One Police Plaza

Bill Bratton’s Media Issues

June 15, 2015

When it comes to dealing with the media, Bill Bratton is Cool Hand Luke.

No question fazes him. When, during his first incarnation as police commissioner, pesky reporters asked about lawsuits arising from police misconduct, he’d toss off one-liners: the so-called victims and their lawyers were just looking for a pay day.

He could also be amusing. When New York Newsday proved a constant irritant, he referred to it as “that suburban paper from Long Island.”

Last week, however, Bratton lost his cool after he gave an interview to the British newspaper, the Guardian. Ironically, the issue that upset him did not involve the usual suspects — police misconduct or brutality. Rather, it concerned the NYPD’s difficulties in hiring African-American males.

“We have a significant population gap among African-American males because so many of them have spent time in jail and as such we can’t hire them,” Bratton said.

This translated into the Guardian headline: “NYPD chief Bratton says hiring black officers is difficult: ‘So many have spent time in jail.’”

Perhaps sensing that the Guardian headline might cause him problems, Bratton then alleged that a quote he’d given the paper about the Stop and Frisk policy of his predecessor, Ray Kelly, had been taken out of context. Bratton became so exercised he demanded a retraction.

But was the Guardian headline inaccurate? Was what Bratton said about African-American males untrue? There is a problem with young black males and their high incarceration rate. And despite millions of dollars spent in recruiting, most young black males want nothing to do with the NYPD. African Americans comprise just 15 per cent of NYPD officers, a percentage that has not risen in decades, while the percentage of other minorities, in particular Hispanics and Asians, has risen dramatically.

Still, in this town, when it comes to race, police officials can barely open their mouths without being cast as racist.

Sure enough, an article the next day in the black-oriented Amsterdam News quoted the tried and true Charles Barron, currently a state assemblyman, calling Bratton just that and saying he should be removed from office.

“[H]e was selected by the most vile, racist mayor in the city of New York, Rudolph Giuliani,” Barron added.

That was not the end of Bratton’s media issues. In a subsequent interview on the John Gambling radio show, he cited as causes for the city’s crime “high employment, high poverty, poor housing, poor schools,” as well as “homes dissolving and homes with without parental guidance.”

Again, nothing that he said was untrue. Still, the NY Post gave him what for. An editorial accused him of playing “blame games” about crime’s “root causes” that are “the cop-out of the liberals.”

Alas, the Post missed the irony of ironies in Bratton’s comments. Wasn’t it Bratton and his crew who back in the Giuliani days referred to Kelly’s response to those root causes through his policy of community policing as “social work”?

Lost in all this is that, under Bratton, NYPD officials are acknowledging for the first time [albeit off the record] that the department’s failure to hire more African-American males may be less a problem of external forces than its own practices.

Other law enforcement agencies — such as the Correction Department or the Housing and Transit Police before their merger into the NYPD — were able to attract African-American males. Why not the NYPD?

“It’s us,” said a high-ranking police official. “It’s our hiring process.”

Although approximately 20 percent of blacks pass the entrance exam, only nine percent are hired, he said. The nine percent figure is a far lower percentage than that of whites and Hispanics. The reason he gave was that many black applicants don’t follow through the cumbersome process that can take three to four years and require them to go to three different locations. In addition, the official speculated that there has been a lack of support in the community for blacks to become police officers because of the long-standing hostility between the community and the police. The official said that the department has engaged 50 current and retired officers from the black officer Guardian Association who have volunteered to mentor and encourage black applicants.

“We currently give them no support,” said the official. “We haven’t looked at our own systems. We’ve blamed external forces. Now we have to look inside ourselves.”


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt