LOS ANGELES, Aug. 31 — Since arriving here from New York four years ago with a reputation for speaking his mind, the police chief, William J. Bratton, has called a civil rights advocate a “nitwit.” He has proclaimed that City Council members critical of his hiring practices do not know what they are talking about. He has also suggested that Californians who do not agree with his stance on policing illegal immigrants ought to take up residence in another state.
Yet Chief Bratton, best known for his role in turning around the crime rate in New York City as police commissioner there, is perhaps the most popular Los Angeles police chief in a generation.
With major crime down 25 percent on his watch and relations between police officers and black residents improving, Chief Bratton, who is white, is poised to become the first chief granted a second term since term limits were imposed on high-ranking police officials in the early 1990’s.
“I think that Chief Bratton has done an extraordinary job,” said the president of the City Council, Eric Garcetti, adding, “I expect him to comfortably sail to a second term.”
His accomplishments have come as crime has risen in many cities around the country, with a police force that is minuscule compared with the city it covers, and in a place where many of the richest and most powerful residents, the denizens of Hollywood, have long eschewed involvement in local affairs for more high-profile global ones like the plight of African children.
As such, it has become a sport in some circles in Los Angeles to wonder what the ambitious police chief — whose weekends seem to involve either a vacation in the Hamptons or dinner with a movie producer in Los Angeles — may be plotting next.
Among the jobs he is said to be eyeing: head of Scotland Yard, mayor of New York, or New York police commissioner yet again. He denies none of the possibilities, and close associates only halfheartedly dampen the speculation. Whether those jobs are attainable is another matter.
“It is entirely possible he will end up back in New York,” said John F. Timoney, the police chief of Miami and one of Chief Bratton’s closest friends. “I think he is quite content where he is, and he obviously wants to serve another five years. But at our age you are always looking for another challenge.”
Chief Bratton, 58, said recently in an interview that running for mayor of New York, something he had considered twice before, was “not likely in my future.” He suggested he had gotten used to Los Angeles and actually liked it here.
“It is quite a life,” he said. “We get to work on important things; you get to interact with a lot of extraordinary people.”
This has been a second life of sorts for Chief Bratton, an East Coaster who turned West for a new beginning.
The chief, who has also run the Boston Police Department, was forced to resign his New York post in 1996 after the national attention over crime reduction there stole the spotlight from his boss, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
He slid from view into the private sector. Inspired by the terrorist attacks of 2001, he sought a way back into the game. He campaigned heavily for the Los Angeles job, a humbling experience for someone whose ego has never been compared to the Dalai Lama’s.
“I blow my own horn because I am good at it,” Chief Bratton said.
Unlike such officers in New York and elsewhere, the Los Angeles police chief serves at the pleasure of the mayor and the City Council, which counts among its more influential members Bernard Parks, the former police chief who was tossed aside and replaced by Chief Bratton. Mr. Parks, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has campaigned vigorously for Chief Bratton’s ouster.
“He will never get over the fact that he is no longer police chief,” Chief Bratton said of Mr. Parks. “I don’t lose any sleep over it.”
Chief Bratton’s East Coast frankness has not always sat well with people here, who generally prefer that their nasty asides and plotting behavior be conducted behind closed doors. Some of the chief’s detractors have grumbled about his travel schedule; he is rarely in Los Angeles for an entire week, preferring police conferences, lobbying in Washington and other trips. Should a scandal hit the police ranks here, his future could be threatened by those who may already be out to get him.
Yet his confidence about a second term seems grounded in a genuine popularity across a broad swath of the city.
Since he took over, several episodes between officers and black residents — including one in which a suspect was beaten with a flashlight and two others in which small children were shot by police officers — have resulted in protests, not riots.