Interested in his old job, Bratton defends de Blasio on policing

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Bratton. (Azi Paybarah.)
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On Wednesday evening, after a lecture at New York University, former police commissioner Bill Bratton explained to reporters why he might be interested in serving in his old job again.

"Apart from being an optimist, I guess I’m a glutton for punishment," said Bratton, after a speech on policing at N.Y.U.'s Stern School of Business.

Bratton served as police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani in the mid-1990s, in a formative two-year stint that helped define the police practices that ultimately succeeded in lowering the city's crime rate. 

Bratton now works as a consultant, and he's advised a number of this year's mayoral candidates, including Bill de Blasio, who has floated Bratton as a possible replacement for Ray Kelly. In July, De Blasio told Capital that "it just stands to reason" to consider Bratton as one of the top candidates to lead the New York Police Department.

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"Would I have an interest?" Bratton said yesterday. "Potentially."

"At some point in time [I] may have to make a decision about whether the time is right, if I'm the right person at the right time," he added. "Also, I'll certainly leave that up to whoever wins the mayoral election. It'll be their choice to make. It's not a job you campaign for, you don't run for it like you would run for mayor."

Bratton said his conversations with de Blasio have been limited to policing policy so far. "There was never a discussion about the commissioner's position," he said.

I asked Bratton if he agreed with his former boss, Rudy Giuliani, who said this week that de Blasio an "anti-police" ideology. 

"I did not detect that at all in any of my conversation with him," said Bratton, who had a tense relationship with the mayor during his tenure.

Bratton acknowledged some of de Blasio's reservations about current NYPD practices, but said, "I don't detect any of that as anti-police.”

Bratton declined to state his opinion on current police practices like stop-and-frisk, or whether he'd continue the use of the NYPD's Zone Assessment Unit, which critics say unfairly surveils Muslims.

But in his remarks at N.Y.U., Bratton reiterated his support for community policing, which relies on the goodwill of the public to help provide information to police.

"Of the attempted terrorists plots in this country that have been detected since 9/11," said Bratton, "75 percent [have] been detected because of a collaboration between a community member who has informed a police officer, or a police officer who because of relationships with the community, has been able to put the clues together to predict that something was going to happen and to be able to prevent it. 

"So 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.

But Bratton did leave the door open to 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 pro-actively intervene.

He said that Los Angeles, where he served as police commissioner for seven years, is currently experimenting with those strategies, and "it's a term you're going to hear a lot more of."

Bratton said the new techniques are premised on "having the computer abilities, the intelligence analyst capabilities, the technology, [and] the real-time crime centers. They all cost money," he said.

But, he noted, "with technology also comes concerns."