2009 was a monumental year for the Los Angeles Police Department. Going into the year, then-Chief William Bratton had firmly established himself as arguably the most powerful individual on the Los Angeles political scene. Armed with sly media skills and firm control over the deployment of a supposed understaffed police force in a police-crazed metropolis, Bratton was able to resuscitate the image of the strong Police Chief first honed by the infamous William Parker several decades ago. Furthermore, he skillfully used his growing goodwill to build strategic relationships with communities of color who have long been victimized by the LAPD’s abusive behavior. Bratton’s popularity was growing so rapidly that Councilperson Herb Wesson put forth a plan to change current term limits for police chiefs. This was an obvious attempt to retain Bratton for a longer period of time.
With a strong leader in tow, the LAPD was able to become a strong political force by end of the last decade – especially in the eyes of elected officials like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Faced with plummeting approval ratings, various personal scandals, and a re-election bid, the Mayor consciously attached himself to perceived success of Bratton and the LAPD.
In the days leading up the 2009 primary election, the Mayor and Bratton began touting the historic drops in murders, rapes, and robberies throughout the city. According to their data, Los Angeles was as safe as it was in the 1950s. To a population still battered and bruised by the drug-induced violent crime waves of the 1980s and 1990s, reports of rapid declines in shootings and causalities were met with open arms.
Consequently, the Mayor was successful in his re-election bid, with much of his support coming from Black and Latino communities. Around the same time, Harvard released results from a survey, which stated that the LAPD enjoyed high approval ratings even from communities like South and East Los Angeles. Furthermore, the LAPD was able to convince a federal judge to lift the Consent Decree and its leader, William Bratton – long rumored to have grander aspirations – abruptly resigned as Police Chief to earn big money with a private security firm. In addition to the before-mentioned accomplishments, the Police Department opened a brand new $440 million administrative building during a time when many in the city were losing their jobs and homes.
While it is clear who benefitted from 2009 being the year of the LAPD, it is also comprehensible that any real benefit alluded residents once again. First of all, the re-occurring narrative around the rehabilitation of the LAPD effectively covered up some recent police killings of residents like Dontaze Storey Jr, a 28-year old unarmed Black man who was shot in the leg, chest, and mouth in front of his pregnant fiancé by Rampart Division officers. While LAPD leadership and elected officials ran around town espousing the development of a more humane police force, yet another Black family suffered the permanent lose of a loved one to brutal police savagery.
Another illusion used to change public sentiment towards the Los Angeles Police Department was its effectiveness in fighting violent crime. In the eyes of some, questionable tactics by police officers became acceptable because crime was going down at a rapid rate. However, a 2009 Los Angeles Weekly report revealed that the city was not as safe as it was in the 1950s as some claimed. In fact, the current crime rate was at least double that of fifty years ago. The Los Angeles Times also reported that the LAPD’s public crime stat website undercounted its violent crime by a whopping 40%. These examples, along with the recent discovery of financial mismanagement by the Bratton regime, support the strong possibility that millions of Angelinos were lied to about the state of their city’s safety and the conduct of its police force in order to ensure the re-election of politicians, the elimination of Federal oversight of the local police force, and of course, the financial gain of key individuals.
As residents that live in communities ravaged by unemployment, drug addiction, and violence, we must finally accept responsibility for our own well-being. The only true solution to creating long-lasting safety and declines in crime are to organize every person on our blocks, streets, and neighborhoods to create activities to provide our basic needs. If we know that people steal because of persistent poverty, we must take responsibility in creating opportunities for our people – especially youth and young adults – to gain employment. Gang violence can be curtailed if community residents create organizations and activities that keep at-risk individuals effectively occupied and engaged. Until we declare ourselves as the first-line responders and primary solution-makers, we will continue to fully depend on a police force that has proven for over 100 years to be hostile, unresponsive, and ineffective to the needs of Black and Latino people in particular. Moreover, without adopting a strong spirit of self-determination, we will remain vulnerable to the continued lies of those we allow to lead us.