One Police Plaza

Let's Hear It For Linder

May 11, 2015 

So it’s come down to Bill Bratton’s long-awaited “re-engineering” report.

That’s what the police commissioner says will change Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mind about adding more cops which, last week, the mayor refused to do, saying Bratton would have to make do with the current 34,000 members of the NYPD.

That means it’s John Linder time.

Linder is one of Bratton’s policing gurus, along with Robert Wasserman and George Kelling, the author of Bratton’s “broken windows” strategy, which calls for cracking down on minor offenses that supposedly lead to major crimes.

Bratton has called Linder his “change-agent.’ A shadowy figure who avoids the media, this reporter has only seen him once around Police Plaza. It was in February 2014, and he was leaving City hall with Deputy Commissioners John Miller and Steve Davis and then Chief of Department Phil Banks.

Linder is smart. Very smart. He knows as much, if not more, about the NYPD and policing in general than any civilian and probably many police officials.

And he doesn’t come cheap. Since Bratton returned as police commissioner last year, he has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and expenses by the privately funded, non-profit Police Foundation. His mission:  to re-engineer the NYPD as he did 21 years ago when Bratton ran it under Rudy Giuliani.

Back in 1994, Linder wrote Bratton’s vaunted seven crime strategies that many felt led to the city’s dramatic crime decreases. To meet a Bratton-set, four-month deadline, he would fly in from Corrales, New Mexico, where he lives, hole up for a week in Bratton’s fourteenth-floor office, and sleep on an office couch.

Taking a survey of NYPD cops back then, he learned that most viewed their jobs as staying out of trouble rather than policing the city. They viewed the department’s first priority as writing summonses. Holding down overtime was second. Fighting crime was seventh.

Two years later after Mayor Rudy Giuliani fired Bratton, Giuliani came up with $300,000 for Linder to “re-engineer” the troubled Agency for Children’s Services.  Next, Linder went into partnership with the late, great Jack Maple, who had implemented the seven crime strategies. With a $140,000 contract, he and Maple were hired to straighten out the New Orleans police department, where a cop was on death row for murder.

But while Linder’s first re-engineering report in 1994 was delivered within four months of Bratton’s taking office, we are now 16 months into Bratton’s second tour and still waiting.

The reason for that, say police officials, is that circumstances are now more complex than two decades ago. Back in 1994 there was a single issue — reducing crime. 

That accomplished, many communities’ trust in the NYPD — especially communities of color — has not increased. Indeed, an anti-police climate has been exacerbated by last year’s “choke-hold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island and repeated instances of young black men dying while in contact with police — from Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, to Cleveland and Baltimore.

A police official said the issue the department is wrestling with is how to hold crime levels down and win community trust while determining the resources needed to fulfill both.

In short, said the official, “The forms of policing that have brought down violence have not increased the public trust.”

Then there are the politicians the department must contend with, whose philosophies are different from those of two decades ago — de Blasio and City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito. Both of them seem ambivalent about the police.

The mayor campaigned on anti-NYPD policies: too many “broken windows,” too much Stop and Frisk. But the mayor —at least publicly — has supported “broken windows” which is Bratton’s crime-fighting legacy.

Mark-Viverito opposes “broken windows.” But she supports Bratton’s call for additional cops. 

De Blasio, Mark-Viverito and Bratton appear to edging towards some form of agreement on “broken windows”  — specifically lessening criminal penalties for such low-level crimes as small amounts of marijuana possession and riding a bike on a sidewalk.

One part of the re-engineering is being developed by Chief of Department James O’Neill as a high-level, city-wide flying squad, combining the current eight borough task forces and responding to such events as major demonstrations. This would allow hundreds more cops to patrol the precincts, some responding to radio calls, others engaging with local communities, in what is commonly called “community policing.”

That sounds like a strategy that dovetails with de Blasio’s political philosophy. Let’s see if the Linder/Bratton “re-engineering” changes the mayor’s mind.


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt