February 3, 2014

Bratton to Cops: Follow Me and I’ll Back You

By Mark Toor

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton delivered his inaugural message to the troops in a video posted on the website of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, promising that the department would work closely with the public and that he would oversee changes in the NYPD that would improve officers’ morale.

“Those words are long overdue,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “...Job satisfaction has been the major issue that really impacts everything the department does...The department’s culture has been barbarically punitive and counterproductive.”

‘Engage and Collaborate’

Mr. Bratton said on the six-minute video, “These times call for an NYPD that engages and collaborates across the department and with a range of partners in the criminal-justice system and the broader New York community.”

The department, he continued, needs to work with “New York City’s vast array of ethnic and cultural communities to target entrenched crime and tackle different local problems.”

And, he said, it needs to loosen up, accepting ideas from officers on the street and de-emphasizing activity quotas. “As we work together,” he said, “I’ll do my best to support you in any way I can.”

Such support was evident in the wake of a scuffle Jan. 19 between police and an 84-year-old man who walked away from a jaywalking summons, claiming he didn’t speak English.

Unfazed by Blood

Photos appeared in the tabloids of the man with blood streaming down the side of his head, and NYPD-watchers predicted dire consequences for the officers involved and for Insp. Nancy Barry, the precinct commander. But @NYPDNews, the department’s official Twitter account, tweeted on Jan. 23: “The #24Pct commander took initiative taking action, addressing jay walking” and “Officers of the #24Pct have done and [sic] excellent job #traffic re: 96/Bway.”

The NYPD Press Office did not respond to a query about why the video was posted on the PBA site. PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said, “Our social-media network is about keeping our members informed and educating them about issues that will affect them and their jobs. We are willing to post information from the department when it advances our mission as a union. Sometime we’ll agree with their messages and policies and sometimes we won’t. There is always a natural tension between management and labor, but we are willing to work with them on issues of common interest.”

Subtle Shots At Kelly

In his video, Mr. Bratton did not mention his predecessor, Raymond W. Kelly, but he made comments that seemed to repudiate some of the policies and practices of Mr. Kelly’s 12-year reign.

For example, Mr. Kelly was known for his reluctance to work with other law-enforcement and intelligence operations, particularly the FBI, which declined to participate in some NYPD terrorism arrests, and the Port Authority Police, with whom he clashed repeatedly on security at the World Trade Center site.

Mr. Bratton called for “collaborating with city, state and Federal agencies to address the recurring conditions that create crime and the operational bottlenecks in the criminal-justice system that just never seem to get solved...”

The Downside of Quotas

Mr. Kelly, perhaps following then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s data-driven approach to government, presided over quotas for police actions such as summonses and stop-and-frisks. Critics inside and outside the department said an overemphasis on these activities turned into harassment and discouraged law-abiding citizens from cooperating with cops.

Mr. Bratton said in the video, “I intend to focus on the quality of police actions, with less emphasis on our numbers and more emphasis on our actual impact.”

Mr. Kelly micro-managed a rigidly hierarchical department, even approving transfers of police officers between precincts. Mr. Bratton promised a “more-fluid management structure” based on “the principles of mutual respect, leadership, positive reinforcement and employee satisfaction.” He talked about “coordinating and cooperating within the department itself, across all ranks.”

He continued, “My door, and all our doors, will always be open to the new idea or the creative solution. We want an organization where plans, tactics and ideas bubble up from the mid-level bosses, the supervisors, the cops themselves, and our civilian workers.”

Will Upgrade Conditions

“We will be striving for steady improvement in your working conditions, from RMPs [patrol cars] to MDTs [mobile data terminals in patrol cars], to e-mail addresses for all,” he stated. A slide in the video showed the logos for Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

He also promised attention “to uniforms and equipment, and to the physical conditions in your commands. We’ll also strive for steady improvements in the department’s working culture, including how satisfied you are with your jobs.”

“It’s as good as it gets for him to say what he’s saying,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “People try to get off the street as soon as they can, retire as soon as they can.” He said Mr. Bratton’s mission is “to make the people who do the job feel respected, which they haven’t felt in a very long time.”

The life of a cop is governed by “hundreds and hundreds of pages of rules, and every time they have a crisis, they write a new rule,” he said. “There’s a chance for a cop to get in trouble for anything.”

Mum on Contract Drought

Mr. O’Donnell noted that Mr. Bratton did not address financial or manpower issues, which are the province of Mayor de Blasio. Headcount is down more than 5,000 from the high in 2001, and the police unions, like other city unions, have gone years without contracts.

He said one way of addressing the shortage of officers would be to train cops on how to refer problems for which people call the police that don’t involve crime, such as rat infestation or school bullying. The city could also create a website telling people how to deal with such problems, he said.

Mr. Bratton told officers, “I want you to know that your work is appreciated.” He added, “I’ve never believed that the bosses do this job alone. We can inspire, plan, guide and direct, but police work has always been, and always will be, the special province of field officers and police officers.”