Sunday, December 4, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts




Bill Bratton

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s Law Enforcement Legacy

September 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

Ken Auletta has a not-to-be-missed profile of New York police commissioner (and former LAPD Chief) William J. Bratton in this week’s issue of the New Yorker.

In the mid-90′s, Bill Bratton stepped in as New York’s police commissioner the first time. The city’s crime rates plummeted under Bratton.

Bratton attributes much of the drop in crime to the department’s adoption of Broken Windows, a controversial method of policing which focuses on quality-of-life crimes like tagging and public drunkenness, as a way to prevent more serious crimes. But critics of Bratton and his Broken Windows policing say the downward crime trend wasn’t just happening in NYC. It was happening in many major cities across the US. Detractors also call Broken Windows a discriminatory practice that targets poor men and women of color, and can actually exacerbate tensions between law enforcement and those they serve.

After two years, in 1996, Bratton was ousted by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani. After working in the private sector for several years, Bratton spent 2002 to 2009 in Los Angeles as the city’s chief of police. Under Bratton’s reign, a department mired in misconduct and use of force scandals underwent a fundamental culture change.

Bratton took the role of NY’s police commissioner for the second time, last year. The commissioner set to work improving law enforcement-community relations, in part by cutting down on the department’s controversial use of stop-and-frisk, which exploded under the watch of Bratton’s predecessor Ray Kelly.

Despite some opposition, Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio stand firm in their support of Broken Windows as a crime reduction tool.

When the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta asked Bratton about his legacy, the commissioner said he still hopes to “become the most significant person in policing in the country.”

Here’s a clip, but do go read the rest:

One day recently in a courtroom at Manhattan’s Criminal Court Building, at 100 Centre Street, thirty-one defendants who had been arrested for misdemeanors appeared before the judge. Only one was white—a homeless man. Two of the defendants had been apprehended the day before as trespassers for using a Port Authority bathroom that the police said required that they show a bus ticket. “They threw me against the wall, completely searched me, patted and frisked me in front of all these people, and threw cuffs on me,” Wendell Moore, a thirty-two-year-old man and a father of seven children, told me. The police found a cell phone on him that they claimed was not his. He spent the night in jail, and the next day was charged and released. “Other people going to that bathroom they didn’t stop,” Moore said. “They only stopped two black kids. They didn’t know who had tickets.”

Ed McCarthy, a longtime Legal Aid attorney, told me that broken-windows arrests have a way of steering people into the criminal-justice system. Clients who are younger than Moore often plead guilty, he said, because the alternative is worse: “You have a kid who’s nineteen, twenty years of age. He’s no longer eligible for youthful-offender status. He’s now jumped a turnstile for the third or fourth time, and the D.A.’s policy is ‘No, he’s had his chance. He’s going to be arrested or stay in jail because he’s had a couple of warrants.’ And, of course, if you’re nineteen and the choice is plead guilty, get a record, and go home, or risk going into Rikers for four or five days or even longer, what would you do? You obviously are going to plead guilty.” A criminal record of any kind can prevent a person from getting a job. And, because broken-windows singles out “recidivists,” convictions can quickly accumulate.

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York branch of the A.C.L.U., said of Bratton’s defense of broken-windows, “There is insufficient concern that a generation of young people, particularly young men of color, have grown up thinking that their legal rights aren’t worth anything, that their dignity isn’t worth anything, that their freedom isn’t worth anything.” She went on, “That’s a huge omission. It doesn’t speak of racial animus. It speaks of a race-bound kind of tunnel vision about how we look at social policy and at policing policy in particular.”

In April, de Blasio again expressed support for the broken-windows approach. “I want to emphasize, my vision of quality-of-life policing and my vision related to the broken-windows strategy is the same as Commissioner Bratton’s,” he said. But many left-leaning activists struggle to understand his reasoning. “De Blasio can’t credibly present himself as a progressive dedicated to equality when broken-windows is both a violation of human rights and a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ writ large,” Robert Gangi, the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, and a longtime critic of broken-windows, told me. Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker, has called for low-level offenses such as public urination and turnstile-jumping to be decriminalized. Bratton has opposed such efforts. However, last November, the police department reduced the penalty for the possession of small amounts of marijuana from an arrest to a summons.

In August of last year, Bratton publicly conceded that the video showing the choke hold that led to the death of Eric Garner was “certainly disturbing.” And although Bratton maintains that community policing has always been central to his work, his closest advisers have acknowledged the need to adjust the department’s policing strategies. “The police environment has changed,” Robert Wasserman says. In 1994, when Bratton began his first tenure as N.Y.P.D. commissioner, crime was rampant, and the issues that he addressed revolved around what Wasserman called “policing solutions,” and consulting the community was not the highest priority. Today, Wasserman added, Bratton has to overcome the community’s “sense that cops only want to arrest people.” Jeffrey Fagan, of Columbia, told me, “When people aren’t in love with the police, they don’t help the police, they don’t coöperate with the police. Communities are the experts on crime, not the police; they know who the bad guys are.”

“One of the biggest challenges facing me now,” Bratton said, “is to continue to advocate for, and continue to implement, broken-windows, quality-of-life policing, because I think it’s essential to how the city feels about itself, and it has an impact on over-all crime. We should not make the mistake of my predecessor on the stop-question-and-frisk issue. We have to insure that the amount of it is appropriate to the issues that we’re facing, and be sure that it’s being done constitutionally, and that it’s being done compassionately, and by that I mean respectfully.”

Bratton often says that the police are “sales reps” and citizens are “customers.” At a buffet breakfast at the Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Jamaica, Queens, last February, he told the audience that the N.Y.P.D. “needs to face the hard truth that in our most vulnerable neighborhoods we have a problem with citizen satisfaction. We are often abrupt, sometimes rude, and that’s unacceptable.” Subsequently, Bratton told me, “We want cops to be able to see the people they’re policing. In this department, and maybe in a lot of American policing today, unfortunately, too many members don’t treat people appropriately.”

In late June, in an effort to improve customer service, Bratton unveiled a new neighborhood-policing plan called “One City: Safe and Fair—Everywhere,” which assigns the same officers to the same areas (rather than shifting them around) and has them spend a third of their shifts on foot, talking with residents, merchants, and community leaders. Since January, all officers are required to take a three-day training course each year, one day of which has been devoted to “Smart Policing,” which aims to improve how the police interact with citizens.

Posted in Bill Bratton | No Comments »

WitnessLA on KPFK’s Deadline LA Talking About the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Subpoena Power & Indicting Paul Tanaka…(& Also on KCRW’s Press Play)

May 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Memorial Day I was on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts, Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume, discussing issues concerning the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, including the significance of the recent indictments of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former LASD captain Tom Carey. We also talked about the proposed civilian oversight commission for the LASD and whether or not that commission should have subpoena power.

Last, we touched on the recent report showing crime in California has gone down not up since realignment began in October 2011.

Here’s a link to the podcast. (Scroll down through the archives until you see DEADLINE LA and you’ll find it.)


On the day that the indictments were unsealed charging Tanaka and Carey with obstruction of justice, I was on KCRW’s Press Play, where I discussed with host Madeleine Brand the significance of the indictment, and whether or not these new charges meant that there was a possibility that former sheriff Lee Baca—who, for a host of reasons, has been believed by many to be essentially unindictable—might now be in the U.S. Attorney’s sights for future charges.

We thought you might enjoy listening to the conversation.

Here’s the link.

Posted in Bill Bratton, FBI, Jim McDonnell, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

Report Says Stop Locking Kids Up for “Status” Offenses….Bratton Named NYPD Commissioner…Why Defendants Accept Plea Bargains….& More

December 6th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


A new report released this week by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, calls for an end to detention for kids who have only committed what are known as status offenses. For those unfamiliar with the term, a status offense is conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult—things like truancy, running away, violating curfew laws, or possessing alcohol or tobacco.

The report, which also outlines a set of proposed National Standards for the treatment of status offenders, points to research showing that: ‘…. status offense behaviors are often the result of unmet child and family needs, and that pushing these youth into the juvenile justice system worsens individual and community outcomes.”

You can find the full report here. It contains the proposed National Standards, which have already been endorsed by groups such as the national PTA, the Youth Law Center and more.


On Thursday, William J. Bratton was named Police Commissioner for New York City—for the second time Bill Bratton was first hired as the NYPD Chief in 1994, when crime was up and the city was a dangerous mess.

In between his last stint in New York and the new one for which he was just appointed by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Bratton has, of course, served as the Chief of the LAPD.

In 2002, Boston-raised Bratton took on the position as LA’s top cop at a time when the department was reeling from the Rampart scandal along with the imposition of a federal consent decree. The morale of the department’s rank and file was in the toilet, and the LA communities that were most likely to need police presence harbored a deep distrust and anger toward the force theoretically charged with keeping them safe.

By the time Bratton left in 2009, while the LAPD still had challenges, it was fundamentally changed, as was the attitude of the communities it served. Where there had once been animus, there was relationship.

It will be interesting to see what Bratton brings to New York, the second time around, when the city has been torn by the effect of the existing regime’s stop-and-frisk policies, a version of which BB helped introduce during his first tenure in the 1990s.

At WLA, we were glad to hear of Bratton’s appointment, and are rooting for him.

The NY Times J. David Goodman has a nice, long article on the selection of Bratton, for those looking for more on the topic.

Also, Jack Leonard, Tina Susman, and Joel Rubin of the LA Times have an interesting story about how Bratton courted some of the LAPD’s harshest critics before he arrived in town in an effort to understand the fear and fury directed at the city’s police by so many of LA’s residents.

Here’s a clip:

Weeks before he was selected to be chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Bill Bratton was already at work, making the rounds among the city’s black leaders.

One of his calls was to John W. Mack, then president of the Los Angeles Urban League and a man who viewed the LAPD as “an occupation force in our community” prone to “brutality and racism.”

The men met for two hours in Mack’s office. Bratton mostly listened as Mack explained the chasm of distrust and hostility that defined relations between the city’s police and minority communities.

“I told him he had a big mountain to climb because there was a lot of anger and outrage,” Mack said.

Bratton’s seven years leading the LAPD was marked by aggressive, data-driven policing and a significant drop in crime.

But less heralded were his overtures to minority communities and courtship of some of the department’s harshest critics. He took over a department still reeling from racial tensions and the Rampart corruption scandal. When he left, he had succeeded in transforming Mack and other skeptics not just into supporters but partners in his drive to reduce crime.


Although guaranteed by the Constitution the right to a jury trial, 97 percent of all drug defendants take a plea bargain rather than risk a trial.

In a 126-page report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch, researchers looked at why so many defendants plead guilty, including those who are actually innocent.

Here’s a clip from the press release that accompanied the report:

Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats. Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.

“Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice – in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial,” said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple.”


On Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Protective League has predictably (and rightly) opposed the parole of Voltaire Williams, one of the conspirators in the 1985 murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams in front of his six-year-old son whom the detective was picking up at daycare.

