Opinion

Bring back Bill Bratton to fight crime and police brutality

The turnaround artist could be a bridge to a NYPD commissioner of color.

Former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton.

Former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton. Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

As New York City struggles with a panoply of problems – the pandemic and its economic reverberations, a yawning budget gap, rising crime and police brutality and the unrest it inflames – many of the rich are fleeing the city, leaving parts of Manhattan as empty as a garden party after a skunk shows up. Some of these problems, like the United States’ failure to control COVID-19, are beyond the city’s control and must wait for a new president to take the reins. But some, such as crime and community-police relations, can be improved by good governance. 

Conservatives fret about the rising rate of shootings, while liberals are distressed to see police continuing to manhandle suspects of color and peaceful protesters. New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea has shown that he isn’t up to the task of fixing either problem, presiding over a department that used excessive force during recent Black Lives Matter protests, with little evidence of accountability, while simultaneously seeing slower response times and more prevalent violent crimes. 

The NYPD needs a turnaround artist, someone who has the credibility with cops to sell them on much-needed reforms while also helping them to more effectively fight crime. There’s one person who has previously swooped in like Batman to fight crime when Gotham has been in crisis, and who could do the job again – this time, before handing it off to a woman or person of color – former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio should summon Bratton back to emergency duty for one year to get the NYPD and the soaring crime rate under control. 

Bratton should merely be a fixer of our current ills and help the next mayor find a progressive NYPD chief capable of implementing the many reforms that are overdue. There have been only two black New York City police commissioners since the current job was created in 1901, and never any female commissioners. Next year, before he departs office, de Blasio should appoint a woman or person of color – or, ideally, a woman of color – to run the NYPD. But as he embarks on that search, he should immediately transition from Shea to Bratton, who has a demonstrated track record of driving crime down and unwinding aggressive over-policing. 

After an impressive stint as chief of New York City Transit Police in the early 1990s, Bratton was appointed police commissioner in 1994 by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to try to rein in a murder rate that exceeded 2,000 per year. By the time he was pushed out in 1996 for doing too good a job and outshining his boss on Time magazine’s cover, the murder rate had been cut nearly in half and was on its way to a 25-year steady decline. The murder rate plateaued at roughly 300 per year in 2018-2019, an astounding 86% reduction from 1990.

Some of his proactive approaches to policing, notably the use of Compstat, are recognized successes among many progressives. Others, such as enforcement of quality-of-life crimes, have shown that they can create opportunities for abuse. But, at the time, Bratton was trying to improve community-police relations. As a 2009 article in the Daily Trojan reported, “Bratton decided to focus on rebuilding the broken sociocultural bridges between the police department and many of its low-income and minority citizens, who often felt antagonized by law enforcement. The new model was rooted in the assumption that successful crime reduction and quality-of-life improvement depend on understanding localized demographic and social nuance. Under CompStat, more decision-making authority shifts from top-level officers to local precinct commanders, who are more familiar with the specific policing challenges that their communities present.” 

In 2002, like a caped crusader, Bratton flew into Los Angeles, the second largest police department in the nation. During his seven-year tenure as LAPD chief, violent crime, including murders, dropped 50 percent. He also transformed a department notorious for brutality. As a Los Angeles Times editorial noted at the time of his departure, “police are using less serious force; and city residents overwhelmingly approve of the department’s work.” That success was driven by Bratton’s community-engagement approach to policing that he first implemented in New York. 

In New York, Bratton’s successors such as Howard Safir, Bernie Kerik and Ray Kelly, ramped up racial profiling tactics like stop-and-frisk. While the crime rate kept on its long-running descent downward, the trampling of civil liberties fell heavy on minority neighborhoods. The well-deserved backlash against stop-and-frisk led to a judicial order that curbed its use, but the issue helped propel de Blasio’s successful campaign in 2013.

Bratton heeded the call to save his city once again when de Blasio wisely made him commissioner in 2014. Bratton not only drove crime down to record lows, but he did it while dismantling the stop-and-frisk monster that had haunted Gotham for more than a decade. Stop-and-frisks went from over 532,000 in Bloomberg’s penultimate year, 2012, to less than 23,000 in 2015, Bratton’s second year back at the helm.

When I interviewed Bratton at a public event City & State hosted in July 2015, he made news by saying he wouldn’t stick around for a second de Blasio term. Like many, I held my breath when his hand-picked successor, James O’Neill took over. Because Bratton handed off such a well-run NYPD, O’Neil’s steady hand helped keep our city safe for another three years before he retired in November 2019. 

Now, with a relatively new commissioner, the wheels have come off the bus and New York is careening into dangerous territory. Even though crime rates remain well below historic highs, some fear a return to the crime-ridden New York of the 1970s and ‘80s is right around the corner. While other crimes such as rape and assault are down this year, the murder rate is up more than 30% over this time last year. Burglary is up more than 50% and in July shootings surged dramatically – 177% higher than July of last year

What to do? The mayor and the governor must appeal to Bratton’s love for New York and persuade him to get New York back on track. No offense to Dermot Shea, but the rookie leader walked into a swirl of crises: health, economic, systemic racism, and he hasn’t found his footing. And in this case, we cannot wait for him to do so. 

Bratton is revered among law enforcement professionals. That reputation and record allowed him to get police cooperation on reforming stop-and-frisk. De Blasio needs the same rank-and-file buy-in to enact further reforms. If the mayor brought him back as either commissioner or as a special monitor with strong autonomy while mentoring a progressive commissioner, it would send an important signal to everyone that the NYPD and the city will rise to meet the current challenges. Everyone from business leaders to average citizens fearful of crime – or of brutal cops – could take heart and develop the optimism needed to keep their personal and financial futures in New York City. 

Let’s hope Bratton is waiting by the Bat Phone for the mayor’s call.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.