The man who helped police New York's police thinks Bill Bratton will have a checkered legacy


Bill Bratton, who is stepping down for the second time as the commissioner of the New York Police Department, stands to leave a large, polarizing mark on the New York City despite only serving as its top cop for two relatively brief terms. While many will credit him with having helped usher in the city’s unmatched drop in crime, he has also presided over what have been some of the most intense periods of antagonism between police and communities of color in recent memory.

For Andrew Case, the former press and policy officer of the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which acts as a public oversight body over the agency, that latter fact can be attributed in part to Bratton’s unwillingness to abandon his controversial “broken windows” policy of aggressively policing petty crime.

In an interview, Case told me that “broken windows,” which is also sometimes referred to as “quality of life policing,” has now been called into question by both the academic community and the NYPD’s Inspector General.  But data show that policing petty crime has nevertheless remained a priority for the agency. In 2008, the earliest year for which information was readily available, the NYPD made 7,427 misdemeanor criminal mischief arrests. By 2015, that number had fallen just 6.6%, to 6,935.

In both years, black people and Latinos constituted approximately 75% of arrestees, even though they make up just over half the city’s total population.

“There is no question that Broken Windows, zero tolerance, and Quality-of-Life policing have had a significantly disparate impact on minority communities, as every statistical analysis has shown,” Case said in a followup email. “Previously the NYPD has stated (under [former commissioner Ray] Kelly and Bratton) that this reflects greater enforcement in neighborhoods with higher crime rates, but most analyses have shown that the disparities exist even when correcting for crime rates.”

It is this type of policing, Case said, that led to the death of Eric Garner, the most high-profile of a string of police killings which sparked a huge wave of protests against the NYPD during the first year of Bratton’s second tenure. Garner was choked to death after he was caught selling loose cigarettes on the street.

“When you have a culture of aggressive enforcement of minor offenses, something like Eric Garner is going to happen,” he said. “It’s fair to pin that on Bratton.”

Bratton did follow through on a promise he and Mayor Bill de Blasio made at the outset of de Blasio’s term, Case says: curbing stop and frisk, which numerous studies showed disproportionately targeted people of color, and which had become a toxic symbol of the overpolicing of black and Latino communities. The change has been stark: in December, the Daily News reported that 4,747 New Yorkers were targeted for stop and frisk in July, August and September 2015 — the lowest quarter since numbers were first released in 2002, and down from an all-time high of 684,000 in calendar-year 2011. Meanwhile, crime continued to fall.

“Bratton said he would end stop and frisk, and he did,” Case said. “What (those statistics) show, is that crime didn’t fly up in the past few years. Stop and frisk absolutely did not reduce crime. Bratton deserves credit for ending stop and frisk, and proving it didn’t reduce crime.”

But Case also accused Bratton of a broader unwillingness or inability to change the culture within the NYPD. One example can be seen in the CCRB’s annual report about the NYPD, which was issued in May. The report contained a chart showing the number of false statements made by officers in cases that were referred to the board. As the chart shows, they have increased dramatically since 2010.

The reason? Video, according to Richard D. Emery, another former head of the CCRB. Specifically, cell phones.

“Video is changing everything,” Emery wrote in the report. “No longer is the lion’s share of cases ‘he said/she said’ where additional corroboration is almost always required, and substantiation is quite difficult. Now almost half of substantiated force allegations are possible because of video evidence.”

While the CCRB traditionally has sought video evidence from fixed security cameras, “the ubiquity of smartphones and other mobile devices allows victims and virtually any bystander to generate helpful video evidence,” he wrote. “The importance of video camera evidence is that it provides the CCRB with more reliable evidence as to what actually happened.”

And yet, Case told me that few officers have been fired for lying to the CCRB, despite the fact that it is within the Department’s rights to do so. While he doubts Bratton actively encouraged lying to the CCRB, the fact that he has chosen not to enforce the Department’s own policy is telling.

“The question you have to ask is ‘What is the police doing as a matter of policy?'” Case said. When you look at how important systematic, departmental changes were…that’s something (Bratton) veered away from.”

Case said it is unclear at this point whether Bratton’s successor, James O’Neill, formerly the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, will be the agent of change many in the community want to see. What’s certain is that the scrutiny of the NYPD from New York residents—including the protesters who have gathered outside City Hall with a list of radical demands about policing in the city—will continue, even though Bratton has stepped down.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.

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