Wall Street Journal
April 7, 2014

 

Bratton Balancing Community Outreach, Officer Morale

Reaching Out to Communities Is No. 1 Priority

By 

   

Police Commissioner William Bratton makes the point every chance he gets that his department hasn't always treated black and Hispanic communities equally.

On Friday morning, for example, Mr. Bratton didn't miss a beat when he was asked where the communities rank on his priority list. His response: "Number one."

Reaching out to the communities has been the main theme of Mr. Bratton's tenure since taking office in a city that is much different from the one where he served as police commissioner in mid-1990s.

With crime having dropped to historic lows and continuing to fall in the first three months of this year, the commissioner can shift his focus to smoothing what critics say is a rocky relationship between the communities and the police department.

At the same time, though, Mr. Bratton has to prepare his department for the increased oversight in the wake of the end of the stop-and-frisk era.

And that balance could prove challenging.

"He's got a lot working against him right now, but he is handling it well. He's handling it. He has a sense that there are political factors that need to be addressed," said Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

   
 Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal  

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton.

 

Mr. Bratton was hired to help Mayor Bill de Blasio with a campaign pledge to repair divisions between police and citizens, particularly black and Hispanic communities over the controversial issue of stop-and-frisk. The number of stops had peaked at 670,000 in 2011, but by the time Mr. Bratton took office, had dropped to 194,000 annually. He has declared that the issue has "more or less been solved."

Mr. Bratton has spent his first three months visiting with critics and conducting a review of the department. His predecessor, Raymond Kelly, made some of the same overtures in his first days in office.

"We are very encouraged by Commissioner Bratton's commitment to engaging with the civil rights community, and we particularly welcome the department's curbing of stop-and-frisk abuses," said Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "But it's early, and we will be watching closely to make sure the commissioner's public pronouncements translate into real and lasting reforms."

His overtures to the community come as his department begins facing added scrutiny. Lawyer Peter Zimroth will be installed as the city's federal monitor after the city dropped its appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling that found the NYPD's practice of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional.

The city's first NYPD inspector general—which was created last year by city council to look at a range of NYPD issues—was announced last month. Philip Eure, most recently the head of Washington, D.C.'s Office of Police Complaints, takes the job in May.

Mr. Bratton, who has worked with similar oversight during his tenure as police chief in Los Angeles has pledged to work openly with both men. He has also hired a new commissioner for training—Benjamin Tucker, an NYPD veteran who went on to serve posts in the White House—and asked him to review all procedures to see where the department can improve relations with the community.

"I think the tone from the entire administration including the police department is remarkably different," said Councilman Jumanne Williams, "but it's something that's tough to review in 100 days."

In an effort to reach out to his own charges, Mr. Bratton has given the city's police unions space in police headquarters and will soon have to deal with contract negotiations. The unions are all working without a contract.

So far, the union representing his officers is reacting with guarded optimism to his first acts as commissioner.

"He has listened intently to the concerns of our members and has already taken steps for the better," said Patrick Lynch, president of the union representing the city's police officers.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com