By Brett Gillin
There is no doubt that being the commissioner of the New York Police Department is one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement, even in “normal” times. But as anyone who has paid even a modicum of attention to the news over the last few months can tell you, these are not “normal” times, especially for the police, and even more so in New York City. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton is the man who has been charged with overseeing the NYPD, changing tactics and policies to better serve and protect the nation’s largest and most visible city, and juggling the tenuous relationships between the NYPD, the Mayor, and the public. While it seems like an impossible task, Bratton’s track record proves that if anyone is up to it, he is.
As Kevin Cullen’s in-depth article in the Boston Globe points out, the last few months that Bratton has had to endure would have broken most people. With the seemingly ever-increasing protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner threatening to consume the city and further-damage the NYPD’s reputation with the public, Bratton has stepped up to not only make sweeping changes to the way his police force operates, but also to play politics with Mayor de Blasio and his war of words with the NYPD.
In the wake of his officers turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio at the funerals of two fallen officers, Bratton publicly chastised his officers. He explained that their act of protest was taking away from what everyone should have been focusing on: the murdered police officers who’d given their lives for their city. But Bratton wasn’t simply playing lap dog to the mayor. He has also been quick to criticize de Blasio for his public comments while explaining that the deaths of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were the direct result of the protests, despite de Blasio’s opinion.
While the politics of the position are as unavoidable as taxes, they’re only a small part of what Bratton has set out to do in order to continue making the NYPD a model police force for the entire nation. Despite what the public perception might be, the facts and figures actually show that, under Bratton’s guidance, the NYPD is amongst the most well-run forces in the nation.
Last year alone, overall crime in the city was down 4.5%. The biggest reason that number is not more dramatic might well be the fact that this is Bratton’s second stint with the department. During Bratton’s first stop at the NYPD, sources say that the drastically cut crime rates (violent crimes dropped more than 56 percent while property crimes dropped 65 percent according to the National Bureau of Economic Research) made Bratton more popular than then-Mayor Rudy Giuliana, who pushed him out of the job.
Now, Bratton is looking to finish what he started in the 90s, and he has his work cut out for him. According to the Boston Globe, a recent internal poll showed that 85 percent of NYPD officers admitted that the threat of citizen complaints weighed heavily on their minds and slowed their reactions in the streets. Bratton told reporters “Our crises, the internal and the external, are intertwined and feed off each other.”
Bratton’s solution to these issues begins with a new way for rookie officers to learn on the job. He is now pairing every rookie with a seasoned veteran in order to help them get up to speed more quickly and learn from those who have been performing their jobs for years. He is also shrinking the areas that officers are being asked to patrol in order for them to be able to get more familiar with the community, on a personal level, thus increasing not only their ability to perform their jobs, but also their relationship with the people they serve and protect every day. He is hoping that by equipping every police officer with a smartphone and every patrol car with a tablet computer, they will be able to stay out in the field the entire time, rather than having to file paperwork back at the station.
“For years, we’ve been asking out officers to engage with the community, but we’ve never given them the time to do it,” Bratton explained.
While time will tell if Bratton’s direction will continue to improve the NYPD and their relationship with the community at large, there is little question that the right man is heading up the job.