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L.A. officials begin search for new chief, vow to protect Bratton legacy [Updated]

August 5, 2009 | 12:04 pm

As Los Angeles officials begin the search for a new police chief, they said they are determined to preserve the legacy established by LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, who is stepping down.

[Updated at 1:36 p.m.: During a press conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Bratton advocated for an internal candidate at the LAPD to replace him, calling his team extraordinary.

"I agree with chief and John Mack that we have great people within our dept," Villaraigosa said. The mayor added that there were qualified candidates within the department, but said the search would follow the guidelines set in the city charter and would be extensive, national and international.]

Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, who spoke to Bratton early this morning, said he was saddened by the news, but that the chief was leaving the department in "great hands."

"He's the kind of person who likes to tackle a problem, or problems, and he's done that," Garcetti said, "and so now, he really feels like this is about maintenance and a good time to move on to the next chapter of his life."

Garcetti noted that the Police Department's strides in recent years had not been "the efforts of one man."

"It's been the vision that Bill Bratton had together with the community that has turned around this city," Garcetti said. "It's been a commitment of the City Council and mayor to growing our police force; it's been regular people who've formed block organizations and neighborhood watches; its been people who have gone from the civil rights community onto the Police Commission board. And that's what's really been a group effort."

The council president said a priority for the next chief would be "making sure the culture -- that has changed pretty dramatically inside the department -- is rooted into every new hire that we make: making sure that they are community-based, and community-focused, that they understand civil rights as well as public safety -- those are the lessons that will take some time.

"We're out from under the consent decree,"Garcetti continued, "but that doesn't mean that these incidents won't happen in the future, and I think the test of this city and part of Bill Bratton's legacy will be ensuring that that doesn't happen in years to come."

Garcetti declined to speculate on possible candidates to replace Bratton -- a nomination that is in the hands of the mayor.

"There's wonderful leaders inside the department, and there's wonderful people who have left the department and are elsewhere, and there's other people like Bill Brattons out there who have been doing a great job in other cities," said Garcetti, who said there wasn't a "short list."

"I think Los Angeles should attract the next Bill Bratton and this is the most exciting place to be for police chiefs, so I'm not worried that we won't have talent here," Garcetti said.

"When people are worried Bill Bratton will leave -- we certainly will miss him and those are huge shoes to fill -- but there are tremendous police leaders throughout this country right now, many of whom really are disciples of Bill Bratton because he set forward a new way of policing in this country that changed it forever."

Councilman Tom LaBonge said he’s sorry to see Bratton go, but is grateful for the way the chief  rescued the department from the distasteful reputation it earned in the wake of the Rodney King beating and Rampart scandal. LaBonge said he would favor looking within the department for a new chief, saying Bratton has built a solid leadership team to choose from.

“The LAPD can respond to anything now. They cycle has been broken, so I think they should look within,’’ LaBonge said.

LaBonge dismissed the sometimes-prickly relationship between Bratton and some council members. In May, Bratton threatened to pull officers from the Westside after the area’s councilman, Bill Rosehdahl, voted in favor of a police hiring freeze to help address the city’s $530 million budget shortfall.

“All these fights at City Hall don’t amount to a hill of beans,’’ LaBonge said. “This has been a great period for the Los Angeles Police Department under his leadership."

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said Bratton's chief goals in coming to Los Angeles were to reduce crime and improve the department's standing. Once the consent decree was lifted, she had not expected him to stay long, she said.

"I called it two weeks ago. I said, 'he's gone,' he came for specific reasons and that was to improve relations between the department and the community," Hahn continued. "The relationship between the department and the community is better than it has ever been."

-- Maeve Reston, Phil Willon and David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall


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