Bill de Blasio, New York City’s “progressive” mayor-elect, reached back in time to fill arguably the most important position in his administration, naming William Bratton as his police commissioner, returning Bratton to the city where his star began to rise in the same role under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
While introducing him at the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, de Blasio highlighted Bratton’s impressive track record, which includes major reductions in crime in both New York and Los Angeles, where he also served as police commissioner. De Blasio also made note of his shared vision with Bratton on the importance of neighborhood policing to repair what has become an acrimonious relationship between police and some African-American and Latino communities in the city.
“Over an extraordinary career, Bill Bratton has proven that you can fight crime effectively and bring police and community together,” de Blasio said. “He’s focused on preventive strategies, proactive strategies, innovation and the use of the latest technology but also good old fashioned understanding that communication at the grassroots, the cop on the beat talking to a neighborhood resident, is fundamental to protecting our city.”
The current tension between police and these neighborhoods, however, stems largely from the expansion of stop-and-frisk policing under current Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which has helped contribute to historically low levels of crime in the city but has also led to the disproportionate targeting of black and Latino males. Interestingly, Bratton also oversaw an expansion of stop-and-frisk in Los Angeles, according to a 2009 study by the Harvard Kennedy School, with stops increasing by nearly 50 percent from 2002 to 2008. But unlike in New York City, where only 6 percent of stops resulted in arrest, Bratton had a higher hit rate with the policy, with 30 percent of stops leading to an arrest.
De Blasio addressed the perceived discrepancy between his desire to curb the proliferation of stop-and-frisk policing and Bratton’s record of utilizing the policy, saying that comparing Los Angeles and New York City was “not quite apples to apples to begin with,” largely because of the gang problem on the West Coast.
“The [Los Angeles] community came to understand that the stops that were necessary were being done for a good reason, there was that communication, there was that sense of legitimacy and appreciation. What we want to create is an environment where stop-and-frisk as we knew it ends…we’re not going to proceed with a policy where 90 percent of the people stopped are innocent in every way, shape, and form.”
Under Giuliani, Bratton brought “broken windows” policing to New York City–the theory that attending to minor forms of criminal disorder leads to a reduction in major crime–and steered the city on a safer path that saw drastic drops in crime, with felonies in New York City declining by 39 percent over his tenure. Bratton also fashioned himself as something of a pseudo-celebrity during that time, with a media-friendly personality that rubbed some in city government the wrong way, not in the least Giuliani, who replaced Bratton before his second term.
Bratton reflected on his previous tenure as commissioner, saying that he has learned from past mistakes and admitted some fault in allowing his relationship with Giuliani to sour.
“In all due respect to Mayor Giuliani, we had our differences, but some of those differences were created by me,” Bratton said.
While both Bratton and de Blasio both shared the spotlight at his introduction–which, in what is becoming typical of de Blasio’s press conferences, started about 45 minutes late–Bratton more than stole the show, winning over the room with his broad smile, trademark Boston accent and self-assured charm. Bratton said his three goals for overseeing the NYPD would be to continue to drive down crime, prevent terrorism, and bring a sense of collaboration to the department. He also reflected on his “love affair” with New York City, which began as a nine-year old when, as a regular visitor to the Boston Public Library, he would constantly check out a book titled Your Police, a children’s book about the New York City Police Department.
Displaying the book, its yellow cover still laminated in library plastic, Bratton said, “I loved the title, Your Police. In this city I want every New Yorker to talk about your police, my police … with confidence that they are going to be respected.”
Bratton, adopting the tone of a tenured history professor, also quoted Sir Robert Peel, the 19th century British prime minister who created the first metropolitan police force in 1829, and his “Nine Principles” of policing, which included a line about “the prevention of crime not intruding on the lives of citizens…” It’s rare in a city with crime as low as it already is for an incoming police commissioner to talk about restoring trust between police and community, but Bratton took it upon himself to drive this point home at the conclusion of his opening remarks.
“As police commissioner of the city of New York, I will work very hard and move very quickly to create once again legitimacy and trust between citizens of the city who feel they don’t have it … and this police department.”
Tags: Bill Bratton, broken windows theory, community policing, LAPD, Los Angeles, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, NYPD, police commissioner, Ray Kelly, Rudolph Giuliani, Sir Robert Peel, stop and frisk