from Morrison, but the chief did not seem to be in a jovial mood about the story, and soon sounded darker motives behind it.
“The reporter that wrote that piece had a conclusion that he was writing to,” Bratton said. “Quite frankly I read that article and I couldn’t figure out what the hell he was talking about . . . We stand by our numbers.”
“L.A. Weekly,” he intoned, “seems to have it in for the mayor, so anything he says they try to question. . . . the L.A. Weekly, in their effort to go after the mayor seized on this, spent a lot of time writing about it.”
When Morrison asked if it may be a little misleading to compare per capita statistics that are separated by half a century, Bratton defended his department’s figures while taking one more swipe at the Weekly:
“It’s kind of voodoo reporting,” he said of McDonald’s cover story. “I’m very happy to rely on our statistics, which are audited by the FBI.”
(You can listen to the whole radio segment here.)
Here’s the thing. Yeah, Bill Bratton at times has the fastest mouth in the West. It’s part of his…um… charm. But on the matter of the Weekly article, I must admit I agree with him. I read the 6600 word story by Patrick Range McDonald when it appeared in in the LA Weekly at the end of April. And I found it to be pretty much a hit piece.
In his initial thesis McDonald had a point. He said that Bratton claimed that crime in LA was down to levels of the 1950′s.
On January 5, 2006, for example, Bratton sent out a press release noting that the 2005 “preliminary crime rate” was “364 Part I crimes per 10,000 residents.”
“You’d have to look back to 1956 to find a comparable crime rate for Los Angeles,” the chief said in the press release. He did it again in 2008, this time saying that L.A.’s crime rate in 2007 had repeated the amazing achievement of 2005, once again dropping so low that it matched 1956.
Technically Bratton was right, but only if he looked at Part I crimes in a particular way: Murders and robberies are much higher now per capita than they were in 1956. (Duh! I’m sure you are shocked—shocked—at this news.) But right now rapes and burglaries are way down in comparison to the 50′s. So if one averages all those figures together, Bratton can back his claim—in a number-pretzeling kind of way.
In other words, Bratton’s not cooking the figures, but he’s spinning them. It’s a sales trick. He’s making the numbers say something that he finds useful.
Okay, fair enough. I think Bratton’s 1950′s gambit is a dopey, disingenuous comparison too. Hey, Chief! Catchado!
And that’s probably worth a single column to whack Bratton on the wrist. But a 6600 word piece? Seriously?
And oh, yeah, and did I mention that McDonald’s editor, Jill Stewart, already did that column two months earlier?
With nearly all the same sources.
Moreover, the LAPD’s FBI verified crime stats are up on the department’s website for anybody to check. You can do your very own comparisons. In fact, short of the US DOJ, the LAPD has some of the easiest to access law enforcement stats in the nation.
So why did the Weekly decide to do this cover story on a retreaded column that had a very, very small point to make?
Well, McDonald did have two other points in mind: