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Not a criminal was

stirring ...

December 26, 1995

The night before Christmas, Police Commissioner William Bratton and his sidekick, Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple, decided to stroll down Fifth Avenue to see how many people recognized them.

"And do you know why New Yorkers recognize us?" asked Bratton. "Because you and I, Jack, have single-handedly created the greatest drop in crime in city history."

"Right," answered Maple. Actually, he was distracted because he was looking at his reflection in Bergdorf's window, trying to decide whether the white polka dots in his bow tie matched the white in his Allen Edmonds spectator shoes.

"Without us," Bratton continued, "the mayor. . ." Here he made a gesture involving his middle finger.

Suddenly, on the corner of 56th Street, Bratton felt a chill over his left shoulder. He looked for Maple, who'd crossed the street and was looking at his reflection at Christian Dior.

"William Bratton," said a voice. Bratton turned. He saw no one. "You must tell people the truth. You must stop taking sole credit for the city's drop in crime."

Normally a self-possessed man, Bratton nearly leaped out of his shoes. He recognized the voice as that of police commissioners past: specifically, Robert McGuire, who'd run the department from 1978-83 at half its current size. "William Bratton, you've admitted that your increased manpower has caused the reduction in crime. Remember what you told me at the Citizens Crime Commission. You said, 'Bob, I don't know how you kept the lid on.' "

"But I . . . "

"Did you say something?" Maple called to him.

Bratton tried to collect himself. He concluded that the pressure of past weeks was affecting him. Eight deaths in the Harlem fire. Five murdered in a Bronx shoe store. At this rate, crime would be higher than when he'd arrived.

"Why, no, Jack. I didn't say anything."

They walked on. Bratton was silent, pondering. Maple was preening outside the University Club. He was imagining himself without a mustache.

Suddenly, another chill passed over Bratton. He looked around. Again, nothing. "William Bratton." It was another voice, more strident. It was his predecessor, Ray Kelly.

"William Bratton, crime was declining before you even came here. You know it's a nationwide trend. You and the mayor have even taken credit for my removal of the Squeegeemen. Your Boston sycophant, Professor George Kelling, wrote a report for the Police Foundation crediting me, which you and the mayor never released."

"Jack!" Bratton tried to shout. Only a squeak emerged.

"William Bratton." A visage appeared. It was Benjamin Ward, commissioner from 1984-89. "William Bratton, Printable versioneveryone knows that when crime rises, everyone blames the p.c., so when it falls, we all claim credit. But every week on TV?"

"Jack!!!"

This time Maple came running. Bratton, he noticed, was trembling. "Must go to Elaine's restaurant," he mumbled. "Must notify all important people. Mayor Giuliani. John Miller. Cristyne Lategano. Donna Hanover (So there would be no misunderstanding). Must tell the truth."

A strange and unfamiliar word, thought Maple. Truth. But sage that he was, he said nothing. He simply hailed a cab.

They soon reached Elaine's. Their guests arrived. They all seemed in holiday spirits except for Mayor Giuliani, who demanded he sit at the head of the table.

"I have something to . . ." Bratton began. Suddenly a television crew, apparently alerted by Miller, arrived. The TV lights went on. Someone stuck a mike into Bratton's face.

"I want to say at this juncture, . . . " "At this juncture" was one of Bratton's favorite phrases. It sounded so . . . erudite. But with the lights upon him, with all Elaine's patrons straining to hear, Bratton stumbled. His career flashed before him. He was actually a fine commissioner. He had appointed top-notch deputies. His so-called "re-engineering" had invigorated the department. And crime had fallen.

Yet without his weekly TV crime-falling fix, he saw his dream of a corporate job evaporating. He saw a bleak future under a vile man, who was now kicking him under the table.

"At this juncture . . ." Bratton began again. Suddenly, he was seized with a paroxysm of hiccups. Elaine's had never seen anything like it. The owner, Elaine Kaufman, was afraid it was the food.

Finally, Bratton's wife, Cheryl Fiandaca, was called to take him home. When Bratton awoke Christmas morning, his hiccups were gone. He immediately telephoned his re-engineering consultant in Corales, New Mexico, to produce a television infomercial portraying Bratton as magnanimously sharing the credit for falling crime. He then telephoned Professor Kelling in Boston, offering another grant from the Police Foundation for Kelling to research the relationship between falling crime and hiccups.

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© 1995 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.