Detective Williams was reportedly targeted because he was a witness in a criminal case against the killers’ confederate. The killers allegedly figured—do away with the witness, do away with the problem.

It is the motive, rather than the victim, that another letter in the matter of Williams parole primarily addresses. The second letter is written by Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz who prior to going to Riverside, spent 33 years on the LAPD, his last post as Deputy Chief.

Diaz’ letter is worth your time to read as it explains eloquently why this particular decision about this particular parole is important.

You can find the letter here: Voltaire Williams Parole ltr-12022013094536 (2)

Posted in Bill Bratton, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, Prosecutors, Sentencing | No Comments »

Baca Speaks to Editorial Board of LA News Group……LA Experts Assess Villaraigosa’s Public Safety Report Card…SCOTUS Hears Gay Marriage Next Week

March 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The LA News Group includes such newspapers as the LA Daily News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and so on. Earlier this month, the group published a withering critique of Baca, all but calling for his ouster in 2014 when he is up for election.

But after a meeting with Baca this week, while not by any means offering the sheriff any reelection endorsements, the LA News Group’s editorial board was, at least, somewhat less determined to show him the door.

Here’s a clip from the editorial:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca mentioned two personal goals this week: Winning re-election next year and living to 100. In recent months the latter had seemed more likely than the former.
The dedicated runner’s physical fitness wasn’t in doubt, but his fitness for office was. After revelations about the unwarranted use of violence by sheriff’s deputies, Baca initially passed the blame to subordinates. A citizen’s commission probing jail violence cited a “failure of leadership. ”

By last fall, the question had become whether Baca, 70, should resign before scandal or voters forced him out.

But the Lee Baca who visited the Los Angeles News Group editorial board this week, to outline responses to the problems in the Sheriff’s Department, appeared as fully committed and as creative as ever in his approach to his huge job. It is still not clear that Baca deserves a fifth term, any more than it was clear before that he doesn’t. But it is clear that Baca will not be easily brushed aside in 2014.

The question now is whether Baca’s wide-ranging responses to the scandals makes up for his inability to prevent them.

The editorial also mentions that, in answer to questions about the exit of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca said he managed to “finess” Tanaka into leaving.

Here’s the clip:

…More-impressive responses are Baca’s admissions that much of the ACLU’s criticism is correct, and his actions to get to the systemic roots of issues instead of merely blaming underlings.

One was Baca’s move to “finesse” Undersheriff Paul Tanaka into announcing his retirement – and then to essentially eliminate the position. Baca thinks this removes a barrier to communication between him and assistant sheriffs.

The insistence on using the word “finesse” to describe his ouster of Tanaka is classic Baca….

In other words, the retirement announcement was not about the undersheriff’s sudden urge to play more golf, after all.

For LASD watchers, it’s essential to read the whole editorial.


KPCC’s Frank Stolze talks to a list of LA experts about how Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa should be rated as a public safety mayor.

The reviews are generally good, but qualified with the admonition that Antonio was also the beneficiary of some very good luck.

Villaraigosa’s largest stroke of good fortune was his inheritance of Bill Bratton as LAPD’s chief after James Hahn arguably lost the mayoral election to Antonio because he fired Bernard Parks, “a beloved figure in the black community. Hahn lost his once bedrock support among African-Americans.”

(It should be noted that Parks had come to be roundly loathed by the rank and file, who felt that, as chief, he punished them for small infractions while letting his friends do what they pleased. He also alienated the press, members of the DA’s office, and most of city hall for his obstructive handling of the Rampart investigation.)

But while Villaraigosa may not get credit for bringing Bratton to LA, Stoltze reports he does get credit for working very well with him.

Here’s a clip:

In a sense, Villaraigosa lucked out.

“I think he was the beneficiary of the very tough decision that Jim Hahn made,” said UCLA Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology Jorja Leap, who studies crime in L.A. “I don’t think Jim Hahn is given enough credit.”

Villaraigosa embraced Bratton, who receives a lot of credit for turning the LAPD around and delivering the dramatic drops in crime by introducing new technology and cooperating more with federal agencies. The mayor also deserves praise for working with the chief to repair long-frayed police-community relations, said Alex Alonso, who monitors gangs and policing on his website.

“Chief Bratton and Villaraigosa showed up at churches, showed up at community meetings,” Alonso said. “That’s definitely a plus. Going to the ghettto.”

Villaraigosa also is praised, reports Stoltze, for embracing non-law-enforcement-centric strategies for crime reduction.

While she’d like to see more funding for the GRYD program (it receives about $25 million annually), Kayle Shilling of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater L.A. said she’s glad Villaraigosa embraced the gang strategy along with more police — even if it was four years into his administration.

“There are a lot of different approaches in Los Angeles and I think it just takes folks a little while to get up to speed,” Shilling said. “I think he’s landed in a good place.”

Villaraigosa can hardly take sole credit for the historic crime drop that began before he took office. Community groups — some led by former gang members — are more involved than ever in reducing violence.

“You have a lot of other things going on outside of City Hall and outside of government,” said Alonso of “You have nonprofit organizations, you have a lot of gang intervention workers. The mindset is changing within South L.A.”

But with Villaraigosa’s help, the mindset on how to tackle crime has changed at City Hall, too.

Read and listen to the rest of Frank Stoltze’s report here.


We’ll be linking to what we see to be the best of the commentary. So buckle-up and hang on.

Here, for example, is an explanatory story from Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers.

