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Has Bill Bratton Lost His Mojo?

May 23, 2016

It has become increasingly apparent at Police Plaza that Bill Bratton is not the man who served as police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani two decades ago.

Assuming office in 1994, Bratton issued a Churchillian war cry that resonated across New York. “We will fight for every house in this city. We will fight for every street. We will fight for every borough. We will win. We will take back the streets … I did not come here to lose.”

He was equally emphatic about fighting corruption. The day after the first of 36 cops was arrested in the 30th Precinct corruption scandal, Bratton hurled their badges into a garbage pail. Teeth clenched, he announced he was sending a message. “I am retiring their badges so that no cop will have to wear a disgraced number again.”

Unbeknownst to the public, a cop had placed the pail there as a prop. Bratton was nothing if not a showman.

Today, as a widening corruption scandal roils the department, Bratton issues no war cries and offers no grand gestures. While he has transferred or reassigned 10 chiefs and inspectors, suspected of having accepted gifts or other favors from Brooklyn’s Hasidic communities, he seems subdued and tentative, reactive rather than proactive.

Take his appointment of Inspector Terence Moore, to clean up the corruption-plagued Licensing Division. Moore was appointed after a Hasidic wheeler-dealer was arrested for allegedly paying $6,000 to cops to provide him with pistol licenses that were then resold. A sergeant and a cop have been placed on desk duty. Deputy Inspector Michael Endall, appointed by Bratton to head the unit after he became police commissioner in 2014, has been transferred.

Moore, who came from the Internal Affairs Bureau, lasted but a few days at the Licensing Division, then put in his retirement papers. Deputy Commissioner Larry Byrne of the Legal Bureau, which is under the Licensing Division, said Moore hadn’t realized the depth of the problem when he accepted the assignment.

So was Moore not apprised of the depth of the problem? Did Byrne or the person who spoke to Moore about the Licensing Division not properly brief him? Or did the department not appreciate the depth of the problem? Whatever the answer, Moore’s resulting retirement was a public relations disaster.

Under Giuliani, Bratton relied on a powerful Chief of Department, John Timoney, and an equally strong Chief of Patrol, Louie Anemone, for guidance on such transfers and promotions. Both had decades of NYPD experience, which Bratton lacked. Bratton was apparently confident enough in their judgment that upon his appointment he ordered all 15 deputy commissioners and three-star “superchiefs” to submit resignation letters.

Today, it is not clear on whom Bratton relies. He and Chief of Department James O’Neill, who Bratton jumped over a number of senior chiefs, go back to their days together at the Transit Police in the early 1990s. People at Police Plaza say the unofficial commissioner is Robert Wasserman, a civilian consultant paid hundreds of thousands by the Police Foundation, who vets all transfers and promotions.

Nor does it seem to be coincidence that half the transferred or modified chiefs and inspectors, including an inspector who committed suicide, are board members of the Captains Endowment Association, which represents captains through one-star chiefs.

Like the 30th precinct scandal of the 1990s, the current scandal is not of Bratton’s doing. Like the 30th precinct, the coziness between cops and the Hasidic community began long before he arrived. Because of the community's political clout, it will no doubt continue after he departs.

In addition, the city’s climate has changed since Bratton’s first tour. His signature police strategy “Broken Windows” — which holds that failing to repair little problems will result in big problems and which Bratton and Giuliani cited to justify cracking down on minor crimes — has been discredited by city politicians.

The federal investigation into the racially charged “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island remains unresolved. Whether President Obama’s Justice Department, which is investigating Garner’s death, is merely running out the clock until a new president is elected remains unclear.

The media landscape has also changed. Fringe players are now quoted in the mainstream media. The New York Times, long a beacon of moderation and objectivity, has become anti-police in both its editorials and news coverage.

After tennis star James Blake was thrown to the ground in a mistaken arrest, the Times editorialized that the officer who knocked him down should be fired — immediately. And when was the last time you read in a Times story about the fatal police shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown that Brown had attempted to grab the officer’s gun?

Mayor Bill de Blasio has offered no public support to Bratton in the current corruption scandal. Not only does he know nothing about the police, his mayoral campaign and a pro-de Blasio nonprofit are also under investigation.

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