New York Times
October 3, 2014


Bratton Says New York Police Dept. Must Dismiss Bad Officers

By DAVID GOODMAN


Commissioner William J. Bratton delivered a blunt message on Thursday as he opened a conference of New York Police Department commanders: The agency’s gains against crime were being undercut by its most troublesome officers, and they had to be rooted out.

“We will aggressively seek to get those out of department who should not be here,” Mr. Bratton told a packed lecture hall in the still-unfinished new Police Academy building in College Point, Queens. “The brutal, the corrupt, the racist, the incompetent.”

The comments were Mr. Bratton’s most forceful public remarks on police misconduct since Eric Garner, a Staten Island man, died in police custody in July after he was approached for selling loose cigarettes.

While aimed at police leaders, Mr. Bratton’s speech appeared to reach beyond the day’s closed-door sessions on the future of the department and into the national conversation over police brutality that erupted over a deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

But while Ferguson officials were often defensive and struggled to defuse tensions, Mr. Bratton acknowledged an “eroding trust” between officers and some minority communities and pointed at a few unspecified bad apples.

A hush fell over the room as Mr. Bratton pivoted from discussing “transparency,” “inclusion” and the city’s low crime numbers to the “reality” of the Police Department.

“The reality is, at this moment, that there are some in the organization who shouldn’t be here,” he said, as the mostly male crowd of about 800 straightened to attention. “They’re not the right fit for the N.Y.P.D. of 2014.”

The Garner case is under investigation, and Mr. Bratton did not specifically refer to it.

A grand jury on Staten Island is hearing evidence in Mr. Garner’s death. One of the officers involved in the arrest, Daniel Pantaleo, was seen on video wrapping his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck as others helped subdue him. The city medical examiner said Mr. Garner died from a chokehold and chest compression by the police during the arrest. The grand jury proceedings could last more than a month.

Mr. Bratton did not say how many problem officers were thought to be in the ranks of the department’s 35,000 members. “The vast, vast, vast majority, that 99 percent” do their jobs well, he said. Those officers would benefit from his plans for a departmentwide retraining; the leaders in the room, he suggested, would be expected to guide that process.

“We, the leadership of this department, have to commit ourselves to lead our officers better, supervise them better, train them better,” he said later.

As for the 1 percent of bad officers, he said, “they are poisoning the well.”

He told reporters later that video recordings of rough police actions, along with internal affairs investigations and citizen complaints, helped to identify officers whose behavior might be at odds with his vision of the department.

Edward D. Mullins, president of the sergeants’ union, said: “I’m curious who he means. What I would connect that to is corruption. I don’t think it’s connecting it to the chokehold case.”

Immediately after Mr. Bratton’s speech, Deputy Commissioner Joseph Reznick, who oversees internal affairs, showed a compilation of notorious videos of police aggression, including two rough arrests in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, last month, and a 2008 takedown of a bicyclist during a Critical Mass protest ride that resulted in a criminal conviction against the officer. The video — titled “What Would You Do?” — has been shown as part of officer training.

“Just about everything we do is captured on video,” Mr. Reznick said. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, I cannot imagine how much a video could be worth, especially if it is used against us in a lawsuit.”

The head of the union representing patrol officers, Patrick J. Lynch, offered a tempered statement in reaction to Mr. Bratton’s speech. “Police officers are entitled, like anyone else, to due process,” he said.