January 19, 2005 - From the Dec/Jan, 2005 issue

LA Police Chief Bratton Addresses The Need for New Police Facilities

In 1954, a new Police Administration Building was opened in Downtown Los Angeles at a cost of just over $6 million. Fifty years later, the LAPD has secured a location for a new headquarters and is planning construction of the $300 million facility. This project is only one part of the department's ongoing, massive infrastructure modernization that will cost nearly $1 billion. TPR is very pleased to present the following interview with Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton about the LAPD's new headquarters and the integration of new facilities into L.A.'s neighborhoods.

Chief Bratton, the history of the Parker Center is a history of the last half-century in Los Angeles. You are now preparing to build a new Police Administration Building. Could you elaborate on the need and the purpose for a new police headquarters.

The need has several reasons. One, the current building was damaged by earthquakes during the 1990s and has been left in a very bad structural situation. Secondly, Parker Center is antiquated in terms of its life support systems, such as fire prevention. It is one of two buildings in the city without sprinkler systems, for example. The air conditioning and ventilation systems are deplorable throughout the building. Also, this building has one conference room in the whole building, which does not meet our frequent need for space to meet. This building has served its purpose. It has certainly been part of the history of the city, but now it is time to move into the 21st century.

As part of an almost billion-dollar effort to modernize the department's infrastructure, many of our buildings are being remodeled, new police stations are being built, and we have a $300 million new police headquarters that will be built over the course of the next five years. It will be directly across the street from City Hall, so it will stay in the Civic Center area. It will be the most modern, state-of-the-art police facility in America, taking into account all of the technological advances in office systems, providing creature comforts that we do not have currently in this antiquated building. And, it will be certainly a building worthy of this great city.

You call it "the most modern...police facility in America." What will make the center so state-of-the-art?

The building will be a "smart" building in terms of its wiring, and it will accommodate all the newest computer systems and technology. The current building was never designed for all these systems, and it has got wires running everywhere. We still have some circa-1950s phones, for example, and any time you want to run a wire, which is critical for all the new computer systems, you really have to take the whole ceiling apart.

It will also reflect many of the changes in policing over the years. It will have a "CompStat Center," which will be the room where we create all of our anti-crime strategies. It will have a separate auditorium that will be available to the public as well as for private functions. And, it will have many of the amenities that we don't currently have. The new building will replace our current extraordinarily inadequate restroom facilities, office structure, and ventilation. It will also be designed to be customer-friendly to the many civilian people who have to visit it. We will design it so that there will be kind of a "one-stop-shopping" area in the lobby of the building so that people don't need to wander through all 11 stories to find what they need. We are very pleased about it.

What is the timeline for the new headquarters building?

Five years, based on our observation of the construction of the new Caltrans headquarters, which is a similar-size structure that went up very quickly. The first order of business will be to clear the site. There are buildings there, but Caltrans had that same issue. We're very optimistic that it will stay within that five-year timeframe.

For literally two years here, we were back and forth all over the place. The location of the building is totally different than was originally intended, and some of the features also changed through our community involvement process. I think that the process worked; we ended up with a facility that I think people will be very pleased with. It will aesthetically add to that neighborhood. It will have a lot of open space. It will certainly offset the Caltrans building and be seen as much more user-friendly and contributing to the surrounding neighborhood.

Chief Bratton, as you mentioned, this new headquarters is part of a billion-dollar facilities program for the department. Please discuss some of the other police stations that are being built, their siting and design, and how they will interface with the neighborhoods and communities that they are meant to serve.

Well, we are modernizing all of our existing structures and our area commands. We are adding two new commands that will open in March. The Mission Station, called up to now the North Valley Station, will be our 19th area. About a year or so after that, we will open a new facility, our 20th area, in the Rampart neighborhood near the Miracle Mile. We are totally rebuilding a number of our facilities, including Hollenbeck Station and our West Valley Station, which will open sometime next year. Our Harbor Station will also be totally new. In 2006, we will open a new joint crime lab with Sheriff Baca and the County, which will be literally the most modern facility of its kind in the nation. We have already, over the last five years or so, built a number of new facilities, such as our driving and firing range in the Valley. So, the Department will move into the 21st Century with an infrastructure that will support us for most of that century.

