Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Politics of LAPD Crime Stats

Since becoming LAPD Chief in 2002, William Bratton has tried to convince Angelinos that the Police Department is significantly reformed and more humane.
While many people – especially Black and Latino residents – are not yet ready to nominate the LAPD for a Nobel Peace Prize for racial justice, even some of its most ardent critics are becoming increasingly friendly with Chief Bratton and the work of his nearly 10,000 officers.
One huge reason for this shift in opinion is the reported decline in violent crimes throughout the City.
When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa campaigned for re-election, he flooded the airwaves and television spots with claims that crime had dropped by historic amounts under his watch. Even Jack Weiss, City Councilman and candidate for City Attorney, attempted to claim partial credit. As chair of the Public Safety Committee, Weiss put forth that he worked closely with law enforcement to drastically decrease the amount of shootings and robberies.
However, it was Chief Bratton, a very skilled communicator, who took things a step further by stating that crime in Los Angeles is the lowest its been since the 1950s.
For residents in areas like South Los Angeles, which has suffered through decades of violence from gangs and the LAPD, even a modest drop in crime is greeted with guarded optimism. Currently, the news of crime at 1950s levels is received with glimpses of hope and exuberance. This has provoked a noticeable shift in attitudes towards a department once led by polarizing figures like William Parker and Darryl Gates. Neighborhoods that have long been victimized by racial profiling, Rodney King-style beatings, and police shootings of unarmed human beings, now eagerly want to believe Chief Bratton’s assertion that the LAPD is reformed and more humane.
Unfortunately, there is a strong possibility that the people’s increased trust in the LAPD is based upon lies and deception. As a recent LA Weekly article reports, Chief Bratton’s comparison of crime from 1950s to the present day was extremely flawed. If he had done so correctly, we all would see that the current murder rate is double that of 50 years ago. Using the same method, today’s robbery rate is more than double that of 1956. This same pattern continues for rapes and other serious crimes.
Instead of giving praise to the LAPD or City politicians, much credit should be given to the heroic work of regular people like those in the Hyde Park section of South Los Angeles. With very little to no assistance from the LAPD, residents work together to improve the quality of life in their community through organizations like block clubs and neighborhood councils. While crime rates are still much higher in South Los Angeles than other parts of the city, the efforts of its residents represent genuine attempts at taking control of their communities and day-to-day lives.
So what is the motivation for Chief Bratton to manipulate crime stats?
One, it gets political allies like Mayor Antonio Villaragoisa and Jack Weiss elected to higher offices. Two, LAPD gets rewarded with a larger budget, more officers, and greater political power. Lastly, it encourages Black and Latino voters – who make up a large portion of the electorate – to forget about the LAPD shooting of unarmed people of color like Dontaze Storey Jr. and Susie Peña, the $30 million in LAPD-related lawsuits paid out in February, or the fact that it is still practically impossible for a LAPD officer to go to jail or get fired because murder or misconduct.
Residents and taxpayers of Los Angeles need to look beyond the commercials and press conference sound bites. William Bratton – chief of the Los Angeles Police Department - is first and foremost a politician. In light of this, we must continue to organize residents and engage them on solutions such as eliminating the undemocratic LAPD Board of Rights, developing a special prosecutors office that will work to bring justice to those victimized by police misconduct, brutality or worse, and creating an elected citizen control board that will provide community-based accountability in regards to discipline, hiring, and training.

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