And here’s an interesting blog post by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker about the non-Prop 8 case, that of Edie Windsor. As she writes, Davidson helpfully links to some of the best essays on the two cases.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Bill Bratton, Charlie Beck, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Sheriff Lee Baca | 16 Comments »

A Look Inside Pelican Bay’s SHU…LAPD Lt. Sues for Alleged Retaliation After Whistle-blowing…..The NRA’s War Against Research…and More

February 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Monday, California state legislators began discussing the issue of isolation policy in the state’s prisons. The U.S. Congress has begun examining the same growing controversy about the use of Special Housing Units—or SHUs—in the nation’s federal lock-ups.

KQED’s Michael Montgomery had a conversation with—and video taped—an inmate named Jeremy Beasley, while he was in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU. Beasley is, by his own admission, not the most angelic of guys, but does that mean it is moral or wise or constitutional to house him in the kind of isolation that more and more people, including some prominent conservatives, regard as torture.

Below you’ll find clip from Montgomery’s story. But be sure to watch at least the first 2 or 3 minutes of the full half hour video with Beasley, which you can find here.

(NOTE: Montgomery is arguably more expert on the issue than any other reporter in California. So his dispatches are always worth your time.)

Here’s the clip:

“I haven’t seen the moon since 1998.”

That’s inmate Jeremy Beasley, talking to me while sitting–shackled–in an interview room at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s highest security lockup.

Beasley, a convicted murderer, was clearly surprised by my presence—-he told me he hadn’t met with a visitor since 1994, when he was incarcerated.

It’s not just the moon Beasley hadn’t seen in 15 years. During that time, in fact, Beasley rarely glimpsed the outside world. Before being transferred to another prison, he was held in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, a windowless, bunker-like facility that houses more than 1,000 California inmates.

For 22-and-a-half hours a day, each inmate here is locked, usually alone, in an 8-by-10 feet cell. For 90 minutes the inmate is allowed to exercise in an adjacent room with 25-30 feet high walls. And that’s their entire day — every day.

“I’ve seen guys lose their minds back here,” Beasley tells me.


According to the Courthouse News Service, Lt. Armando Perez, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department is suing the LAPD for retaliation after Perez allegedly discovered that officers from the department’s Metro division were buying special SWAT–labeled guns through the armory that Perez oversaw, and then selling the guns for profit to other LAPD officers, civilians and gun dealers.

Here’s a clip from the story by Elizabeth Warmerdam:

Los Angeles police officers bought and sold guns from the police armory for profit, and told the lieutenant in charge of the armory to “watch his back” after he reported it, the 25-year LAPD veteran claims in court.

Armando Perez sued the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department in Superior Court.

Perez, who joined the LAPD in 1987, claims he was retaliated against, suspended and threatened after he discovered, through his job as “Officer in Charge of the Armory,” that officers in the Metropolitan Division were buying and reselling guns to other officers, civilians and gun dealers….

Perez also alleges that, when the department investigated the matter, no one ever bothered to interview him, but later, he himself was investigated in relationship to his reports on tthe gun sales, and on the subsequent harassment, and was suspended for five days.

Last August, the LA Times ran a story bout the possible gun dealing. Perez alleges that after the publication of the Times story, the retaliation against him got worse.

Read the rest here.


Reasonable people might argue over what kind of gun regulation is helpful and appropriate. But it is difficult for any but the most partisan to defend the intense lobbying by the NRA that, in 1996, persuaded a fearful congress to strangle research into gun violence by the Center for Disease Control, and by the National Institute of Health—both of which, rightly, viewed the nation’s approximately 30,000 gun deaths per year as a public health issue.

The NRA, however, evidently viewed fact-based information as a threat.

Reporters at ProPublica wondered what exactly the CDC had found out with its research before the door to science got slammed. With this in mind, Joaquin Sapien interviewed Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who led the agency’s gun violence research in the nineties when he was the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

You can find the interview here.


The California Supreme Court declined to take the case of Nels and Loretta Rasmussen, whose daughter, Sherri Rassmusen was murdered in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband, by former LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus. Although Sherri Rassmusen was murdered in 1986, police concluded that she was killed in a home robbery gone bad—despite the fact that, according to the Rasmussens, they provided investigators with information that pointed to Lazarus and, at the very least merited investigation. Instead, the allege, they were rebuffed and deliberately intimidated. It was only in 2009, when DNA left at the scene was matched to Lazarus, that the detective was arrested. Lazarus was convicted of murder in 2012.

Lots of people have the story (like the Daily News) , but the legal-leaning Metropolitan News-Enterprise has a good explanation from a legal perspective.

Here’s a clip:

Sherri Rasmussen, was murdered in 1986. Lazarus was charged following a DNA match to a bite mark on the body, and was convicted in March of last year.

The Rasmussens sued in July 2010, while Lazarus was awaiting trial. They alleged that they had told the LAPD the day after the murder that they suspected their son-in-law’s ex-girlfriend was the killer, although they did not know her name at the time.

The dead woman’s husband, John Ruetten, identified Lazarus as his ex-girlfriend and told the investigators that she was an LAPD officer. The LAPD, the Rasmussens alleged, ignored evidence that Lazarus had stalked and confronted Sherri Rasmussen, focusing instead on an untenable theory that the killers were two unknown Hispanic men who had committed burglaries in the area.

That theory, they said, was discredited in 2005 when DNA obtained from the bite mark was tested and determined to have been left by a woman, although it took another four years before Lazarus was linked to the bite mark.

