The Turnaround: How Americas Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic
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Not long ago, I joined Bratton in his black S. We are saving America. On most days, Bratton can be found in his office, on the fourteenth floor of One Police Plaza, a short walk from City Hall. When he receives visitors, he sits in a leather armchair. Behind him is a shrine to Jack Maple, a friend and former deputy commissioner who died, of cancer, in A carved puppet likeness of Maple sits on a credenza and is dressed, as Maple often was, in a blue double-breasted blazer with four gold buttons.
Bratton was raised in a working-class Catholic household in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and as a child he dreamed of being a cop. In , at nineteen and unable to afford college, he enlisted in the Army and served as a military policeman in Vietnam.
When he returned home, he was offended by the protests and the social unrest. It put his ambitious side on display. The city was in the grip of the crack epidemic, and the violent-crime rate was at a peak: that year, there were more than twenty-two hundred murders and more than a hundred thousand robberies.
In the Transit Police job, Bratton met Maple, a tough-talking lieutenant whom he promoted to be his special assistant. Within two years, subway felonies declined twenty-seven per cent and robberies by a third. In , he rejoined the Boston police department and soon became its commissioner, and in he was hired for the top post at the N. Led by Maple, the deputy commissioner of crime-control strategies, the N.
Between and , felony crimes fell by nearly forty per cent. With Bratton as commissioner, the annual decline more than doubled. The press celebrated Bratton, which angered Giuliani, who eventually drove him out. In April of , Bratton was recruited to work in New York for a Boston private-security firm, and for the next six years he worked as a corporate executive in the security business.
Then, in , he became L. In , Bratton returned to New York to run a large private-security firm. At the time, the N. In , there were nearly seven hundred thousand stop-and-frisk incidents in New York, ninety-one per cent of them involving citizens of color. By the end of , Kelly, facing public pressure, had reduced the number to less than two hundred thousand, and in , after a federal judge called for changes to the practice on the ground that it violated the Fourth Amendment, Bratton brought it down to fifty thousand.
Despite many fewer stop-and-frisks, the crime rate remained low. They were kind of tone-deaf to this issue. So we worked really hard, myself and Mayor de Blasio, to respond. Nobody ever puts that in proportion.
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CompStat continues to be central to the N. The CompStat meeting is held every Thursday morning, from 8 a. A rotating group of officers from the five boroughs takes part, and sometimes Bratton attends. On the day I sat in, the officers were discussing the recurrent problem of neighborhood gangs. In the Sixty-seventh Precinct, for example, they have identified two hundred and eighty-seven gang members, who were responsible for the majority of the felonies in the district. So Bratton gets credit for starting CompStat and for allocating cops.
He credits it with playing an important role in reducing crime in New York, Boston, and L. And the most recent F.
Turnaround – The Key Point
In his autobiography, Bratton notes that when he ran the Transit Police, in the early nineties, one out of seven people stopped for fare-beating had an outstanding warrant, and one in twenty-one was found to be carrying a weapon. Just look at the sheer volume of people riding the subways at night. Bratton is at pains to emphasize that broken-windows policing is not stop-and-frisk. Quality-of-life policing is based on probable cause—an officer has witnessed a crime personally, or has a witness to the crime.
Bratton argues that many broken-windows arrests are prompted by and calls from citizens, most of whom complain about misdemeanors, such as traffic offenses, public intoxication, urinating in public, drug use, disorderly youths, and street noise. Bratton also notes that most violent crimes take place in minority neighborhoods.
In , ninety-eight per cent of the suspects in shootings were black or Hispanic, and seventy-six per cent of rape victims, seventy-one per cent of robbery victims, and seventy-one per cent of assault victims were people of color. Between eighty and ninety per cent of citizens support the broken-windows strategy, he said. A Quinnipiac University poll released in May found that, when black voters were asked if they generally supported broken-windows, sixty-one per cent said they did.
But, when the same citizens were asked if they approved or disapproved of the way the New York City police were doing their job, fifty per cent of blacks and forty-one per cent of Hispanics disapproved, whereas just twenty per cent of white voters disapproved.
Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, who retired from the N. Critics say, however, that broken-windows is not nearly as successful as it claims to be. The crime rate in New York fell in the nineteen-nineties—but it also fell in San Diego, Houston, Dallas, and other cities that were not using the same strategy. None of them stand up to really close examination. Marijuana smokers are not criminals on their day off. Ekow N. Yankah, a legal scholar at the Benjamin N.
I have no doubt that Bratton has the best interests of New York at heart. But I think he sees what he wants to see. Only one was white—a homeless man. Two of the defendants had been apprehended the day before as trespassers for using a Port Authority bathroom that the police said required that they show a bus ticket. The police found a cell phone on him that they claimed was not his. He spent the night in jail, and the next day was charged and released. Ed McCarthy, a longtime Legal Aid attorney, told me that broken-windows arrests have a way of steering people into the criminal-justice system.
You obviously are going to plead guilty. Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York branch of the A. It speaks of a race-bound kind of tunnel vision about how we look at social policy and at policing policy in particular. In April, de Blasio again expressed support for the broken-windows approach. But many left-leaning activists struggle to understand his reasoning. Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker, has called for low-level offenses such as public urination and turnstile-jumping to be decriminalized.
Bratton has opposed such efforts.
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However, last November, the police department reduced the penalty for the possession of small amounts of marijuana from an arrest to a summons. In , when Bratton began his first tenure as N. Communities are the experts on crime, not the police; they know who the bad guys are. We should not make the mistake of my predecessor on the stop-question-and-frisk issue.
‘Every time they come, they harass the kids’
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