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The Sad, Sorry Fall of William Bratton

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Broken Windows to Broken Enforcement

Screen-Shot-2015-05-05-at-9.54.41-AM-1024x565In 1994, Rudy Guiliani appointed William Bratton as the 38th Police Commissioner of the New York City Police Department. Since his time as the Transit Commissioner (1990), Bratton espoused a zero tolerance policy of policing as discussed in the Sydney Morning Herald

Bill Bratton, the former New York police chief, said many young people, especially gang members, had been ”emboldened” by over-cautious policing tactics and lenient sentencing policies

This zero tolerance policy continued when he officially took over as NYPD’s top cop, and implemented the Giuliani/Bratton enforcement of the Broken Windows Theory of Policing.

Even something as small and seemingly harmless as a broken window sends a signal.

article-2518823-19E1A57500000578-301_634x831The theory of broken windows in criminal justice terms was introduced in The Atlantic Monthly by criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982. Their idea was that by clamping down on “broken windows”—petty, two-bit crimes such as graffiti and purse-snatching, a decline in major crime—murder, rape and robbery—would occur. At the time, the idea seemed crazy. How could a citation for jaywalking result in a decreased murder rate?

Well it worked. Major Crimes were greatly reduced as evidenced by murders dropping from 2245 in 1990 to 649 (not including 9/11 attacks) at the end of the Giuliani administration. This trend continued down to the end of the first year of the de Blasio administration where murder dipped to 328. However more recently, the numbers are starting to go in the opposite direction (352 in 2015). Broken Windows, along with Compstat worked.

Bratton resigned from his position in 1996, ostensibly because of an investigation into the propriety of a book deal he signed while in office. More likely it was due to ego conflicts with the Mayor. Regardless, Bratton on to a successful career in the LAPD and private industry before being tapped by Bill De Blasio as his police commissioner.

But it was not Giuliani 2.0, instead de Blasio made clear that the strategies would be his and Bratton was the to implement them and give them the gravitas that Bratton’s long history would allow.

073114_SHARPTON_DM_21.jpgIt did not start off too well, with Al Sharpton, Bratton’s co-commissioner appearing on the dais at a Press Conference after the Eric Garner death in 2014.

Yes, Bratton says, in hindsight it was probably a bad idea to sit on one side of the mayor with the Reverend Al Sharpton on the other at a City Hall press conference back in July, after the death of Eric Garner. (link)

The relationship between de Blasio and the NYPD continued to deteriorate, reaching it’s nadir after the murder in December 2014 of officer Liu and Ramos. At that time, officers at the hospital turned their backs to de Blasio and Bratton as they walked into the hallway of the hospital.

While Bratton used his good will with the NYPD, and de Blasio struck a more conciliatory tone towards the NYPD, the relationship is still strained.

Even while this was going on, Bratton continued to defend the concept of Broken Windows policing, taking great pains to separate it from Stop, Question and Frisk. In an article in the City Journal just last year, Bratton argued:

Broken Windows policing is not a tactical response based on reasonable suspicion of possible criminality. Rather, it is a more broadly based policy mandating that police will address disorderly illegal behavior, such as public drinking and drug use, fights, public urination, and other acts considered to be minor offenses, with responses ranging from warning and referral to summons and arrest. (link)

However the sad decline of New York’s top cop continued in 2015. article-summons-2-0427First there were reports the City Council was considering decriminalizing “petty” offenses like open container and public urination. While Bratton publicly opposed these changes, the City Council is moving forward under Melissa Mark-Viverito to decriminalize these offenses. This coming on the heels of the spate of slashing attacks that have gripped the city over the past year. These attacks are up 20% over the previous year.

On Tuesday came the coup de grace from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance where Vance, along with the NYPD and the Mayor’s office announced they would no longer arrest people for minor offenses even if they have an warrant out for their arrest.

New Yorkers who drink in public, litter, urinate or ride between subway cars in Manhattan will no longer be arrested by the NYPD even if they have a warrant, under a new initiative announced by District Attorney Cy Vance to overhaul how summons and low-level offenses are processed in the city.
The new program, announced jointly with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, will allow police officers to increase their use of discretion and the DA’s office will no longer prosecute quality of life violations unless the public is at risk, Vance’s office announced Tuesday. (link)
Thus ends the downfall of William J. Bratton. From espousing the Broken Windows theory helping to make New York the safest large city in the country to let’s tone down Broken Windows and see how that works out.
Did William Bratton so want to be Police Commissioner of New York again that he has compromised his own principals? It certainly looks that way.

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