Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Bill Bratton, the former New York City Police Commissioner in the mid-1990s who was named the next NYPD Commissioner by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio on Thursday, is credited with reorganizing New York's approach to crime fighting. The 66-year-old also previously headed the Boston and Los Angeles police departments.
With such a long career, the question for many is — which Bratton will we be getting?
When de Blasio introduced him, Bratton vowed to make good on de Blasio’s election promises of reforming stop-and-frisk and community relations “by developing trust and legitimacy."
But the last time around, he was more associated with employing tough enforcement of low-level crimes. Arrests for things like turnstile jumping and graffiti were a hallmark of the NYPD under Bratton and the mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani.
Reporter Frank Stolze, who covered Chief Bratton for radio station KPCC in Southern California, said one of Bratton’s skills is recognizing what moment a department is in and responding to it.
"In New York in the early 1990s, there was a lot of crime and there a sense that the city was spinning out of control,” said Stolze. “In L.A. when he arrived, there was a sense that the police department was out of control…so he behaved differently."
When Bratton took charge of the LAPD in 2002, it was being monitored by the Department of Justice for excessive use of force and racial profiling. Citizen's Crime Commission President Richard Aborn said Bratton was successful at rebuilding community relations by rewarding determined officers. "It was actually how you dealt with the public on a day-to-day basis," said Aborn.
Bratton's approach was more than mood ring leadership, said civil rights attorney Connie Rice. "For the first time, LAPD cops were being fired for lying, being fired for insubordination . . . in the past nothing ever happened," she said. She spent years suing the LAPD, but ended up working with Bratton to reform the department. Rice said his well-publicized ego might have actually moved the process forward.
"You have to have an ego bigger than the Pentagon building,” she joked. “If you don't, you're not going to get any change."
Now that he’s here, the next commissioner is sure to be one of the most scrutinized officals in the de Blasio administration. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said it’s all about what Bratton actually does.
"We need to see a precipitous decline in arrests for marijuana…we need to see a continued decline in stop and frisk,” she said.
On Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, 70-year-old John K Johnson Sr. said he voted for Bill de Blasio. But he could only recall the Bratton he knew from 20 years ago — and he wasn't impressed.
"He's just abrasive, he's not the kind of person who would like to compromise," he said.
But Johnson said he’s willing to give the next police commissioner a chance.