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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May 2004, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
LAPD: Protect and Serve?
Key moments in the Los Angeles Police Department's history

When William J Bratton was sworn in as chief of its police department, LA was the homicide capital of America.

Can he curb gang violence and reduce the murder rate?

Los Angeles is America's second largest city, but in 2002 it topped all other US cities in one respect.

After 658 homicides in just that one year, LA became the country's murder capital.

Almost half of those murders were directly related to gang turf wars involving drugs and guns, and most of those are based in just one part of the city: South East LA.

LAPD: Protect and Serve?
BBC Two, 2100 BST on Thursday, 3 June, 2004

There are around 10,000 gang members in South East LA alone, where unemployment is three times higher than the national average.

It is the most dangerous place to be a young man; young men aged between 15 and 35-years make up almost two-thirds of all murder victims.

It is also the most dangerous place to be a police officer.

Yet the majority of these murders go unreported locally, as some claim the media - and the people in power - show little interest in gang violence.

And so little interest in funding the fight against gang warfare too.

Fear and loathing

But if a lack of interest and cash are holding the police department back, its attempts to take on the gangs are also seriously hampered by extremely poor relations with the various communities in LA.

The LAPD's image has been severely tarnished by repeated allegations of racism and corruption, such as the police beating of Rodney King that sparked rioting and the allegation of racism made against a police officer during the OJ Simpson trial.

One gang member's comment about the LAPD aptly summarises how badly the police force are viewed: "Y'all are the biggest gang in Los Angeles County."

With ordinary people afraid of both the gangs and the police, trust between citizens and police officers has reached rock bottom.

In an attempt to bring the city back under control, the authorities brought in William J Bratton as chief, the man credited with helping former Mayor Rudy Guilliani famously get New York's violent crime under control.

His aim? "Policing in an appropriate fashion," he says, "not only reduces crime but you can improve relations with the minority communities at the same time.

"We (the police) have been the flashpoint for most of the racial violence in the past century. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were in fact the catalyst for the healing?"

The This World team spent 12 months filming Chief Bratton's battle with the gangs and following rank and file cops on the frontline as they deal with shocking levels of everyday violence and try to regain the communities trust.

As Chief Bratton himself says there may be some parallels between LA and Baghdad, can he really hope to get Los Angeles back under control?


LAPD: Protect and Serve? was broadcast in the UK on Thursday, 3 June, 2004 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.


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