He's responsible for the NYPD's blue. He oversaw a 9.8% drop in homicides during his first year as Commissioner. His Chief of Department was embroiled in a scandal that involved taking payoffs from gambling operations. His vacations with wealthy friends raised questions of impropriety. As he strolled across the street to hand in his resignation to Mayor Giuliani (the letter noted that the lives he saved "could almost fill Carnegie Hall") he famously told reporters, "On a day like this, all is right with the world." Bill Bratton will soon be sworn in as New York City's police commissioner, but unlike his previous assignments here and in LA, his task won't be to rein in skyrocketing crime rates, but to maintain the plummeting ones we currently have.
Bratton's hagiography—which to a large extent is self-written—begins with Compstat. "Like the corporate CEOs of that era, we began with a large, unfocused, inward-looking, bureaucratic organization, poor at internal communication or cooperation and chronically unresponsive to intelligence from the outer world," Bratton said in a City Journal article he co-wrote in 1999, reflecting on taking over the NYPD in 1994, when the city had just experienced nearly 2,000 murders.
"We began computer mapping the crime patterns and displaying the maps on large overhead screens," the article said. "We could identify local crime increases almost immediately and respond to them rapidly with effective measures before they could add up to a big, citywide crime spike." Parallels to corporate-style management, nods to accountability and transparency: sound familiar?
Bratton's data-driven approach to managing crime paired well with Giuliani's focus on quality-of-life crimes as part of the pair's implementation of the Broken Windows theory of policing: "Quality-of-life enforcement lets cops intervene with this population and sometimes prevent serious crimes before they happen."
Former Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple, the transit cop who is credited with creating Compstat, describes Bratton's department as "an organization that was open to talent. It was an organization of inclusion, where people weren’t afraid to come up with the wildest ideas.”
NYPD scholars have noted Bratton's willingness to trust his uniformed subordinates, unlike Kelly's reliance on his civilian aides. But this picture of the NYPD as a free-flowing tech startup is at odds with accounts of Compstat meetings where Bratton's aforementioned chief and Deputy Commissioner Maple "tear into precinct, squad and borough commanders" over seemingly routine reports of crime.
This culture—where commanders would be expected to produce low numbers at a steady clip or face swift and severe retribution—only grew under Commissioner Kelly's 12-year reign.
It is the culture that requires stat-fudging to make numbers. It is the culture that discourages citizens from reporting crimes. It is the culture that demands that officers stop and question "the right people," the right number of times each month. It is also the culture that will likely be responsible for a federal monitor overseeing the NYPD's dwindling number of stop & frisks. It it largely a culture of Bratton's creation.
Will Bratton be friendlier to the city's press corp than Kelly? (Or will he at least open up the department's FOIL unit, which Public Advocate de Blasio gave an "F" grade earlier this year?) Bratton has received almost uniformly good press during his career, but he also locked reporters out of police headquarters.
Can Bratton make the meaningful changes to the NYPD's culture that de Blasio campaigned on? Can the "zero tolerance" commissioner be "a leader who will work with community interests and foster better relations between law enforcement and residents"? His warm embrace by the city's police unions this week suggests that such an overhaul isn't his mandate.
"It's the absolute safe move," one law enforcement expert says. "If the crime rate goes up, better to have Bratton in the job. De Blasio's also terrified of the unions. Bratton is one of the few guys who could potentially control them."
The expert, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the appointment, added, "It raises some questions as to whether de Blasio will actually drop the [stop & frisk] appeal. Bratton ignored the [federal monitor] in LA. He doesn't want someone looking over his shoulder."
Bob Gangi, the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, is willing to give de Blasio the benefit of the doubt—for now.
"I don't know him, but I tend to think that he's the kind of politician who is going to prefer to keep campaign pledges," Gangi says. "A lot of credit for his sudden rise in the polls and him winning the election was that he took a strong political stance against the NYPD's culture that led to distrust and antagonism in many communities."
"Any attempt to reform an organization as hidebound and huge as the NYPD—it's imperative that we keep our ears to the ground and hear from people in the communities about what's happening. Are bogus summonses and arrests dropping? Are people being treated with respect?"
Longtime NYPD beat reporter Leonard Levitt, who wrote earlier this week that Bratton's appointment means that any change within the NYPD "will be that of style rather than substance," believes that their working relationship may be different from the one shared by Kelly and Bloomberg that was characterized by Kelly's unchecked authority. "I think de Blasio will be more hands on than Bloomberg was regarding the police," Levitt says in an email.
"I don't know de Blasio but he seems like a guy who is not afraid of anything. Nor will, unlike Rudy, he be bothered by a lot of Bratton's publicity," Levitt says. "The question will be whether Bratton can restrain himself from looking in the mirror three times a day."
Indeed, when Bratton was NYPD commissioner, he bandied a $1 million job offer from a private firm. In LA, he was absent for 1/3 of 2005, as spreading the gospel of his policing tactics took him all over the world.
As for whether de Blasio and Bratton can keep crime levels low, Gangi said he was disappointed that both men's statements this morning seemed to place that task on the shoulders of the NYPD alone.
"Crime also relates to education, health care, housing, things that de Blasio made very much a part of his progressive agenda," Gangi said. "And some of it is luck!"