The Rasmussens sued the LAPD for civil rights conspiracy and sued Lazarus for wrongful death.

There’s more, so read on.

PHOTO CREDIT: The above photo is a screen capture taken from Michael Montgomery and KQED’s video accompanying the story about the Special Housing Units (SHUs) in California’s prisons.

Posted in Bill Bratton, guns, law enforcement, Probation | 1 Comment »

Oakland May Hire Bratton, the Good & Bad News From Foster Care, Nobel Laureate Slams Failed War on Drugs…and Death Row Lawyers Screw Up

January 8th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Next week, the Oakland City Council will vote on whether or not to pay former LA Police Chief Bill Bratton $250K to help it straighten out its problem-ridden PD, a possibility that has triggered a storm of controversy among Oaklanders—which is fascinating for us Bratton-experienced folks in LA to watch.

Here, for example, are a few of the pros and cons of bringing Bratton to Oakland that are being discussed:

The East Bay Express points out that Bratton is likely to recommend some version of CompStat for Oakland, the data driven strategy which the UN-data-savvy OPD could use as it seeks to lower its spiking crime rate that claimed 131 lives in 2012.

The Express also notes that Bratton favors geographic policing, putting more officers in hot zones, plus some version of community policing to bolster better relationships with crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Oh, yeah, and Oakland has a lousy clearance rate for crimes. Bratton likes good clearance rates—all of which the Express views at the “pros.”

In terms of “cons,” Express worries that Bratton will bring in the kind of stop-and-frisk policy, which has drawn a raft of criticism (and accompanying lawsuits) in NYC.

We think this is unlikely, since Bratton’s savvy enough to realize that such a policy would enrage Oakland residents. Moreover, the OPD has too few officers (600) to pull it off anyway, even if Bratton wanted to (which he won’t)..

Tammerlin Drummond of the Oakland Tribune points out that even if Bratton has great ideas, he’s just a consultant so cannot actually put any policies in place without the cooperation of Oakland’s notoriously quarrelsome political structure. (Good point.)

The bay area’s Indymedia is the most critical of the proposed Bratton hire, basically painting Bill as the “Supercop” antichrist who ruined New York and LA. To wit:

Bratton-style policing has proven over and over to cause more long-term damage than not, to atomize and antagonize poor people and people of color, and to ignore creative, community-led solutions.

We disagree. In Los Angeles, relationships between the cops and the city’s poorest communities actually improved under Bratton who, while not perfect, was refreshingly unafraid to talk about race during his LA tenure. (But such pesky facts ruin the drama, we realize.)

In any case, if Oakland does indeed hire Bratton, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.


Thank goodness for the work of LA Times columnist Jim Newton, who in the past year has turned his reportorial light on LA’s embattled foster care system, whenever he can.

For instance, in this week’s column, Newton looks at the hope-producing attitude of the latest in a string of “new” heads of LA’s troubled Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), a guy named Phillip Browning. Newton also acknowledges how complicated the whole thing is and how, even with the best of intentions, things can go terribly wrong.

Here’s a clip from the column:

One profoundly important shift has been Browning’s approach to children. In recent years, the department has stressed the importance of keeping families together whenever possible. Browning argues that a child’s safety should trump all other concerns, even when it means taking children from their parents.

“If we think the child is safe, we leave the child with the biological parents,” he explained in the soft Southern accent that causes some to underestimate his toughness. “Sometimes, of course, that’s just not possible.”

Browning’s more stringent approach has meant an increase in the number of children removed from their homes. Last year, the agency filed 14,785 petitions, most of them in connection with detaining children, an increase from 13,481 the year before. What that means in raw terms is that the county last year removed a child from his or her home more than 200 times a week on average.

The hope is that children are protected once they’re under the county’s care, but the sad truth is that they face a capricious future. Some land with capable foster families, and perhaps will be adopted. Some are returned home to families that have recovered from the initial incident and will go on to raise them well. Others, however, are shuttled from one foster home or group facility to another, and grow up without any sense of coherent, dependable family. Some are physically or sexually abused. Some die….


Over the weekend, the conservative-leaning WSJ ran a strongly worded essay by Nobel laureate in economics, Gary Becker, and economics law prof, Kevin Murphy, stating unequivocally that the war on drugs is “a failed experiment,” and “the human cost has become too high,” and that it’s time to decriminalize.

Here’s a clip:

President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971. The expectation then was that drug trafficking in the United States could be greatly reduced in a short time through federal policing—and yet the war on drugs continues to this day. The cost has been large in terms of lives, money and the well-being of many Americans, especially the poor and less educated. By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don’t include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify. For example, over the past 40 years the fraction of students who have dropped out of American high schools has remained large, at about 25%. Dropout rates are not high for middle-class white children, but they are very high for black and Hispanic children living in poor neighborhoods. Many factors explain the high dropout rates, especially bad schools and weak family support. But another important factor in inner-city neighborhoods is the temptation to drop out of school in order to profit from the drug trade.

After that, Becker and Murphy do a cost/benefit analysis that is fascinating, so read on.


In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak has a story filled with cautionary tales about lawyers disastrously screwing up in death row cases and the horrifying unwillingness of appeals courts to remedy the situations.

Here’s a clip from the opening:

Twice in recent years, the Supreme Court rebuked the federal appeals court in Atlanta for its rigid attitude toward filing deadlines in capital cases. The appeals court does not seem to be listening.

A few days after Christmas, a divided three-judge panel of the court ruled that Ronald B. Smith, a death row inmate in Alabama, could not pursue a challenge to his conviction and sentence because he had not “properly filed” a document by a certain deadline.

