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Bill Bratton: Gone, Baby, Gone
August 8, 2016
In the end, Bill Bratton did what he has done in the past. After angling for the job of NYPD commissioner for more than five years (some say longer), he is staying just two and a half years and is gone.
So what happened? Why leave now? Already there are competing narratives.
Did Bratton speed up his departure because of continuing disagreements with Mayor de Blasio? (The latest incident: the mayor’s apology and Bratton’s refusal to apologize to Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake, who said police roughed him up.)
Did Bratton’s sudden announcement force de Blasio to accept as his successor Bratton’s virtually unknown protégé, Chief of Department James O’Neill, to avoid a prolonged national search that would surely have turned political?
Or had de Blasio simply had enough of Bratton?
Regardless of the reason, what we do know is this: never in at least the last 50 years has an NYPD commissioner resigned so abruptly. Never has City Hall tried to turn the mayor’s most important appointment into a non-event.
Bratton’s departure also marks the end (for now at least) of the celebrity police commissioner. Bratton created this role under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, dining at Elaine’s on the Upper East Side with his band of merry men, who included the late, great Jack Maple, former First Deputy John Timoney and current head of intelligence John Miller, then Bratton’s spokesman. There, Bratton was embraced by the rich and famous and courted by a claque of sycophantic reporters.
Bernie Kerik continued this star turn in the wake of 9/11, with his best-selling autobiography and glamorous publisher/girlfriend Judith Regan before he went off to jail. Ray Kelly believed his press clippings and fell in love with himself, thinking himself so important that he had the non-profit Police Foundation pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for his personal public relations man.
One thing we can say about O’Neill, who at a news conference last week said he preferred to be called “Jimmy,” is that, unlike Kelly or Bratton, he won’t be joining the Harvard Club.
And please God, keep him free of Kelly’s Charvet ties and his and Bratton’s bespoke Martin Greenfield suits.
As for Bratton, what will his second-term legacy at the NYPD become? What he imagined would be a victory lap after his COMPSTAT and “broken windows” successes of the Giuliani era, instead became a minefield. Of his three priorities, as identified by his advisers — reducing crime, ameliorating the alienation of black communities toward the police and of cops toward the department — Bratton was only partially successful.
Most important, perhaps, he reduced Kelly’s over-the-top use of stop-and-frisk and continued the crime downturn that he began two decades earlier. At de Blasio’s lowest ebb, after the assassinations of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, Bratton served as a buffer between a mayor struggling to find his footing, and an unforgiving rank-and-file.
Bratton’s future after he officially departs the NYPD next month is unclear. He is taking a private-sector job for big bucks, and says he won’t ever return to policing. Still, the firm he’s joining has ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Bratton has announced he supports Hillary for president. [Only celebrity police commissioners make presidential endorsements.]
As police historian Tom Reppetto put it, “I wouldn’t write the last chapter on Bratton just yet.”
However well-intentioned, the effectiveness of such policing seems limited, as two recent fatal shootings of blacks in Brooklyn by other blacks make clear. In one, Zavon Gordon, a 28-year-old van driver, was killed in a road rage incident in East Flatbush. In the second, 38-year-old Gerald Cummings was killed in Flatbush after retrieving a cap, stolen by school bullies from his 17-year-old son.
Both crimes were horrific enough that City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who courageously went head-to-head with Kelly over stop-and-frisk, issued a statement, largely blaming the prevalence of guns. “These incidents make apparent the increasing need for commonsense gun legislation…. Gun violence is a pandemic across the country and is infiltrating our cities. How long will the nation sit idly by as this problem grapples [sic] our communities?
Guns are indeed a problem, especially in black neighborhoods. According to the department’s 2014 statistics, 75 percent of shooters, city-wide, were black, and 97 percent of victims were either black or Latino.
Many law enforcement folk view statements like Williams’s, albeit well-meaning, as blaming outside forces, whether guns or the police, which obscure these communities’ greater internal problems — specifically, the pathology of violence in the city’s poor black and Latino neighborhoods.
Lisa Miller, a professor at Rutgers, wrote last Saturday in the NY Times, “There is nothing contradictory about worrying that friends or family members might be killed by someone in the neighborhood, and also being concerned that they might get killed by the police.”
Of course, killings by criminals and killings by police, who are sanctioned with governmental authority,are not comparable.
Still, for every Eric Garner, there are a hundred Zavon Gordons and Gerald Cummings.
Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt