William Bratton, newly appointed Los Angeles police chief, is off to Israel.
He will depart Dec. 7 on a six-day trip that had been scheduled before Mayor James Hahn tapped the former New York City police commissioner to take the top law enforcement job here.
Originally, Bratton was scheduled to speak to Or Yarok (Green Light), a five-year-old association established in 1997 to improve road safety and decrease accidents in Israel. But now that Bratton heads the LAPD, he has added visits with top Israeli security and anti-terrorism experts to his itinerary.
The scope of the trip -- from traffic to terror -- reveals much about the scope of Bratton's new job. He is taking over the force at a time when scandal, turnover in the top job and attrition in the rank-and-file have weakened the LAPD's morale and image.
Along with cleaning up in-house, Bratton takes over as national headlines proclaim Los Angeles the "murder capital of the country," after an unprecedented wave of gang murders sent body counts soaring. Bratton also faces the very real threat of a major terrorist attack on the city that he has now sworn to protect and to serve.
If the agenda seems overwhelming, Bratton, in an interview with The Jewish Journal, seemed unfazed.
"I think the Los Angeles Jewish community should feel comfortable knowing there is a high priority toward preventing and protecting against acts of bias and hatred and terror, in particular, in this new environment of concern," the police chief said. "Since I've become chief, I've been very impressed with the level of preparedness in the city, and also our ability to respond when needed."
Though the threat of terror has now been overtaken in the local news media by the more immediate problems of violent crime, the chief is aware that that could change in an instant.
"The city has identified 450 potential significant targets of terrorist activity," he said. "Obviously, among those would be the [Israeli] consul-general's office, temples, the Museum of Tolerance," Bratton said. "We constantly monitor the threats that are coming in. Los Angeles, along with New York City and Washington, D.C., would be the highest-profile targets of any anti-Jewish terrorism in this country."
"The LAPD participates in two anti-terrorism task forces [one local and one regional], and we have a large contingent of officers assigned to counterterrorism," he continued. "In the months ahead as we continue to reorganize the department, we are going to focus more on this."
While there is no official liaison with the Jewish community in Bratton's office, there is a community services unit that reaches out to various ethnic and religious groups. Last week, Bratton met with Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles.
Making a habit of reaching out won Bratton the respect of many in the New York City Jewish community.
"He was genuinely well-liked," said J. J. Goldberg, editor in chief of The Forward.
Bratton came on board after riots between black and Chasidic Jews erupted in the Crown Heights section of New York.
"New York, in general, and Jewish New York, in particular, were just exhausted from the tension, so [former Mayor Rudy] Guiliani and Bratton were welcomed, and they didn't blow it," Goldberg said. "Guiliani alienated liberals after time, and Bratton didn't. He got along well with the organized community, and he made a point of doing that. He was considerate of feelings, he was a diplomat. It's difficult to be both a diplomat and a tough cop, but he managed."
New York City Councilman Noach Dear of the largely Orthodox Boro Park section, told The Forward last year that Bratton "is music to our ears."
Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, said such comments fit with what he has seen and heard firsthand of Bratton so far. Diamond was part of a multifaith clergy group that met with Bratton at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino on Nov. 1.
"His primary message was that the clergy, in general, play a critical role in preventing crime, in community policing, and can influence what happens when folks are arrested, things like alternative sentencing," Diamond said.
When discussing the soaring murder rates, Bratton speaks of the importance of not just policing, but also unity, community and "controlling your kids." Such ideas resonate among the Jewish community, and Bratton seems to know it.
"Clearly, it is the case that the Jewish community has a strong sense of civic mindedness," Bratton said. " In the meetings I've had in South Los Angeles with clergy, there have been a number of rabbis in attendance. Los Angeles, like New York City, is a good example of clergy of different faiths working together to preach tolerance and understanding."
Bratton stresses the importance of tolerance and understanding in policing and in civic life. Of course he is the "police chief of the whole city," he said. " But," he added, "having spent quite a bit of time in New York City, which has a large and similarly focused Jewish community, dealing with the ADL and being married to a Jewish woman [Court TV's Ricki Klieman], I have an appreciation for the fear among some, as well as the hatred and the prejudice they face. Los Angeles has certainly seen some of the hatred against Jews that has been experienced in other parts of the country and the world."
When asked about the alarming rise in reported hate crimes, Bratton said, "Hate crimes are a priority for me. In fact, each morning at 7 when I get a briefing on the types of crimes that have occurred overnight, murders are at the top of the list, and second are hate- or bias-related crimes."
Questioned on how to fight hate crimes, Bratton said, "You combat it a lot of ways, with vigorous investigation and prosecution. You make it clear that you're not going to tolerate it."
"Los Angeles, like New York City, is an immigrant entry point into the United States," he continued. "The only way we can all survive is with extraordinary tolerance and with everybody working together."
Phil Shuman is a reporter and anchor for UPN 13 News, as well as the host of "Your Council District Close-Up" on L.A. Cityview Channel 35.
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