As it happens, there is no dispute that the document was filed on time. But it was not “properly filed,” the majority said, because Mr. Smith’s lawyer did not at the same time pay the $154 filing fee or file a motion to establish something also not in dispute — that his client was indigent.

Nor did the majority place much weight on the fact that the lawyer himself was on probation for public intoxication and addicted to crystal methamphetamine while he was being less than punctilious. In the months that followed, the lawyer would be charged with drug possession, declare bankruptcy and commit suicide.

Mr. Smith is almost surely guilty of murdering a convenience store clerk in 1994 in Huntsville, Ala. But it is not clear that he deserves to die for his crime.

His jury, by a vote of seven to five, determined that the murder did not warrant the death penalty, recommending instead that Mr. Smith be sentenced to life in prison….

Read on.

Posted in Bill Bratton, How Appealing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Gathering Some Thoughts About the Murders in Aurora

July 23rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Over the weekend, it was hard to focus on news other than the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were killed, 58 wounded, at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. With this in mind,
we’ve set aside other issues and have gathered some reports and stories that you might have missed.


Journalist and author Dave Cullen has first hand experience about the perils of jumping to conclusions about mass murder—and mass murderers. He is the author of the excellent book Columbine, which deconstructs in harrowing detail the myriad events that led to the Columbine school massacre, after which everyone reporting on the tragedy, including Cullen himself, seemed to get it wrong.

Here’s the opening of his essay about the Colorado shooting for Sunday’s NY Times.

YOU’VE had 48 hours to reflect on the ghastly shooting in Colorado at a movie theater. You’ve been bombarded with “facts” and opinions about James Holmes’s motives. You have probably expressed your opinion on why he did it. You are probably wrong.

I learned that the hard way. In 1999 I lived in Denver and was part of the first wave of reporters to descend on Columbine High School the afternoon it was attacked. I ran with the journalistic pack that created the myths we are still living with. We created those myths for one reason: we were trying to answer the burning question of why, and we were trying to answer it way too soon. I spent 10 years studying Columbine, and we all know what happened there, right? Two outcast loners exacted revenge against the jocks for relentlessly bullying them.

Not one bit of that turned out to be true.

But the news media jumped to all those conclusions in the first 24 hours, so they are accepted by many people today as fact. The real story is a lot more disturbing. And instructive.


It is nearly impossible not to talk about gun control after this shooting (pro and con). And yet the presidential candidates have managed it.
Here are some of the more articulate pleas for a real discussion on the matter.

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes about what the politicians—on the right and the left—won’t talk about.

The murders—it dignifies them to call them a “tragedy”—in Aurora, Colorado, have hit us all hard, though the grief of the friends and families of the victims is unimaginable. Still, it hits home, or someplace worse than home, for any parent who (as I did, as so many did) had a kid at one of the many midnight screenings of the new Batman movie last night, they having gone to see it the moment it opened. Once again, as so often before, the unthinkable news is disassembled, piece by piece, into its heartbreaking parts. After the Virginia Tech shooting, the horrifying detail, as I wrote at the time, was that the cell phones were still ringing in the pockets of the dead children as their parents tried to call them. In Colorado, you can’t expunge the knowledge of the sudden turn from pleasure to horror that those children experienced.


The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it.


The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue. Does anyone even remember any longer last July’s gun massacre, those birthday-party killings in Texas, when an estranged husband murdered his wife and most of her family, leaving six dead?
But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed

And then there is James Fallows’ Sunday night post at the Atlantic, after readers wrote him to say he was too pessimistic and furious in his earlier post about his certainty shootings like this would happen again.

Here’s a clip from the first post:

Like everyone, and I’d say especially like every parent, I am of course saddened and horrified by the latest mass shooting-murder. My sympathies to all.

And of course the additional sad, horrifying, and appalling point is the shared American knowledge that, beyond any doubt, this will happen again, and that it will happen in America many, many times before it occurs anywhere else…..

Now here’s a clip from the second post that went up Sunday night (in which he doesn’t back off in the least):

….I never mean to give in to jaded fatalism, so I will reflect on this again.

….Meanwhile, this sample of the insanity of today’s “security” thinking.

The latest Colorado shooter — like Jared Loughner of Tucson, Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech, and the countless others whose names we forget after they have done their damage — could not legally have walked onto an airplane carrying a water bottle, or without taking off his shoes.

But he could walk down the street with a legally purchased assault rifle, body armor, and as much ammo as he could lift.

At some point the madness of this disproportion may sink in. To be clear on my own views: I see no reason why a civilian should be allowed to possess an assault rifle like this shooter’s AR-15, a civilian version of the military M16, or similar high-capacity weapons. These are for soldiers and others formally authorized to administer deadly force.

And while we’re on the “madness” topic, please consider:

The lasting distortion in our airport operations and travel “security” rules if these same 12 people had been killed and dozens injured on an airplane. We’d have Congressional hearings, sackings of TSA officials, new inspections and screening machines “to keep us safe,” and so on.
The military, diplomatic, and cultural consequences if the Batman murderer had happened to yell “Allahu Akbar!” or “Death to America!” before dispatching his victims….


This weekend Doug Berman, the attorney/law professor/sentencing expert who blogs at Sentencing Law and Policy, generated a LOT of heated discussion in response to this post on the shooting rampage in which he said how relieved he was that Colorado is a death penalty state.

(A little later, he revisited his thoughts on the matter with a cooler head here in his Sunday post, but he didn’t dial back his point.)

