Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio tapped Bratton, who ran the New York City Police Department from 1994 to 1996, to be the next police commissioner. If it feels like a blast from the past, it should: Despite his short tenure, Bratton is more closely associated with the city's precipitous drop in crime throughout the 1990's than any other commissioner.
|Bill Bratton on the cover of|
TIME Magazine, January 15, 1996
And crime did drop. Well, the drop started a few years before Giuliani took office, before Bratton got to work. But America noticed the drop when Bratton was in charge, and he got the lion's share of the credit.
There are two policies associated with Bratton's time at the top. The first is "broken windows," which prior to Bratton's ascent was just a theory. Simply, it held that once the windows of a vacant building were broken, crime would engulf the neighborhood around it. Under Bratton, it meant devoting police officers to prevent smaller, quality of life infractions in an effort to drive down overall crime rates: Arresting fare beaters at subway turnstiles, removing graffiti from subway cars, cracking down on squeegee operators at the entrances to bridges and tunnels.
The second policy is CompStat. Bratton collected reams and reams of data from precincts and made precinct commanders responsible for driving the numbers down, category by category. Crime patterns were mapped, and resources allocated accordingly. High crime areas were flooded with police patrols, giving rise to the "impact zone" method of police work. These zones would become one of the lasting, if lesser-known, Bratton legacies.
Whether or not Bratton's tactics were instrumental or not is still a subject of debate. That's the funny thing about police work: When numbers go down, everyone takes credit. When numbers go up, we're told that sometimes crime just goes up. Perhaps crime fell because the crack epidemic petered out, or because the economy started to improve, or because of Roe v. Wade, or because schools stopped using lead in their classroom paint. These are all serious proposals.
"Broken Windows" and CompStat gave Bratton his legacy, for which he's both praised and reviled. The collateral damage of flooding high-crime (and, it must be said, lower-income and majority-minority) neighborhoods with cops on the lookout for petty infractions, seeking to show rising arrests and falling crime, fell disproportionately on the law-abiding residents of those neighborhoods. Bratton was notoriously dismissive of this unintended consequence. Chasing petty arrests in poor neighborhoods is what drove the number of "stop-and-frisk" encounters to over 600,000 per year. Ending "stop-and-frisk" was a cornerstone of de Blasio's mayoral campaign.
So why does a liberal like Bill de Blasio want a guy like Bratton? Some of his leftist allies have decried the decision as a betrayal. But for the mayor-elect, it's a simple calculation: He hopes that his critics on the right will see Bratton as a tough-on-crime policeman, and his allies on the left will see the cop as a technocratic policy man.