Thursday, December 5, 2013


Out with the old, in with the older.




A BroodingCynyx Editorial

(Thursday December 5, 2013 One Police Plaza, NYC)  The announcement was predictably uninspired.  Since winning the election on November 6, 2013, our Mayor-elect seemed to have already made up his mind regarding the most important appointment to his administration.  Therefore it was with little fanfare or surprise when De Blasio had the newly appointed NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton at his side for a news conference. There are several odd story lines tangentially related to the return of Bill Bratton to One Police Plaza.  Much has changed since his first stint as the Commissioner from 1994 until 1996 when then Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided this town wasn’t big enough for both of their soaring egos.  But, before their personal relationship became one of acrimony, jealousy, and gamesmanship, our City became transformed thanks to several coexisting circumstances, trends, strategies, novel tactics and a shared desire to show results and, in no small measure, thanks to the hardworking, underpaid men and women of the NYPD.  The glory days of Giuliani and Bratton were remarkable for all they had managed to accomplish even as their relationship began to fray publicly.

Those of us who are native New Yorkers of a certain age knew what our City had devolved to by the time Giuliani was elected Mayor.  We lived with a legion of “quality of life” ailments, crime rates skyrocketing in all major categories, several high profile cases of overt police corruption, simmering racial tensions in the Outer Boroughs and a generalized uneasiness that spoke to New Yorker's sense that Our City was descending back into the darkest days of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. A huge homeless population seemed to be panhandling at every subway station, squeegee men were poised to pounce on cars stopped at red lights, large swathes of the City had taken on the personality of street thugs, lowlifes and the Bowery Boys; a place where anyone at any time could find themselves as easy prey.  The commercial tax base was diminishing as more and more corporations fled New York City for if not greener, at least safer pastures.

Perhaps the most telling proof of just how bad quality of life and crime had become in this bastion of liberalism was when a Republican,  Rudolf Giuliani defeated the incumbent democrat David Dinkins in the Mayoral race in 1994.  Giuliani, a successful and well know federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York was famous for the many Italian American “mobsters” and “white collar criminals” including Ivan Boesky who he tried and won convictions using the RICO Predicates.  Giuliani had high name recognition but he was a declared “Republican”.New York City Republicans are in no way shape or form anything like mainstream Republicans.  Giuliani's platform was not based on divisive “social issues” that the National Republican Party is always so adamant about.  No, Rudy Giuliani represented a new sheriff in town and he planned to set things right again. He was, after all, a “law and order” type guy, a product of Brooklyn with no nonsense approach to the machinery of municipal governance and the status quo in City Hall. Giuliani’s version of Republicanism was more in step with the conservative center-right faction of the Democratic Party.  But people were sick and tired of what their City, their neighborhoods had become and if it took electing a Republican to straighten out the mess then, so be it. 

With a fully empowered Bratton by his side, armed with tactics and strategies’ they’d learned from “The Broken Window Theory” and having adopted the computer software program developed by a dapper Deputy Commissioner for Crime Reduction Strategies’, the flamboyant man behind the “CompStat” program Jack Mapel, which tracked crime in real time and held officers at every command level accountable, our City began to show tangible progress on many fronts.  The Broken Window approach to community policing was to start focusing on and addressing the small transgressions, the simple violations that had long been ignored because there were always “bigger fish to fry” for the NYPD.  In 1992 the Homicide Rate tipped over 2000 and the new year of 1993 was not shaping up to be much better.  Between Giuliani and Bratton they were able to launch several proactive initiatives and, if the old order brass in the Commands and Precincts didn’t want to get along with the program, Giuliani told them to retire.Many did but more stayed on and bought into the Giuliani/Bratton policies primarily because they could actually see tangible results.

With aggressive crack downs on subway turnstile jumpers, aggressive panhandlers, homeless people obstructing doorways, subway stations and generally adding to the feeling of a City out of control, The Broken Window Theory was put to the test.  Suddenly a remarkable unforeseen bonus began to emerge.  It became quickly obvious that those who perpetrate the lowest level offenses are also those most likely to be those who also engage in much more serious violations.  Now, with two uniformed police Officers in virtually every station they would stop a person who’d just jumped over a turnstile, ask him or her to produce some form of identification and quite often the Police Officers were notified that they had just apprehended a person who had, perhaps, jumped bail, was wanting on a warrant or as a suspect in a more serious crime.  Suddenly, and in the least confrontational way, Police Officers were reducing the number of criminals on the street.  It has long been accepted in the Law Enforcement Community (LEC) that only 10% of a given population commit 100% of the crime.  If it becomes possible to reduce the 10% faction of a population, crimes across the board – in all categories – will occur with less frequency.  Add to this mix the CompStat protocols that actually deploy resources to very specific high crime sectors, blocks, housing projects or even a certain street corner, and the 10% of bad guys was diminishing with unanticipated regularity. The Cops and the courts were finally putting the bad guys away.