Here’s a small clip from the post that stirred everyone up:

….In the immediate aftermath of these sorts of horrific mass killings, I find it so very hard to react with my head without also listening to my heart. And in these kind of awful cases, my heart (or is it my gut) often suggests to me that ultimate punishment of death is the only one which feels fitting. I suspect Colorado prosecutors (and perhaps also federal prosecutors) will have similar feelings…..

(Readers here know that we at WLA are big fans of Doug Berman,which doesn’t mean we agree with him on absolutely everything).


In the midst of much nattering by TV talking heads on the issue, former LAPD chief Bill Bratton was refreshingly sane and specific on Meet the Press as he responded to the argument that, if only theater goers had been carrying their own guns, much of the theater shooting tragedy could have been averted.

(NOTE: You have to listen to quite a bit of blather before you get to Bratton’s comments at about minute 2:03.)

Earlier in the weekend, Bratton told FOX News that “What we need is “some sanity in our gun control laws.”

Photo by Alan Mittelstaedt

Posted in Bill Bratton, Contemplating Crime & Consequence, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, guns, media | 41 Comments »

Monday Must Reads: Bratton, the 2nd Amendment, Patient Dumping and More

August 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


You gotta love Bill. Sunday’s Guardian reports on how much Bratton wanted to apply for the position of commissioner of the Metropolitan police—an ambition that got squashed over the weekend. The Guardian also reports in great detail about how Bill verbally thrashed anybody who suggested that one ought to be born in Britain to hold such a job.

The New York Times also has a report on the Bratton in London adventure.

Adore the aviator glasses, by the way.


The LA Times Alexandra Zavis and Richard Winton have the alarming story. Here’s a clip:

The graying veteran in a wheelchair was found in the parking lot of a Westside cold weather shelter wearing hospital pants, carrying a urine bottle and screaming for help.

Senior officials at the Los Angeles city attorney’s office say they believe James Boykin was “dumped” Dec. 1 at the shelter after his toe was removed at the nearby Department of Veterans Affairs medical center because of a bone infection. Moreover, according to city prosecutors, VA officials blocked an investigation that could have shed light on whether there were other similar incidents.

“This was an unprecedented interference with an investigation,” said Jeffrey B. Isaacs, who heads the office’s criminal and special litigation branch.

VA officials strongly dispute the allegations involving Boykin, adding that the city does not have authority to conduct a criminal investigation on federal property.


Julia Preston for the New York Times writes that resistance to the Secure Communities program is growing. Here’s a clip:

Mayor Thomas Menino, who often invokes his heritage as the grandson of an Italian immigrant, was one of the first local leaders in the country to embrace a federal program intended to improve community safety by deporting dangerous immigrant criminals.

But five years after Boston became a testing ground for the fingerprinting program, known as Secure Communities, Mr. Menino is one of the latest local officials to sour on it and seek to withdraw. He found that many immigrants the program deported from Boston, though here illegally, had committed no crimes. The mayor believed it was eroding hard-earned ties between Boston’s police force and its melting-pot mix of ethnic neighborhoods.

Last month, Mr. Menino sent a letter to the program with a blunt assessment. “Secure Communities is negatively impacting public safety,” he wrote, asking how Boston could get out.

On Aug. 5, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs the program, gave an equally blunt response. Its director, John Morton, announced he was canceling all agreements that 40 states and cities had signed to start Secure Communities. Their assent was not legally required, he said, and he planned to move ahead anyway to extend the program nationwide by 2013.


In Monday’s Washington Post, Robert Barnes has a round up of the second Amendment cases that are likely headed to the Supreme Court.

A funny thing has happened in the three years since gun-rights activists won their biggest victory at the Supreme Court.

They’ve been on a losing streak in the lower courts.

The activists found the holy grail in 2008 when the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller said the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to own a firearm unconnected to military service. The court followed it up with McDonald v. Chicago two years later, holding that the amendment applies not just to gun control laws passed by Congress but to local and state laws as well.

The decisions were seen as a green light to challenge gun restrictions across the country, and the lawsuits have come raining down — more than two a week, according to the anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

But it is the Brady Center that is crowing about the results.

“Three years and more than 400 legal challenges later, courts — so far — have held that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Heller was narrow and limited, and that the Second Amendment does not interfere with the people’s right to enact legislation protecting families and communities from gun violence,” the center said in a report optimistically titled “Hollow Victory?


On Monday, Jim Newton’s LA Times column profiles Chrysalis. A Los Angeles-based nonprofit with facilities in Santa Monica, Pacoima and on the edge of skid row that manages to put desperate people to work.

Read it. It’ll cheer you up.

Posted in Bill Bratton, Homelessness, How Appealing, immigration, Must Reads, Skid Row, Supreme Court | 7 Comments »

Bill Bratton Makes Ad for Gay Marriage Equality

April 1st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

This week the news broke that Bill Bratton and his wife Rikki Klieman have taped a testimonial for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization working for marriage equality. He has done it, he says, because equality is the best preventative for anti-gay crime.

This is the best side of Bratton and makes perfect sense as a move for him.
When he first came to LA he talked with me about his dream that the LAPD could become a positive force in Los Angeles race relations, where it had once been a negative one. He sees those connections across sociological lines and his thinking on such issues is, I’ve found, unusually clear headed.

Al Baker, who is blogging for the NY Times, has the story. Here’s a clip:

The headlines come with depressing regularity: two men attacked in the bathroom of the Stonewall Inn; a group of men set upon by those hurling homosexual slurs in Chelsea; a wicked antigay attack in an abandoned apartment in the Bronx. And just days ago, the beating of a young gay man outside a McDonald’s in the West Village.

