One Police Plaza

June is Bustin' Out

July 6, 2015

NYPD commissioners use news conferences at Police Plaza to manipulate the media. Bill Bratton does it better than anyone.

Take his news conference last week in which he described the month of June as having the fewest major crimes than in any June in two decades.

Criminologists and statisticians say a month’s snapshot of crime means virtually nothing.

More meaningful is a three- or six-month trend line — which reveals that, through June 28, the bellwether crime of murder rose from 145 in 2014 to 161 this year, an increase of 11 per cent. The number of shootings rose from 511 to 542, an increase of 6 per cent.

No matter to Bratton. Instead, he made the extraordinary claim: “It’s my expectation that we may end the year with the, once again, lowest amount of crime records in the history of the city.”

To Bratton, the city’s history apparently begins in 1994 when he first became police commissioner and began his crime-statistical COMPSTAT program and his “broken windows” strategy of policing.

 Since then, reporters have been so mesmerized by his crime-reduction claims, as they were by those of his predecessor and arch-rival Ray Kelly, that there appeared to be confusion in how June’s low numbers were reported.

The Wall Street Journal described those numbers as the lowest June crime month “since the department began keeping detailed numbers in 1994.” The AP used the phrase “since similar record-keeping began in 1994.”

The Times, on the other hand, said the June figure was “a low unseen since such records became reliable and consistent in 1993.” This happened to be the first full year that Kelly served in his first tour as commissioner.

In fact, no one has ever explained just what crime-reporting changes occurred in either of those years. NYPD Confidential suggests that no significant changes occurred whatsoever.

Such blind acceptance may explain why reporters continue to parrot successive mayoral claims that New York is “the safest large city in America,” a claim based on the FBI’s outdated Uniform Crime Report that the Bureau itself disavowed. The report was discontinued in 2004 because it gave equal weight to more frequently committed non-violent crimes as it did to such violent crimes as murder, assault, rape and robbery. [See NYPD Confidential, Nov. 18, 2005.]

Nonetheless, beginning with Rudy Giuliani, through Michael Bloomberg and continuing with Bill de Blasio, City Hall has touted this claim, and the media has unquestioningly reported it.

As for Kelly and Bratton, the rivalry that began in 1994 when Bratton succeeded Kelly and blamed the city’s high crime rate on Kelly’s lax crime-fighting strategies is repeating itself — although the situation has been turned upside down.

In 1994, Bratton termed Kelly’s pilot community policing policy “social work,” while Kelly denounced Bratton’s “broken windows” strategy of cracking down on minor crimes with a phrase from the Vietnam War, saying Bratton was “burning down the village to save it.”

Ironically, when Kelly returned as commissioner in 2002, he ignored community policing. Instead, he sought to out-Bratton Bratton in reducing crime to record-low levels. His means: the overuse of Stop-and-Frisk, which led to rising tension between the department and black New Yorkers, which culminated with de Blasio’s election. 

At his news conference last week, Bratton implied that Kelly had created these tensions, and announced he was discontinuing another signature Kelly program, “Operation Impact,” which placed new recruits in crime hot spots as a show of force.

Finally, Bratton said that the additional 1,297 officers that Mayor de Blasio recently agreed to hire after denying for six months that they were needed “had nothing to do with crime.”

Rather, Bratton said this was part of a plan developed by Chief of Department James O’Neill and Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez, which had been presented to the mayor and to the City Council “to implement a lot of the community relations-building initiatives.”

We mean no disrespect to either Samuel Battle or Arthur Browne, whose book on Samuel Battle is subtitled by Browne’s publisher, Beacon Press, as “A history of African Americans in New York City from the 1910s to 1960, told through the life of Samuel Battle, the New York Police Department’s first black officer.” Still, here is a NY Times obituary of July 8th, 1903, dug up by the NYPD’s official unofficial historian, retired sergeant Mike Bosak.

“The police force of Brooklyn has lost one of its most interesting and picturesque characters in the retirement yesterday of doorman Christopher Givens of the Liberty Avenue Station. Givens is a Negro and giant in size. He was 6 feet 7 inches in height and was the tallest policeman in Brooklyn. He has been in the department 23 years and is said to be the first Negro appointed as a policeman in Brooklyn. He retired on a pension.”

So let’s see. If Givens retired in 1903 after 23 years in the department, he must have been hired in 1880, some 30 years before Battle.

Asked his position about black cops who may have preceded Battle, Browne, the Daily News’s editorial page editor, responded: “Their stories are fully told in the book.  With the help of a great newspaper editor, a handful made it onto the Brooklyn force in the early 1890s when Brooklyn had its own force, and all but one was driven out within a year or two. The one that remained on the force, Moses P. Cobb, became Battle’s brother-in-law. At the time, blacks were allowed to work in stationhouses only as non-police ‘doormen.’ Cobb’s career on the Brooklyn force was largely limited to duties inside a stationhouse and rarely was he permitted to appear in uniform, according to the recollections of Battle and Battle’s wife. So I don’t have a ‘position’ on it. I only have facts that I have presented to the best of my ability.”


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt