Photo by Policy Exchange

In his maiden speech as New York’s 42nd police commissioner, William J. Bratton vowed today to continue driving down crime rates and protecting the city from terrorist attack while making the New York Police Department the most “collaborative” force in the nation. “There’s too much at stake to fight,” Bratton told some 200 supporters and guests at the Police Foundation’s annual fundraising breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan—his first substantive address as head of the department he is leading for the second time in its history.

A “Kumbaya” spirit dominated what has become known as the State of the NYPD address, an annual speech applauded enthusiastically this year by the overwhelmingly pro-police group, which has raised $120 million for cops since its creation in 1971. In an hour-long discussion of the past, present, and future of the nation’s largest police force, Bratton indicated that the department’s new mantra would be “collaboration”—with New York’s myriad communities, with New Jersey and other states’ police departments, with the Port Authority, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a traditional rival with which relations have often been strained. “We’re not going to be fighting with anybody,” Bratton declared. He disclosed that he has also begun talks with the Metropolitan Police Service in London and the Los Angeles Police Department, the nation’s second-largest police force, to share crime-fighting tactics, strategies, and research.

Discussing some of the changes he has begun implementing in police personnel, training, equipment, and procedures, Bratton said that a key goal was to “win back the confidence we’ve lost” among communities of color and other minorities. He suggested that they had been alienated by the department’s overreliance on “stop, question, and frisk,” a tactic that he said officers used at least 700,000 times under the previous police chief, Raymond Kelly. In addition to reducing the overall number of such stops, he said, he had instructed Ben Tucker, the new deputy police commissioner for training, to change what police academy recruits are taught about interacting with the community. (Bratton neglected to mention that his predecessor, Kelly, had already reduced the number of stops from 100,000 in the third quarter of 2012 to 21,000 during the same period last year.)

Bratton vowed to continue relying on information generated by the department’s advanced computers, its 5,000 cameras, its license plate scanners, 911 crime reports, radiation detectors, heat sensors, and other surveillance technologies that have helped drive down crime rates and thwart numerous terrorist plots against New York since 9/11. He said that this information, compiled as part of the “Domain Awareness System,” enabled him to monitor the latest in crime trends and counterterrorism developments from his command-center conference room. The system, he said, reflected the “ultimate” in advanced, “seamless” crime monitoring.

The NYPD will soon launch a pilot program to arm officers with hand-held Microsoft tablet computers that can link them with “real-time crime information” contained in NYPD databases. Such data, Bratton said, would allow them rapidly to access the content of 911 calls, arrest records, and other relevant data. To oversee this and other systems, he has promoted Jessica Tisch to deputy commissioner for technology, a new post. He did not say how much the new system would cost, how many officers would get the new devices, or how the project would be financed.

Bratton also pledged to emphasize a form of policing he helped pioneer—“Compstat,” or what he calls putting “cops on the dots” of maps that show incidents of crime. He would also stress the importance of reducing seemingly victimless crimes that lead to more violent incidents—what is widely referred to as “Broken Windows” policing, which targets improving the “quality of life” and public perceptions of safety. Toward that end, he said, he had hired George Kelling as a consultant. Kelling is one of the nation’s most respected criminologists and the coauthor with the late James Q. Wilson of an Atlantic article that introduced the broken-windows idea and helped revolutionize policing. Bratton said that he had asked Kelling to help him evaluate subways, parks, and other public spaces. Kelling, a longtime fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said in an interview that the Police Foundation was financing his contract with the NYPD. Bratton identified another key adviser: Richard Aborn, head of the Citizens Crime Commission, a passionate advocate for New York’s strict gun-control measures and a critic of what he called an overreliance on “stop-and-frisk” policing.

Bratton, 66, said that he and Kelling would soon venture out into the subways between midnight and 4 AM to assess public transport at that hour. “I think there will be a lot of surprised cops when they see George and I pop out of the subways at 3:30 in the morning,” Bratton said.

This is Bratton’s second tour as police commissioner. Appointed 20 years ago by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, Bratton steered the city’s first adoption of Broken Windows policing and Compstat. Bratton recalled nostalgically how that revolution began with a single Hewlett-Packard desktop computer that the police foundation had purchased for him. “How far we’ve come from that computer,” he said.

Bratton has a tough act to follow in Ray Kelly, who is widely credited with having driven down crime rates dramatically and thwarted some 17 terrorist plots against the city. Bratton noted that last year saw 333 murders in the city—a record low—but that by the end of February, the murder rate had fallen another 19 percent. In tapping Bratton, Mayor de Blasio has embraced not only a widely respected law-enforcement veteran, but also a man he called a “progressive visionary” who can fulfill one of his main campaign promises: to restore, in his view, a loss of confidence between the NYPD and New York’s minority communities.

But Bratton also stressed today his determination to prevent another terrorist attack on the city. He said that he starts every day by talking with his deputy for intelligence, John Miller, a former journalist-turned-FBI-spokesman who headed Los Angeles’s counter-terrorism efforts when Bratton led the nation’s second-largest police force. Each morning, Bratton said, he and Miller review terrorism developments throughout the world that could affect New York.


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next