Just back from a fascinating meeting between a group of UCLA faculty and administrators and Bill Bratton, for six months now the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. I’ve known Bratton since I was a mid-level staffer at Boston City Hall and he was a rising young lieutenant in the Boston Police Department, and it was a pleasure to see him in action, effortlessly convincing a group of people who are skeptical for a living that he was going to make Los Angeles a better place to live.
The good news, for all of us who live here but especially for those of us who pushed hard for Bratton’s selection as the chief to replace Bernard Parks, is that six months of confronting the realities of LA and the LAPD have sharpened Bratton’s sense of what the challenges are but not discouraged him at all. He’s still making the same sort of brash predictions of dramatic success here that got him laughed at in New York — until they proved to be understatements. With only about half police-to-population ratio he had to work with in New York, Bratton expects the turnaround to take a little bit longer, that’s all.
Eric Monkkonen, the world’s leading historian of homicide, showed us a graph of homicide rates in Los Angeles from 1835 to date. Nineteenth-century Los Angeles was an astonishingly dangerous place, even compared to the miserable period since 1975. From that perspective, it’s the relatively peaceful period from about 1925 to about 1960 — the years chronicled by Raymond Chandler — that looks anomalous. When I mentioned this to Eric, he replied that in New York the most peaceful era was the 1950s and early 1960s — the West Side Story period. If that generalizes, it suggests a puzzle: why should great crime fiction be the product of low-crime periods?
My colleague Mike Intriligator and his friend Vladimir Keilis-Borok of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the UCLA Institute of Geophysics presented what appears at first glace to be some very exciting work on predicting upsurges in homicide using pattern recognition on trends in other crimes. (Keilis-Borok made his name predicting earthquakes). The resulting paper (I can’t make out which journal published it) must surely be the only learned paper in history listing as authors a geophysicist, an economist, and a retired assistant chief of police.