Los Angeles: Bratton's Setback

Los Angeles police Chief Bill Bratton has long said cleaning up L.A.'s skid row would be tough. Last Friday, the job got tougher. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with an ACLU suit that a city ordinance punishing a person for lying or sitting on a sidewalk violated Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Calling the '68 law "one of the most restrictive municipal ordinances," the court blocked the LAPD from taking homeless people off the streets because there are not enough shelter beds for all of them.

The ruling was a setback for Bratton, who wanted to use the sweeps to ease crime on skid row, a 52-block area of downtown L.A. that is America's largest concentration of homeless people. He'd been formulating a plan to target the gang members who sell crack and heroin to the homeless, and people who commit petty crimes. But Bratton thought officers should be able to clear the sidewalks in some cases. "If the Ninth Circuit tells me that I can't take these people off the streets until the city finds beds ... that leaves me powerless," Bratton told NEWSWEEK late last month. His latest plans relied on the "broken window" approach to policing--suppress minor crime to eliminate larger threats--that brought him to prominence in New York City in the '90s. But moving the homeless out of the subways and off heating grates in New York was comparatively simple, Bratton said, since New York had plenty of shelter beds and enough cops to do the job. Bratton didn't comment after the ruling, but in the interview last month he promised more cops on patrol. But when that might start is unclear. For now, the city has guaranteed $50 million in additional housing, and L.A. County officials recently approved a $100 million plan for homeless centers.