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Bratton Needs "New Medicine" for Skid Row

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008, at 06:39PM
Policing Skid Row Eric Richardson [Flickr]

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton today likened the Safer Cities Initiative to a medicine, saying that while current efforts to treat the ills of Skid Row have been successful, it is time for the prescription to be altered. "What is missing after all our efforts are new forms of medicine." Bratton said that the situation is nearing a tipping point, and that his department needs the cooperation of other agencies in order to continue making gains. He emphasized his belief that housing must be provided for the core homeless population left on the streets of Skid Row.

Bratton promised that LAPD would maintain its increased staffing Downtown regardless of the city's budget woes. "My commitment to this community ... is that the police resources will stay." The primary goal of the Safer Cities Initiative was to restore order on the streets, and Bratton said that now that the department has made great gains in that regard it is time for others to come alongside and help the people who are left. "That's a different set of doctors," he said of the current needs. "That's a different set of skills."

Bratton's remarks came during the keynote address for a conference entitled "Policing Skid Row: Is the Safer Cities Initiative the Right Approach?" The event, put on by New York's Manhattan Institute, also included two panel discussions and drew a packed crowd of Downtown stakeholders.

The morning conference marked a return to roots for the LAPD Chief, who worked with the Manhattan Institute during his time as Police Chief in New York City and has written articles for City Journal, its quarterly publication.

Though the panelists came from different backgrounds and held different focuses, the core question — "Is the Safer Cities Initiative the Right Approach?" — seemed to be answered in the affirmative.

Mark Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at UCLA, introduced himself during the first panel as the "designated critic." Despite this, his remarks concentrated not on how Safer Cities was an incorrect approach, but instead on the failure of other aspects of government to play their part in the process. A highly touted aspect of Safer Cities is the "Streets or Services" program, which offers misdemeanor offenders the chance to enter a rehabilitation program instead of going to jail. Kleiman called the program a failure, pointing out that jail is not a credible threat when an offender stands to serve only 10% of his sentence. He pointed to the need for more housing, including options simply geared at getting folks off the street. "Where's the low pressure shelter where you can show up at 11pm stoned?," he asked.

Heather MacDonald, also on the first panel, authored a City Journal article on Safer Cities that was later adapted for the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal. Today she discussed Skid Row's previous "culture of lawlessness" and said that advocate efforts to prevent enforcement were "infantilizing the population" by removing the duty to obey the law.

George Kelling, Senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, spoke highly of Bratton's accomplishments while in New York, and compared the current situation to one faced two decades ago. "There was another area that was very similar to Skid Row in the 1980s, and we called it the New York subway." He noted that talk about the subways always pinned the problem on homelessness, but that enforcement and the resulting cleanup showed that instead the problem was one of lawlessness.

In his closing remarks, Bratton said that he views the Skid Row situation as even more serious than the one in New York's subways. He noted that while the problem of the subways was experienced daily by 3.6 million riders, "the intensity of Skid Row is experienced by only a few." Nevertheless, he cited his goal to see the cleanup of Skid Row set an example for the rest of the country. "The new saying should be that if it worked on Skid Row, it can work anywhere."


Policing Skid Row

Mark Kleiman makes his opening remarks during the first panel.

Policing Skid Row

George Kelling talks about the cleanup of the New York City subways in the 1980s.

Policing Skid Row

Central City East Association head Estela Lopez talks about how calls to her group's security personnel for service went from 77,000 in 2005 to only 39,000 in 2007.

Policing Skid Row

The room listens to LAPD Chief William Bratton.

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