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Father Boyle, an early skeptic, says Bratton was L.A.'s best police chief

August 6, 2009 |  6:23 am
Photograph by Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times

Father Gregory Boyle, left, at Homeboy Industries in 2007

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and executive director of the Homeboy Industries gang-intervention program, was an early skeptic when William J. Bratton became Los Angeles police chief in 2002. But as Bratton steps down, Boyle has become a big supporter.

 “He’s the best chief the city has ever known,” Boyle said.

Boyle admitted having doubts about Bratton in the beginning, especially after the chief made statements about L.A.’s gang problem in late 2002 that sounded like those of his predecessors.

The priest said he wrote an opinion piece suggesting that the chief had bought into “the same old myths about gangs.” “He called me into his office,” Boyle recalled. “He gave me an hour. He just listened to me and basically said, ‘Well, you tell me. Educate me.’ We’ve been friends ever since.”

Boyle said that although Bratton could be brash, he was also a fast learner.

“He got humility in a hurry, and then he really learned,” Boyle said. “I have absolute admiration for the fact that he chose to learn, because then he had a very spacious view of things. He’s the smartest chief we ever had.”

Boyle said Bratton espoused an aggressive approach to the gang problem, but he also accepted that not every gang member was the same, and he appreciated efforts to get young men and women out of the gang life. He was a supporter of Homeboy Industries, and every Tuesday morning started his day with other LAPD officials at the Homegirl Cafe.

“I don’t have a problem with being adversarial with gangs, but not with a gang member, a guy who says, ‘I’m going to leave that life behind,’” Boyle said. “He embraced that and spoke eloquently about it… He knew he couldn’t just arrest his way out of this problem.”

 He said the LAPD deserved credit for the dramatic drop in gang crimes, but he said other groups also played a role. “But he’s not the only person in law enforcement that does that,” Boyle added.

--Hector Becerra