The Back Page: Lamb Chops with Commissioner Loeb

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From the third issue of the Gotham Times:

If Commissioner Loeb is feeling any pressure in his high-profile job as head of the Gotham Police Department, he doesn't show it. At a lunch over freshly grilled New Zealand lamb, Loeb spoke with force about his plans for the department, the recent drop-off in the crime rate, and City Hall's controversial decision to arrest Batman on sigh.

"Things have really changed since the last time we spoke," Loeb said as he sipped his iced tea.

Indeed they have.

Just like the lamb chop he devoured with unusual aplomb, Loeb really sank his teeth into his job. When he inherited the department, no other city in America faced the startling rise in crime that Gotham did. By all measures, it was a thankless role to step into, "but I was never looking for thanks," Loeb said, stabbing into his baked potato. "All I was looking for was to drop the crime rate and make the city a safer place. Case closed."

I had the commissioner meet me at Zolan's Cafe, a restaurant that recently opened in the once crime-torn West Side. New places to dine and drink have opened all over the area, a sure sign that the commissioner's plan to lower crime in Gotham is working.

"Places like these are the true success stories of my plant," Loeb told me. "People were too afraid to go out in areas like this before my tactics went into effect. Now, these neighborhoods are thriving. You should take a walk around after lunch and see for yourself. It's really a tremendous thing."

Loeb leaned back to talk about the future of the police department.

"We're still in the beginning of our new policing tactics. Right now, we've started training our officers on how to work directly with citizens. You know, good police work is a rolled-up sleeves kind of business. You have to really get into the neighborhoods, walk the streets, get to know the people who live there, develop a bond."

Was Loeb feeling the pressure after the failures of the department during the Narrows Attack? "Nobody likes to feel the heat. But I understood that people were upset, scared. Do I think we did a perfect job? No. That's why I opened the Major Crimes Unit, and put Jim Gordon in charge of it."

That's the same Jim Gordon who was a big hero of that terrible day. Smart PR? Maybe. But definitely smart policing.

Commissioner Loeb comes across as a warm and personable human being. Sure, he's Gotham's police commissioner, and that means he's plenty tough, but he has the kind of bearing that invites trust.

I was wondering how citizens would relate to the more rough-and-tumble members of the force, so I ordered a hazelnut gelato and asked the commission to explain this new training program.

"Sure," he said with a hearty chuckle, "we have plenty of cops on the force who are 'rough-and-tumble' as you say, and God bless them. What we did is bring in a number of experts on urban life, people lie psychologists and sociologists, to teach them how to talk to people. It's really that simple, but the proof is in the pudding."

I was wishing I had ordered pudding, but the waiter had already vanished to the kitchen to place my order, and I hate to be that guy who changes their order after it's already been sent back. I made a mental note to come back and try the banana pudding, then turned to my lunch companion and uttered a single word, "Batman."

Smiling, he said, "I knew that was coming." Here was a man who had a solid, well-thought answer to everything, and his response to this latest controversy proved no exception.

"The simple answer is Batman is a criminal, and as a criminal he should be arrested. Anyone with any training at all in law enforcement - from a judge to a file clerk to a beat cop - can tell you that Batman's actions are against the law. Batman himself would tell you this. But that's not the real reason for the 'arrest on sight' policy."

The Commissioner took a sip of the coffee our waiter had just refilled. He set it back on the saucer and fidgeted it into the concave circle that kept it cradled.

"Batman is an unknown quantity going out there with sophisticated technology and a complete lack of restraint. Has he helped arrest a few 'bad guys'? Yes. But what happens to a citizen caught in the crossfire? It hasn't happened yet, but it will, and it's going to be a lot worse than what happened to Mary Breitup."

Loeb shifted and leaned forward. It was clear to me he really wanted to get this next point across. "Or what happens when Batman gets it wrong and he hurts or kills an innocent person? That's why we have laws. Why we have society. Why we have a police department and a judicial system. You see, if I let Batman run free, that means I've broken the public's trust and that is something I will never do."

I looked this impressive man in the eye, shook his hand, and told him "thank you." When he got up and left, I sat there for a moment, dipping into my gelato and thinking that Gotham should be proud to have a man like this sitting in the commissioner's chair. Still, it would be nice if someone else would pick up the check once in awhile.

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