The story of the short lived honeymoon between Giuliani and Bratton has been exhaustively analyzed, documented and chronicled.  Much to the chagrin of the Crime Fighting Mayor his hand-picked Police Commissioner had begun to be the most visible single identity associated with the great, if almost miraculous “clean up” of the formerly gritty dangerous place that New York City had become.  When Bratton made the front page of “TIME” magazine eclipsing his boss as the tough guy in charge, that was just more than Giuliani and his own outsized ego could abide. Bratton resigned and moved on to several other high profile positions in the LEC, most notably as the Chief of the LAPD and in the more lucrative private sector.  Never again would Giuliani appoint a man of such high prominence, media savvy and street smarts to that position again.


As Giuliani’s hand-picked successor the media billionaire Michael Bloomberg handily won the Mayor’s race in 2001.  He chose a solid pick for the slot of “Top Cop”, a longtime NYPD veteran Ray Kelly.  Not only did this duo keep virtually all the Giuliani-era policing tactics in place, they expanded many.  They were also the first to face the challenge of policing in a City that had sustained the worst terrorist attack in our country’s history and that fact alone required the development of new initiatives to be implemented, initiatives that no other American city had ever before had to enact.  Bloomberg brought his business acumen and managerial style to City Hall and staunchly supported his Police Commissioner.  Kelly, for his part, can be credited for creating the NYPD Intelligence Unit under the direction of former CIA Officer David Cohen.  Kelly also instituted a wide range of policies and practices in counter terrorism and what critics saw as “racial profiling” of members of the Islamic community throughout New York City.

To be certain Kelly had his share of vigorous supporters and backers just as he had equally vocal detractors and enemies.  Given the complexity of policing the largest city in America in the new “post- 9 11 world” Kelly’s efforts were early on in his tenure widely embraced by most New Yorkers.  As the memories of September 11, 2001 diminished in some New Yorker’s minds many took to castigating Kelly and what they labeled his “unconstitutional policies”.  Despite the growing chorus of detractors Commissioner Kelly never lost the unflinching support of Mayor Bloomberg and did in fact remain very popular with the public.

As the years of increasing prosperity, an expanding commercial tax base, gentrification and tourism went by the “new” New York City originally outlined by Giuliani has largely become reality under the tenure of Bloomberg.  Yes, pockets of crime, poverty, poor schools, drug abuse and all the social ailments of a large urban city are still in evidence but, for the most part, they are far smaller and less dangerous than they’d once been.  One of the issues that has dogged Bloomberg and Kelly over the last year is the controversy surrounding the Police policy that has been called “Stop and Frisk”.  This has been an emotionally and racially charged topic that has made its way to the federal court in New York.


The actual practice is designated “Stop, Question and Frisk” but for the activists and detractors calling it “Stop and Frisk” is more in their favor as they try to undermine it as a viable approach to urban policing especially in high crime areas.  We won’t get into the facts and figures here’ both sides of the debate have more than enough numbers and statistics to validate their claims.  The fact of the matter is that this policy, coupled with other innovative patrol practices, has reduced the crime rates in our City to 52 year lows.  For those New Yorkers counting the days until their “liberal progressive” savior, Bill De Blasio takes the oath of office they may do well to consider that the genesis of the “Stop, Question and Frisk” policy was drafted by then NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.  Mayor-elect De Blasio has placed himself in the position of a hypocrite regarding his views of Stop, Question and Frisk since his own chosen NYPD Commish believes in it and implemented it with a vengeance while Chief of LAPD.

Bratton will return to a City parts of which he may not recognize.  Clearly he will need to get immersion education in the workings of the Intelligence and related Units.  Our City has grown up, matured and been changes since 1996 and Bratton may find that some of his points of reference, his internal compass might be more than just a bit uncalibrated.  It remains to be seen how Mayor De Blasio will interact with his police commissioner given the fact that De Blasio was an ardent opponent of Stop, Question and Frisk as a mayoral candidate.  His stump speeches delivered to largely African American and Latino groups in the outer boroughs where often nothing more than rants against the NYPD, Ray Kelly and Stop, Question and Frisk.  He has a scant three weeks to work out the details with Bratton because in our City unforeseen events occur daily and the new Mayor and new Commissioner may find themselves at odds in short order.