In the city’s schools, students suffered nearly 900 cases of harassment based on sexual orientation in the 2008-09 school year, according to the city Education Department.

To William J. Bratton — a former law enforcement leader in three of the country’s largest cities: New York, Los Angeles and Boston — the roots of the spasms of violence against gay and lesbian New Yorkers lie in the lack of equality that gays and lesbians endure in society and under the law.

With that in mind, Mr. Bratton, a New York City resident once again, has taped a 30-second video in favor of legalizing gay marriage in New York. Only unlike other advocates, whose chorus he is joining — including politicians like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and celebrities like Julianne Moore — Mr. Bratton is making his appeal for change from the decidedly square-jawed perspective of public safety.

Baker talked to Bratton and characterized him as very passionate on the topic:

He invoked history, saying that tensions around any number of issues — including the introduction of women in policing — were eased when legal rights were extended to those being discriminated against. Reforms remove the aura that enables prejudice, he said, and the result is “a safer community” for gays and lesbians and for the wider society as a whole.

“I was speaking from the perspective of my police experiences, that once you pass these laws, a lot of the bias or the hatred or the violence that is associated dissipates,” said Mr. Bratton, in expanding on the meaning of his video testimonial.

Go, Bill & Rikki.

Posted in Bill Bratton, LGBT | No Comments »

Breaking the Kid Lock-up Cycle, Expo Line Fiasco, LAPD Policy Fights & More

December 2nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The 10-step plan is part of a 65-page report on juvenile reentry commissioned by Ridley-Thomas and prepared by Children Defense Fund staffers, Michelle Newell and Angelica Salazar, who did much of their research when they were at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

While the report is not definitive, it’s smarter than the County’s purported professionals were able to turn out earlier this year, and features many good moments of analysis plus that list of sensible suggestions.

It is also an excellent place to start a conversation.

Here’s a snippet from its executive summary:

With the largest juvenile justice system in the country, LA County has high rates of youth incarceration. For most juvenile offenders, this incarceration will take place in one of the 19 County probation camps, or residential facilities, and these youth will be released after less than a year and face the challenge of reentering their communities.

Reentry is challenging regardless of the population, but for juvenile offenders it is particularly complicated given the range of developmental changes these youth are experiencing. In Los Angeles, these youth are burdened by high rates of mental illness and substance abuse, low rates of educational attainment and alarmingly high levels of gang involvement. Given these barriers, it is perhaps not surprising that juveniles are currently not successful in reentering their communities. Re-offending rates are high, and while the County Probation Department does not collect much outcome data, available evidence indicates youth outcomes are grim…

Ridley-Thomas and Edelman will be holding a press conference at 1:30 pm Thursday to introduce the report and the 10-step plan. The presser will be held in Ridley-Thomas’s office, in the Hall of Administration, 500 W. Temple Street, LA.


LA Police Protective League president, Paul Weber, has an op ed in Thursday’s LA Times that explains a bit more about why the union is fighting the mayor’s and Chief Charlie Beck’s collective promise to hire more police officers.

Weber says the department should first use its existing officers more wisely. Here’s a clip.

When the City Council voted to raise trash fees in 2006, the action came with a promise to Angelenos that the money would be put toward expanding the Los Angeles police force to more than 10,000 officers. But even as we’ve moved closer to meeting that goal on paper, the number of officers on the street is being eroded.

Because of attrition, early retirement incentives and mandatory furloughs, the number of police officers doing actual police work is gradually declining, and the problem is becoming more acute.

One huge reason is that the city is no longer paying officers for overtime. There is no way to avoid overtime in police work: An officer making an arrest, say, can’t simply let a suspect go because a work shift has ended….

PS: For the record, I think the department should keep hiring, but let’s not use cops for jobs that non-sworn folks could do cheaper (and just as well).


By sheer coincidence, former LAPD chief Bill Bratton indirectly addressed the issue when he was in London consulting with the Brits on policing and gave an interview to some local press:

“In terms of creating safer communities, cops count and policing does matter. But successful policing is not only about making the right investments in law enforcement. You cannot spend your way to a safer community and it isn’t about how much money you spend, or how many staff you have on the payroll.

“It’s about what you do with your most valuable asset - the sworn officer….

(My ital.)


The LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus has written a terrific article in Thursday’s edition of the paper that shows LA’s light rail project to be both horribly over budget and a projected 2 years over its deadline for completion.

Oh, yeah, the project’s CEO, Rick Thorpe, lives in Utah, not LA, and is collecting a salary of $334,000. As Maddaus points out, Thorpe, who oversees a staff of 16, makes more than the CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who is responsible for 8,000 employees (!!!)


Neon Tommy’s Callie Schweitzer writes about 21-year-old University of California, Berkeley senior Ricardo Gomez, who has been arrested twice for protesting in what is “part of a growing student movement fighting tuition increases in the 10-campus system.”

Read the rest here.


The details are in an unsettling LA Times Op Ed by Alan Dershowitz and David Rivkin Jr.


The LA Times’ lovely, smart, talented, soulful columnist, Meghan Daum, was scarily sick last month and writes about it well in two parts – here and here.

(A lot of us are just very glad she’s okay. We didn’t like that tubed up and skating-the-edge thingy one bit.)


Posted in Bill Bratton, Charlie Beck, juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, Probation, transportation, Violence Prevention | 10 Comments »

« Previous Entries