The continuity commissioner

continuity-commissioner
William Bratton. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Michael Bloomberg's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, waited 63 days before sending police officers in riot gear to clear Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park back in 2011.

Bill Bratton, according to a former New York City official who talked to him afterward, said that if he were commissioner he would have "cleared them out right away."

(A spokesperson for Bill de Blasio, who yesterday announced that Bratton would be the new commissioner, did not confirm or deny the quote.)

Bratton, who was NYPD commissioner under Rudy Giuliani, has now been given a mandate to implement the more community-friendly police strategies that de Blasio promised during his spectacularly successful mayoral campaign. And he was presented by de Blasio on Thursday as a kindred spirit on policing theory. 

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

But de Blasio supporters looking for the clean break from the Bloomberg administration the mayor-elect promised in the campaign, during which he also pledged to “end the stop-and-frisk era” in New York, may find Bratton's substantive views about police work to be remarkably similar to the current administration's.

Kelly enjoyed great success in keeping crime rates low. And for most of his term as Bloomberg's police commissioner was unusually good at the diplomatic and community-outreach aspects of his job, finally found himself on the defensive during the mayor's race over the department's aggressive use of stop-and-frisk in targeting mostly black and Latino males. Even as the department reined in its use of the tactic in the last year, Kelly remained defiant about the usefulness of the tactic, and of proactive policing in general.  

Bratton's record in achieving low crime rates, like Kelly's, is well known. And in a series of speeches earlier this year which largely went unnoticed, he staked out unflinching support for the kind of aggressive, proactive policing he first used when he served as Rudy Giuliani’s first police commissioner from 1994-1996, and when he was the Los Angeles Police Commissioner from 2002 to 2009.

In June, at an event hosted by the Manhattan Institute, Bratton called stop-question-and-frisk “the most basic, fundamental and necessary tool of American policing. We cannot function effectively without it.”

Bratton has suggested that the department has gotten into trouble with its stop-and-frisk program because it's gotten "too small." The smaller NYPD can't assign cops to permanent beats where they could develop relationships with local residents and collaboratively work to reduce crime, Bratton said.

Instead, the NYPD flooded high-crime areas with rookie cops, who probably didn’t have proper supervision, leading to “huge numbers of stop-and-frisk” incidents. In Bratton’s view, the stop-and-frisk controversy “was created by a political decision to cut the size of the police force to try and meet budgetary needs with the justification that crime was down so dramatically.”

Frank Zimring, a UCLA professor who has written extensively about the NYPD and is one of the country's foremost experts on stop-and-frisk, took issue with part of that analysis.

He said, "It’s a management problem and a training problem,' I would highly concur with that.”

But saying “it’s a manpower problem," Zimring said, "that just makes no sense at all.”

“Nobody has ever accused New York of having a small police force," he added. "And there are still 20 percent more cops than there were in 1990.”

(The department currently has approximately 35,000 officers, down from a peak of around 40,000.)

Also, while in Los Angeles, Bratton sought to implement anti-terrorism efforts that drew criticisms from civil rights activists who said it mirrored the controversial “spying” tactics employed by the NYPD, which are the target of three federal lawsuits in New York and New Jersey.

Days before the Sept. 10 mayoral primary, de Blasio said the NYPD should scale back its anti-terrorism surveillance program. In response to the latest in a series of investigative stories from the Associated Press about the program, de Blasio said, “We have not been leveled with by the NYPD that, in fact, the kind of surveillance happening is much broader and not based on specific leads.”

He went on to say that “anything that is not based on specific leads should not continue.”

In response to Bratton’s appointment this morning, Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy group, released a statement saying they were “seriously concerned” about him because he “has a troubling record of supporting the types of practices that have caused so much concern among New Yorkers, and mayor-elect de Blasio has made a campaign promise to reform the NYPD because of these very issues.”

Muslim Advocates, which is joined a lawsuit against the NYPD over its surveillance program, said Bratton “promoted ... a widespread data gathering and mapping project targeting innocent American muslims in Los Angeles which was defeated only after public outcry and the intervention of then-Mayor Villaraigosa.”

(In announcing Bratton’s appointment, the de Blasio campaign released a statement from Villaraigosa praising him.)

Glenn Katon, the legal director for the Muslim Advocates, said in an interview “Bratton was a strong proponent” of mapping Muslims and putting them under surveillance.

“What that translates into for us is some very serious concerns," he said, adding, “He’s kind of an old-school guy who comes from an era where, you know, doing police work based on race and religion was kind of acceptable or at least not seen as the evil that most people, including the mayor-elect, see it as today.”

In October, Bratton spoke at NYU’s Stern School of Business about the need to gather information, but to also work with local residents in order to fight terrorism.

The “collaboration that is so essential to successful policing, really requires a trust between community and police that what we're doing is in fact not illegal, not based on ethnic bias in the case of the terrorism issue, in terms of [the] Muslim community not being unfairly targeted by the police or the federal government on those investigations," he said.

As I reported at the time, Bratton left the door open some form of surveillance and electronic monitoring.

Bratton praised the emerging field of "predictive policing" which enables law enforcement officials to "confidently predict that, within a certain time frame, in a certain geographic area ... you're going to have crime there," unless police proactively intervene.

He said the LAPD is currently experimenting with those strategies, and "it's a term you're going to hear a lot more of."