Arguably there are no other NYC civil servants who feel a direct connection to their most senior Commander, the NYPD Commissioner, than the men and women of that agency.   NYPD is by its very nature a quasi-military organization with a strict chain of command and hierarchical structure.  Cops in NYPD look to the Commissioner very carefully in an effort to ascertain where he will come down on a certain issue once the shit hits the fan and the Department comes under harsh scrutiny.  In his last tour of duty as Commissioner, Bratton was generally well regarded by the rank and file and most members of Service (MOS) had no beefs with him.  Some of his smaller initiatives may not have been seen by the public as necessary but were viewed by Cops as important moves.  The simple act of doing away with the old NYPD uniform, the powder blue blouse and navy slacks sent Cops a message that Bratton thought a somewhat “tougher” appearance was important.  The all dark midnight blue now worn is part of Bratton’s legacy and it was a change widely embraced by the Force. 

Bratton abolished the divisional divides then present in the NYPD, divides that caused dissention, animus and petty jealousy among some of the ranks.  He united the NYPD, the NYPD Housing Police and the NYPD Transit Police creating a uniformed single force, NYPD that rose to over 38,000 strong by 2001 long after his departure.  But so much has changed since Bratton was squeezed out of One Police Plaza.  The changes in the City as a whole are represented in NYPD as microcosm; the Department has made great efforts to diversify and to operate under the motto of “C P R “, meaning “Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect”.  This credo was certainly central to Commissioner Kelly’s approach to his job and all who served under him.  Most Cops feel that they work for the Commissioner.  Perhaps because that post had historically been held by “one of our own”, a street Cop who rose up through the ranks to the highest levels of Command and Control there was a sense of the Commissioner “being one of us”.  Those few men who were appointed by various Mayors who were not from NYPD, men who were absolute outsiders like David Dinkins ill-fated selection of Dr. Lee “Dowtown” Brown from Houston Texas, failed miserably and were constantly at odds with the ank and file.  There was simply no respect given to a man appointed to lead NYPD who was grossly unfamiliar not only with the Department itself but also with our sprawling complex City.

After the Giuliani – Bratton split the Mayor appointed a series of lackluster “yesmen” to the post of Commissioner and by the time Rudy Giuliani was named “America’s Mayor” and TIME Magazine “Man of the Year” his Commissioner, an old crony from Giuliani’s days as a federal prosecutor, Bernard Kerik was desperately trying to avoid indictment on a number of charges.  (Kerik was tried, convicted and released from prison last month after three years in a federal penitentiary.)  It is doubtful that De Blasio will find any “yesman” qualities in Bratton but Bratton himself has gone through changes just as has our City.  His tenure with the perpetually troubled LAPD was not all rosy yet he did manage to tame that unruly organization and since leaving that post has made a very comfortable living as a “consultant”.  Some have speculated why Bratton would take the job De Blasio offered when it appears they have some serious differences not only in policing practices and policies but also in politics and personality.

Teenage girls armed with cellphones, iPads and all manner of social networking have nothing on Cops when it comes to the spread of rumor, gossip, innuendo and speculation.  No sooner did De Blasio publically announce that Bill Bratton was his man to lead the NYPD, than it was the talk  in every sector of every precinct, every Cop diner, Cop bar and other gathering places for Cops on and off duty.  Reactions were decidedly mixed to say the least.  MOS who recall working under Bratton in the 1990’s had the most to say about him.  The consensus was that he was well “regarded” but not necessarily well “respected”.  Most conversations centered on the disappointment that de Blasio had not chosen from among the current ranks to fill that job.  “There are a number of very well respected, experienced men, and I don’t mean guys from School Safety or Public Relations Commands who should have been in the running.  Seemed like De Blasio knew he was going to pick Bratton from the day after the election.  Me personally, I would like to have seen the return of John Timoney if he wanted an “outsider”.  But, what are you going to do.  The Mayor picks his guy and that’s that”, commented a 27 year veteran NYPD Detective who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  Others echoed his sentiments.

Time will tell if Bill Bratton can be an effective Police Commissioner in the New York City of today.  And, given the dynamics of our City that time may come much quicker than either De Blasio or Bratton wants.

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