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Undermining Bratton

September 1, 2014 

People have attributed the decline in the public’s approval of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and of the NYPD to the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner as police arrested him in July.

But there are other reasons Bratton’s approval rating has declined from 57 percent in June to 48 percent last week and that the NYPD’s approval rating has declined from 59 to 50 percent in the same time period, according to a Quinnipiac poll.

This includes four questionable decisions made by Mayor Bill de Blasio in his first eight months as mayor that seem to have undermined Bratton’s authority.

His first occurred before Bratton took office. De Blasio made certain Bratton kept his two rivals for the job — First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro and Chief of Department Philip Banks.

Bratton had tangled with Pineiro during his first term as commissioner 20 years earlier. Banks is considered by many as Bratton’s heir apparent. Police sources say he was favored by de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray. Her spokeswoman, Rachel Noerdlinger, did not respond to an email.

De Blasio’s unspoken message: he, together with Bratton, was running the police department.

De Blasio’s second decision occurred six weeks into his mayoralty when, failing to consult Bratton, he instead made a midnight call to Deputy Chief Kim Royster concerning the arrest of prominent Brooklyn minister and mayoral supporter, Bishop Orlando Findlayter.

Royster called the 67th Precinct, where Findlayter was being held on two outstanding warrants. The department line was that Precinct Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lehr had already decided to release the bishop, sparing him a night in jail.

De Blasio’s unspoken message: politics is permissible within the NYPD.

The third decision was to award $40 million to the five black and Hispanic teenagers in the 1989 Central Park jogger case with little explanation and no transparency. The five had been falsely convicted of raping the jogger and spent years in prison in one of the city’s most racially divisive cases.

In 2003, the five sued the city for $250 million, claiming the police had elicited their confessions, knowing they were false. According to lawyers involved in similar lawsuits, the city had a strong case. To win monetary damages, the five had to prove the police and prosecutors were not merely wrong or negligent. They had to prove deliberate abuse and misconduct.

On the contrary, it appeared that on the night of the rape, the five were in another section of the park, “wilding,” or beating up other people. As depicted in their videotaped confessions, they implicated each other without coercion.

The $40 million settlement was the largest on record for a case of wrongful conviction and offended many in the police department, which had conducted its own investigation that raised many of these issues. De Blasio’s unspoken message: I don’t care.

The fourth decision, following Garner’s death, was the Blue Room fiasco with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

According to the Quinnipiac poll, nearly one-half of New Yorkers now consider Sharpton a “positive force” in civic affairs. But he is also the city’s most racially polarizing figure and is despised by many in the police department, who remember his role in the Tawana Brawley case, the Crown Heights riots, and the fire at Freddie’s Fashion mart in Harlem.

The problem was not that Sharpton spoke out and criticized both the mayor and Bratton. Nothing wrong with that.

Rather, by seating Sharpton directly to the mayor’s left, de Blasio was equating him in importance and influence to Bratton, who sat directly to the mayor’s right. The symbolism was lost on no one who attended. De Blasio’s unspoken message: Sharpton has a say in running the NYPD.

In a recent interview, Bratton told NYPD Confidential he was not offended by Sharpton and saw no symbolism in where he sat. He said keeping Pineiro and Banks was his decision and that he had acted similarly in Los Angeles, where he served as police chief for eight years. Nor, he said, was he concerned that de Blasio had failed to contact him about Findlayter’s release.

Two top Bratton aides say he has not considered resigning, as numerous people in law enforcement have suggested he might soon do. They say he is here for the long haul and that he gets along with de Blasio just fine.

If you listen closely to Bratton, you will never — well, maybe not never — hear him say that New York is the safest city in America. That’s because he knows it’s not true.

That claim was a canard, manufactured by the administration of Rudy Giuliani, perpetuated by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and continued now by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who probably doesn’t know any better.

The statement was contrived from misleading FBI statistics in the agency’s old crime index that gave equal weight to such nonviolent crimes as burglary or larceny as to murder, assault, rape and robbery and which the FBI abandoned in 2004. In disclaiming the old index, the FBI noted at the time that nonviolent crime made up 59.4 percent of all reported crime and “the sheer volume of those offenses overshadows more serious but less frequently committed offenses” such as rape or murder. Or as a bureau report said: “In recent years the crime index … has not been a true indicator of the degree of criminality.”

What Bratton usually does say is that New York is one of the safest cities in America. That is true.

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