After two of Times Square's painted women were assaulted and another was arrested for allegedly agreeing to perform oral sex on an undercover officer for money, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton put on his ambling slacks and toured the square Friday for a "quality of life" survey. He came up with an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal chiding those who seek to compare Times Square in 2015 to Times Square circa 1990: "One has to ask if any of these observers were actually in New York in 1990, much less whether they had real familiarity with 42nd Street," he wrote. "To equate current conditions to the square of 25 years ago is preposterous."
In his "reality check" to the alarmists who think a couple costumed characters and painted women herald the end times, Bratton once again touts this summer's very positive crime statistics (NYC's safest in 25 years), as well as the "hard-won gains" the police have made clearing out crime from Grand Central Terminal, Bryant Park, Times Square and all of 42nd Street. But he's not immune to the absurdities of modern life: "[If] I had said in 1990 that a guy dressed as the Cookie Monster would occupy a week of breathless newspaper coverage, I would have been greeted with laughter and derision."
So even if Bratton might personally be disgusted by the clown show that Times Square has become ("People are offended and distressed by the spectacle, but in many cases the spectacle qualifies as free speech under the law"), he also thinks everyone needs to chill out.
This is pretty interesting, considering it's a far cry from his previously stated desire to "just dig the whole damn thing up and put it back the way it was" (a statement later echoed and given legitimacy by de Blasio). The reactionary Bratton who suggested that extreme position is nowhere to be found in the op-ed. Bratton's main complaint now is that the Times Square pedestrian mall is a public space without public-space rules, which means he isn't in full and complete control over the area, probably due to hippie judges and the like: "Laws against disorderly conduct, loitering, begging and public nudity have been redefined by court cases and legislation. There is now a good deal more nuance to nuisance."
Reading between the lines, it's clear that Bratton doesn't really give a shit about costumed characters. But there are two things that really get his blood boiling: terrorism and Ray Kelly.
Writing toward the end about the newly-formed Times Square Unit, Bratton lets slip his real intentions for the unit: "It can also provide a collaborative, multi-stakeholder review of issues such as disorder and crime, traffic flow, traffic safety and—most important for a place that has been the site of two terrorist events in the past eight years, and was a stated target of the Boston Marathon bombers—counterterrorism."
As for the other point: Bratton and Kelly's bad blood has been pretty apparent for years, but the two have been feuding in public in recent weeks because of Kelly's new memoir and his rosy-eyed remembrances of stop-and-frisks of yore. Even here in an op-ed about a totally different subject, Bratton can't help but throw in a vicious line directed at Kelly and his policies: "This is why we are establishing a Times Square Unit. The NYPD will not create a variation on the stop, question and frisk controversy by sending its least experienced cops out to parse constitutional subtleties." That's editorial subtweeting at its finest.