Bill Bratton How Appealing War on Drugs

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


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.

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