One Police Plaza

Kelly and Bratton: At It Again

September 21, 2015

For the past 20 years, Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton have been the brightest stars of American policing. They’ve also been rivals, and despise one another.

They usually mute their criticisms of each other. But recently Kelly has upped his game. Whether this is part of publicizing his just-published memoir or the beginning of a 2017 mayoral run is unclear.

Their rivalry dates back 25 years, when Bratton headed the Transit Police and Kelly the NYPD under Mayor David Dinkins in the early 90s. The rift grew after Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor in 1994 and appointed Bratton to replace Kelly. In his 16 months as commissioner, Kelly had done a first-rate job, and he never forgave Bratton for taking the job he, Kelly, felt he deserved.

Bratton further upset Kelly after he launched broken-windows policing — arresting people for small crimes to prevent bigger ones, and then scornfully referred to community policing, one of Kelly’s signature initiatives, as “social work.”

Kelly responded bitterly: “You can probably shut down all crime if you’re willing to burn down the village to save it. Eventually, I think there will be a backlash and crime will be back up. Bratton will be gone by then.”

Kelly had to wait eight years to exact his revenge. Returning as police commissioner in 2002 after the election of Michael Bloomberg, he refused to take Bratton’s call when, as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Bratton came through town.

Kelly’s greatest kiss-off came in 2006. To commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the Manhattan Institute, the city’s grandest collection of nincompoops, organized an anti-terrorism conference. Three years earlier, the institute had sponsored a talk at the Harvard Club by the former police commissioner turned international soldier-statesman and military strategist, Bernard B. Kerik. Kerik had recently spent three months in Iraq, courtesy of President George W. Bush. At the Harvard Club Kerik stated: “Political criticism [of the Iraq war] is our enemies’ best friend.” [NYPD Confidential, Oct. 20, 2003.] He received a standing ovation.

For its counterterrorism conference, held at the Roosevelt Hotel and co-sponsored by the NYPD, the institute invited law enforcement figures, academics and journalists from around the country. Three of them were Bratton; his protégé John Timoney, then the police commissioner of Miami; and John Miller, Bratton’s former head of counterterrorism in Los Angeles who had recently become the FBI’s chief spokesman in Washington.

Learning of their presence, Kelly pulled the NYPD out of the conference. He then held a rival anti-terrorism conference the same day at Police Plaza. Readers, this really happened. [NYPD Confidential, Sept. 11, 2006.]

Fast-forward to 2014, when Bratton returned as NYPD commissioner under Mayor Bill de Blasio. His repeated criticism of Kelly has been that he overused stop-and-frisk, alienating African Americans and creating what he called an “awful” morale problem within the department.

Kelly has now struck back with his memoir. On the Brian Lehrer WNYC radio show recently, he pointed out that, as LAPD Chief, Bratton used stop-and-frisk on a per capita basis more than Kelly had in New York. “So this [Bratton’s stop-and-frisk criticism] is a little bit of an epiphany,” Kelly said sarcastically.

Kelly also injected himself into Bratton’s latest NYPD racial headache: the arrest and takedown of biracial tennis star James Blake by white undercover officer James Frascatore. “I see it as inappropriate, there’s no question about it,” said Kelly.

Some see Kelly’s attacks on Bratton, and by implication on de Blasio, as the beginning of a burgeoning mayoral campaign. Kelly considered running for mayor in 2008 and used the nonprofit Police Foundation’s public relations consultant Hamilton South — to whom the foundation paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — to help him. His plan was scuttled when Bloomberg pulled the rug out from under him and decided to run for a third term.

It may be different now. Judging from the crowd who turned up at Bloomberg’s Manhattan town house for Kelly’s book party on Sept. 8, Kelly could have a lot of money behind him, should he run for mayor.

Bratton, too, considered running for mayor. This was back in 1997, a year after Giuliani fired him. He decided not to, concluding he couldn’t win.

EARTH TO THE NY TIMES. Fire him. Then arrest him for assault.

That’s what The New York Times editorial board said last week about NYPD Officer James Frascatore, who tackled biracial tennis star James Blake. The officer mistook James — as he stood outside a midtown hotel — for a suspect wanted in a credit card fraud ring.

The Times called it “unprovoked aggression.”

“Yes, they can start by firing him,” the editorial read. “Why shouldn’t Officer Frascatore be arrested for assault?”

Forget for a moment that there is such a thing as due process. Forget, too, that Blake, fortunately, suffered little more physical harm than bruises and scratches, although the injury to his psyche may never heal.

Instead, the Times compared Frascatore to NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo who appeared to have applied a department-banned chokehold on Eric Garner after he resisted arrest. A Staten Island grand jury chose not to indict Pantaleo, who remains on the job because, more than a year after Garner’s death, the Justice Department is dithering about charging Pantaleo with civil rights violations. (Justice’s spokeswoman Melanie Newman did not respond to emails or phone calls about the federal investigation.)

As former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has noted, surrounding Blake and asking for identification would have been preferable to taking him down without asking any questions, as Frascatore did. Frascatore didn’t identify himself before he took down Blake, or apologize or complete the necessary paperwork describing his wrongful arrest.

And the fact that Frascatore is white and Blake is biracial makes it appear worse, playing into the narrative of systemic bias by police toward blacks.

Finally, there was what the Times editorial termed Frascatore’s “long history of excessive force complaints” — [the details of which we don’t know] — and asks: “Why is no action taken when multiple complaints are filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board?” That, readers, is what the Times editorial might well have focused on rather than mentioning it en passant.

But police work is often ugly. As Andrew Case, the CCRB’s former spokesman, writes: “It’s true that credit card fraud is not an inherently violent crime. But it is a felony, and credit card fraud rings are sometimes backed by gangs. ... This was a takedown, and this kind of takedown happens every day in this city.

“I’m not saying that it was right or fair or just for the officer to tackle Mr. Blake. I’m saying it was not unusual. When City Council members act appalled at the violence of the takedown, I have to think they haven’t seen many arrests. On police officer message boards, you will read [of] officers who are astonished that anyone thinks the move was violent at all. It was just like they teach you at the academy. Get the arms out of the way. Take the body to the ground. Cuff him quickly. For your safety and for his.” [See Andrew Case's post "Some Thoughts on the James Blake Incident."]


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt