The incoming mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced on Thursday that he plans to re-install Bill Bratton, who was police commissioner under former mayor Rudy Giuliani, to the post of top cop.
Making the announcement at a community center in Brooklyn, De Blasio said Bratton was a "proven crime-fighter" who would engage the community in his efforts to make the city safer. But while some community activists expressed guarded optimism, others lambasted the choice as a potential betrayal of De Blasio's campaign promise to reform stop-and-frisk, the controversial police tactic in which officers waylaynon-criminals and search them.
In his earlier stint as police commissioner, Bratton was a champion of the tactic, whose targets, disproportionately young men and minorities,describe it as humiliating harassment.
“I support Bill de Blasio but I’m very disappointed by this selection,” said Kevin Powell, president of BK Nation, a community grassroots organization. “It’s old energy … we need a new vision for a police commissioner in New York City.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union said in a statement that it would work with Bratton but expected a change in police tactics. "The mayor won election on the promise to close the book on the tale of two cities, and New Yorkers from all backgrounds have made clear that we will hold him to that promise," said NYCLU director Donna Lieberman.
In his announcement, De Blasio pushed back against the notion that the Bratton selection would extend abuses of stop-and-frisk. New York City has seen “an overuse of stop-and-frisk”, De Blasio said, calling it “an approach that has too often alienated communities”.
“Sadly, this has caused a lack of communication, a lack of partnership between police and community,” De Blasio said.
Bratton has twice overseen the expansion of stop-and-frisk, first under Giuliani (1994-1996) and then as police commissioner of Los Angeles (2002-2009). A Harvard study found that random stops of pedestrians and drivers in Los Angeles increased by 50% during the Bratton years.
“Mayor-elect De Blasio’s priorities are my priorities,” Bratton said in a statement. “This department will not rest on its laurels. We are going to continue making history as the safest big city in America.”
Under Giuliani, Bratton became known for a granular approach to crime-fighting. He increased the number of officers in the street and encouraged officers to ticket suspects for minor infractions. A statistically driven system which he introduced for measuring job performance, known as CompStat, has been adopted by police departments nationwide.
Two years ago, Bratton was said to be prime minister David Cameron's pick for the job of Metropolitan police commissioner in London. He was barred when officials ruled that the candidate had to be British. Bratton began his career with the Boston police department.
De Blasio's Republican opponent in the mayoral race, former Metropolitan Transportation Authority director Joe Lhota, argued that the progressive candidate would be soft on crime. De Blasio's selection of Bratton could be seen as a rebuttal to that claim. “Bill Bratton is a proven crime-fighter,” De Blasio said in a press release. “He knows what it takes to keep a city safe, and make communities full partners in the mission.”
Two strong minority candidates for commissioner were passed over. De Blasio said the two alternatives to Bratton he considered were chief of department Philip Banks III, who is African-American, and NYPD deputy commissioner Rafael Pineiro, who is Hispanic.
“I think the particular accomplishments of commissioner Bratton, and the particular philosophical affinity, just jumped off the page to me," de Blasio said.
Since winning the mayoral race, De Blasio has said his law enforcement priorities will be to fight terrorism, reduce crime and build the public's trust of police officers.
De Blasio is scheduled to be sworn in on 1 January.