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One of the most blighted neighborhoods in the City of San Diego is City Heights, which nine years ago launched an effort to revitalize itself through the support of the city, the private sector, and Price Charities. The first and biggest desire of neighborhood residents was for a community-friendly police station. We have had very little public dialogue in Southern California about the role, design, and integration of police stations into our communities. Has that been part of the discussion in your offices as you implement this billion-dollar program?

It has been included in the discussion, but I would note that priorities are constantly changing. I have been in the business now for 34 years. In the 1970s, most new police buildings looked like fortresses, reflective of the turbulence of the 1960s, when police came under attack. These buildings were not designed to be "customer-friendly;" if anything, they were designed to serve as "ports" and to protect officers. That began to change in the 1980s and 1990s, as the new style of community policing took hold and police were seeking to develop partnerships with communities. It actually is a return to the old idea in many cities, Los Angeles included, of police facilities as neighborhood service centers. For example, many of our stationhouses now have ATM machines, so that people can feel comfortable coming into a police station to access a vital service.

But in the 21st century, as a result of 9/11, we once again have concerns about the security of our facilities, particularly headquarters, 911 centers, and critical infrastructure sites. So, while still trying to keep the openness and transparency of community policing, we must keep potential terrorism in mind in our designs. So, for example, the new headquarters building will be set back 75 feet, and literally the whole property will be raised so that there will be at least a 3-foot wall around the building. This "wall" will be designed as part of the landscaping and reflect the aesthetic. However, there will be significant open space around the headquarters. It will look very open, but we will be able to keep a vehicle being driven anywhere within 75 feet of the building and also, in the event of significant demonstrations, be able to quickly shut it down.

In September 2003, TPR published an interview with Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann about the reorganization of his department to include parks, recreation, and senior services. He felt that to control crime, he needed to move beyond suppressive strategies to prevention and intervention, and so the city reorganized itself. What do you think about this type of strategy? Is it unrealistic in Los Angeles?

Well, that is what community policing is all about. In many respects, everything old is new again. The idea of police providing a social service is not a new one. When they were first developed, precincts also served as lodging for the homeless. Community policing understands that, with our small numbers, you need the public to serve as eyes and ears and partners, so they need to be educated and to help in creating priorities. What you are saying about Redlands is reflective of the idea that police are a part of the community, not apart from it. But, the Redlands reorganization is the first time that I have heard about that type of consolidation. It makes sense in that, over the last 30 years, policing has been defined sometimes as an emerging social institution rather than a law enforcement institution. In so many of the things that we get involved in now, such as domestic violence situations and issues of homelessness, we are intimately part of addressing the various stresses on society.

At the same time, it is an unfortunate reality of today's society that from time to time we are subject to attack. In building our facilities, we have to balance security with accessibility. For example, the new police headquarters and the new police stations we are building all have significant community rooms. At the same time, there was a thrust in the 1980s to put child-care centers and similar services into police facilities, and even incorporate some facilities into shopping malls. Things have changed since the Oklahoma City bombing, in which so many young children in that federal building's nursery were killed, and also after 9/11. So, the new headquarters will have 700 parking spots under the building, but delivery vehicles will be screened and sealed away from the building.

The region has produced an incredible amount of construction and bond dollars for schools, parks, and libraries. Many have argued that neighborhoods could be immensely improved if we integrated these public investments into overall neighborhood-centered plans and joint-use facilities. Have those types of discussions taken place with respect to police department facilities?

We are completely remodeling the Van Nuys Station, which is part of the Government Center complex that supports the surrounding residential and commercial neighborhood. I think that surrounding areas benefit from all of our facilities being a part of their communities.

Unfortunately, some of the facilities that were built during the 1970s and 1980s reflect the unfortunate designs of so many of the buildings in Downtown, where the idea was to get people into parking garages and then keep them within indoor shopping concourses. Downtown streets oftentimes look barren. Even now, despite the fact that the new Caltrans building right next to my headquarters is celebrated as a modern building, it is one of the unfriendliest buildings in the city as it relates to the surrounding environment. It's an alien property. We are designing our building so that we don't repeat the mistakes of that monstrosity.

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