George Will

Last October Bratton came west, and he is ``amazed at how much goes on out here.'' This is the most lightly policed of America's major cities -- 470 square miles policed by 9,309 officers. To match New York City's ratio of police to population, LAPD would need 18,000 officers. Divide LAPD's uniformed force into shifts, allow for administrative duties, vacations and sick leave, and only 500 to 600 officers, and fewer than 170 patrol cars, are on the streets of this horizontal metropolis at a typical moment. Hence the always two and often three police helicopters constantly in the air, coordinating ground patrols.

Counterterrorism responsibilities consume up to 30 percent of Bratton's time as he helps police a region that has some of the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi, and two ports -- Los Angeles and Long Beach -- through which pass, virtually uninspected, about half of the 6 million shipping containers that enter America each year. And this city is a simmering stew of ethnicities which give rise to gangs that have 100,000 members in Los Angeles County.

Of the 100,000, Bratton estimates that three percent are ``sociopathic.'' That is 3,000 people of whom Bratton says, ``They'll kill you in a second.''

Bratton of course believes in incarceration, but says, ``When you send people to jail, you're really sending them to finishing school.'' The Mexican Mafia is largely controlled from prison. In prison, even more than in neighborhoods, gangs offer members at least the hope of protection. In neighborhoods, gangs are one way children navigate what an LAPD study describes, in an inexpressibly sad phrase, ``the gantlet of childhood.''

Bratton cannot produce the change -- two-parent families, which are rarities in parts of this city -- that would do more than anything else to reduce crime. But he can campaign for a ``critical mass'' of officers to give law enforcement the key to tipping a city against crime: consistency.

If progressives are discomfited by the fact that a cop has done more than their usual pinups have done for the disadvantaged, conservatives, too, may be discomfited, by this: Their law-and-order agenda requires throwing money at the problem of disorder. ``Give me 3,000 more cops,'' says Bratton, ``and I'll make this the safest city in America in two years.''

With annual pay and benefits amounting to roughly $100,000 per officer, the annual bill would be $300 million. Given the billions wasted on ``urban renewal,'' $300 million is a modest price for an urban renaissance.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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