One Police Plaza

Bratton's NYPD: Is the Thrill Gone?

May 12, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rejection of a City Council plan to hire more cops indicates that — at least in his mind — New York City has entered a new, post-crime era.

For the first time in 20 years, public safety is not the first priority of a NYC mayor.

“The fact is that, thank God, the NYPD is achieving what it is achieving with the resources it has now,” de Blasio said last week, explaining why he was not hiring the additional 1,000 officers councilmembers have proposed in City Hall’s annual public safety waltz.

While the mayor said the city doesn’t need the additional officers, crime remains on the minds of many New Yorkers. One of them is Public Advocate Letitia James.

James, one of the more strident voices opposing former commissioner Ray Kelly’s overuse of stop-and-frisk, now wants more police.

“The New York Times and the mayor have not taken into consideration the crime increases in the outer boroughs and in city housing projects, where crime is up 31 percent,” she said last week. “Detectives tell me their units are understaffed.” 

Shootings across the city are up, she noted. Within Brooklyn’s 88th Precinct, she said, there have been four shootings in a six-block area near where she, District Attorney Ken Thompson, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Borough President Eric Adams live. (She notes that Adams does not live within the confines of the precinct.)

De Blasio’s priorities also reflect a 180-degree turn from those of his most recent predecessors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.

Giuliani spent most of his time — and lots of city money — on reducing crime, which appeared out of control when he took office. He brought in Bill Bratton as police commissioner, who stopped the bleeding. Bratton nearly halved the annual 2,000-plus homicides under Giuliani’s predecessor, David Dinkins. 

Then, the police department was at the center of New York City’s universe. So was Bratton, who received so much attention that Giuliani fired him after just two years.

For Bloomberg, who took office in the wake of 9/11, the sun, the moon and stars rose and set on Ray Kelly. For the next 12 years, the department operated with no civilian oversight and little accountability.

The result was five million stop-and-frisks, ending with a federal monitor and an inspector general to oversee the NYPD. The practice also contributed to the election de Blasio, who ran on a platform to rein in the department’s abuses.

Bratton, who returned as police commissioner earlier this year, now finds himself in a different position than in 1994.

He has attempted to reprise his happy days “re-engineering” tactics of 1994 by bringing back consultant John Linder and presenting leadership charts and diagrams for the top brass. The re-engineering proposals received tons of media play 20 years ago. Now, they seem out of sync as New Yorkers appeared more worried about jobs, housing and education.

Bratton also seems aware that there are people in the de Blasio administration who don’t like him or his aggressive policing. At times, he seems caught between his police instincts and his desire to bring his words and deeds in line with those of de Blasio.

When the debate over hiring more cops began, Bratton said no police commissioner would decline more officers.

He soon altered that, saying the 34,000-officer force — 6,000 fewer than under Giuliani — was enough to do the job. He also said that instead he prefers to pay current cops more.

Similarly, he appears to be moderating his more aggressive policies. He had heralded the “Broken Windows” theory, which holds that, if minor crimes are not addressed, major crimes will follow.

Earlier this year, Bratton brought back Broken Windows author George Kelling as a consultant. Kelling’s tour of the subways led Bratton to promise a crackdown on subway panhandlers and acrobatic dancers. Since then, Bratton has toned down his rhetoric. Now, he says, the dancers could perform in “designated spaces,” although not in subway cars.

Meanwhile, he finds himself in an increasingly ambivalent position as de Blasio supporters continue to criticize the police for past actions.

A group of mothers whose sons were killed by police over the past two decades want the feds and the NYPD’s inspector general to investigate what they say is a pattern of excessive force against young blacks and Latinos.

Bratton, though, has said he’s “comfortable that all of those cases are exhaustively investigated by us, by the appropriate district attorneys’ offices.”

This time around, Bratton seems to be less hands-on than in his previous tenure as commissioner. He recently traveled to Florida, attended the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington, and last Friday winged off to Israel with his counter-terrorism chief, John Miller.

What was it that Dinkins’ first police commissioner, Lee Brown, was disparagingly called? It was “Out of Town Brown.”

“You have to understand, the guy never broke a sweat. He’s a guy who manages talent, who is a ‘thought’ leader. He surrounds himself with people who share his vision. He leaves it to others to execute,” a former top NYPD official said of Bratton.

“His idea of giving those acrobatic dancers designated places sounds like smart policing. So long as they don’t do their dancing in the subway cars, it makes sense.”

But, the official notes of Bratton: “There doesn’t seem to be the same fire. He’s no longer inventing something that’s never been done before. Time has proven that his methods work. There may not be the same drive to succeed. Now he’s at the legacy stage.  

Who was that sitting in on two recent Compstat meetings at Police Plaza? It was none other than the former chief of Department, Louis Anemone, known to readers of this column as the Dark Prince.

With the late, great Jack Maple, Anemone is regarded as the architect of Compstat, which under Bratton became shorthand for department accountability, which, in turn, contributed to the city’s dramatic crime rate decline.

Those early days of Compstat, run by Anemone and Maple, were wild affairs. Maple’s and Anemone’s grilling of hapless commanders became so raw that fistfights erupted.

At one meeting, someone threw a chair. After Anemone insulted an assistant district attorney from Brooklyn, his boss, then-District Attorney Joe Hynes, wrote a formal letter of complaint to Bratton.

At another meeting, Anemone and Maple accused then-chief of detectives Charlie Reuther of “treason” and “heresy.” At yet another, the then-newly appointed Brooklyn Borough South Commander, Tosano Simonetti, began explaining how he had begun reducing crime. On a screen behind him, Anemone flashed a computerized drawing of Pinocchio with his nose growing.

Louie got his comeuppance for that. Bratton’s successor, Howard Safir, promoted Simonetti to first deputy commissioner, jumping him over Anemone.

That was the beginning of Anemone's end.


Copyright © 2014 Leonard Levitt