Former NYPD and LAPD commissioner William J. Bratton joins Rafael A. Mangual to discuss his new book, the professionalization of police departments, and the changes that threaten to undo progress in policing. His new book, The Profession, is out now.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. This week’s special episode will feature a conversation between Rafael A. Mangual, who is a contributing editor of City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and William J. Bratton, whose storied career in policing included stints as NYC’s police commissioner and LA’s police chief, and of course Chief Bratton has written for City Journal on a number of occasions. Rafael set down with Chief Bratton to discuss his new book, The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America, which recounts the challenges, controversies, and triumphs of his tenure as one of the nation’s most successful police executives.

Rafael Mangual: Hi, I'm Rafael Mangual, a senior fellow and deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute. Thank you so much for joining us for another Manhattan Institute event cast, brought to you by the Policing and Public Safety Initiative at MI. Today's guest is Commissioner William Bratton. He is one of the few household names in American policing. And because of his storied career, he is a man who needs no introduction, but I'm going to give him one anyway.

Commissioner Bratton's professional life, I think, can be divided into basically three categories. He currently serves as the Executive Chairman of Risk Advisory for Teneo, a global corporate advisory firm. Before entering the private sector, Commissioner Bratton spent decades building one of the most successful careers of any police executive, serving as chief of the New York City Transit Police, commissioner of the Boston Police Department, commissioner of the New York City Police Department twice, and chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. But Commissioner Bratton is also a successful author of multiple books, including his new memoir, The Profession, which is what we'll be talking with him about today. Commissioner Bratton, thank you so much for joining us.

Bill Bratton: Great to be with you. And if I may, the book that you referenced, which I'm very proud of and which we'll discuss, is a collaborative effort with my coauthor Peter Knobler, who also collaborated with me on my first book which was a biography, Turnaround. So, I need to definitely acknowledge Peter; he did great, great work on this.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah. It really is a fantastic read and I'm so glad that you're going to be with us today to talk about The Profession, which I actually found to be quite an engaging and insightful read. It's also extremely timely given the precarious state in which the policing profession currently finds itself. In particular, it seems like departments across the country are at least for the last several years, they've been struggling to recruit and retain high quality officers. This is a trend that I think seems to have accelerated in recent months.

Many people including myself, have attributed this in part to the demonization of the profession in recent years. But you began your career as a cop on the heels of national turmoil involving the police, which became one of the radical left's objects of derision in the 1960s. And so, when your career kicked off in policing, I wanted to ask you, did you feel like you were going into a noble and respected profession back then and how did the perception of police change throughout your career? And in answering those two questions, I'd like you to just talk to us a bit about what you make of the recruitment crisis that police departments are currently working through.

Bill Bratton: Speaking about going into policing in 1970, it was the fulfillment of a dream from childhood just back from the Vietnam War, after three years as a military policeman walking a sentry dog, no less; I entered the Boston Police Department in a time of expansion of that department as a result, interestingly enough, of the creation of a union. And one of the contract negotiations that they were successful at was increasing the size of the department to ensure that all police cars would have two officers in those cars. Boston was moving from walking beats into mobile operations with vehicles. I started walking a beat, but within six months I was in one of those cars.

The idea of profession that I thought I was entering, I thought it was a profession, but as I talk about it in the book it really was not, a profession has many hallmarks if you will, a body of knowledge, a strong history of research and learning and improvement. And it just didn't have any of those things in the 1970s, criminal justice research was in its infancy. Policing was thought to be brutal, corrupt, racist as a entity around the country, especially coming out of the 1950s and '60s, the turmoil of the civil rights era, the anti-war movement.

So, I was disappointed when I came into policing with the motivation, I thought I was coming into a profession with the idea of being respected and doing good things. And the department I joined was corrupt, it was racist, it was brutal. It was also embroiled in the terrible desegregation controversies of the 1970s in Boston. Boston was one of the most racially divided cities in the North. Its neighborhoods were definitely lined up by ethnic entities and races, black neighborhoods, Italian neighborhoods, Irish neighborhoods, with very little co-mixing or mingling. And the schools were all neighborhood schools so there was an effort to de-segregate not only schools, but public housing.

And the turmoil of those 10 years, was really a birthing experience for me understanding the complexity of what I deal with the next 40 years. But I was ready to leave that profession about 1973 or 1974 to go to a smaller police agency, because of the disillusionment of what I found in the Boston Police Department. But fortunately, there was an event that occurred in Boston that changed my life, and in many respects may have changed the progress of the American policing over the next 40 years.

If I may Rafael, I'll just step away from your comment about the diminishing of police numbers. In 1994, the Crime Bill policing gained 100,000 additional officers and went up to almost 800,000 to combat the 25 year rise in crime in the 1970s and 1980s. The last figure I saw, the statistics, we might be at around 670,000 officers, if even at that number. So, that's a huge drop, which is probably contributing to the significant rise in violent crime we are experiencing throughout America at the moment.

Rafael Mangual: No, I think that's exactly right. And you're exactly right about the number, in 2013, as recently as that, we had about 725,000 armed uniformed personnel working in police agencies across the country. That number has now dropped below 680,000 which is an extremely troubling trend. And just yesterday, the Police Executive Research Forum came out with another really troubling data point showing that police retirement spiked 18 percent last year compared to the year before. And so, you yourself just mentioned that you had considered leaving a big city department partly because of the disillusionment that you felt. And so, what kept you on? What kept you close to the Boston Police Department? What kept you on the trajectory that you found yourself on?

Bill Bratton: I talk in the book and introduce the readers to a transformative figure in my life and in certainly the Boston Police Department in the 1970s, but his influence the changes he brought about the Boston Police Department carried forward over the next 50 years. And I'll explain that in a moment, but his name was Robert diGrazia. He was coming out of the St. Louis County Police Department, I think he's a superintendent or a colonel of that department. And he was brought into Boston by the then mayor Kevin White, who was hoping to be named a vice-presidential candidate in the upcoming presidential race.

But he was concerned about the image of the Boston Police Department being corrupt, racist, out of date. And he brought in this outsider, something that was not widely done back in the 1960s or 1970s, the idea of bringing outsider of which were very hidebound police department. And with his two to three year term, a short period of time, somewhat mirrored my short time for assignment, the NYPD under Giuliani, he tipped that department upside down, shook out the corrupt officers, dealt with the racism issues, the brutality and effectively brought the Boston Police Department out of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. And in some respects, it was probably the most enlightened time for that organization.

And the reason I stayed was that just watching the transformation, that getting rid of the corrupt detective sergeants who controlled the graft in that department, he brought in a bunch of outside whiz kids, civilians to help reinvigorate the department's planning, research, training, every aspect of the department, and as importantly the promotional process, the average age of a patrolman in the Boston Police Department, there were no women at that time, was 47, the average age of sergeants and above was well into the fifties. So, there I was at age 24, 25 basically looking at 20 years to make the rank of sergeant in that department.

He flipped that upside down, changed the promotional process and assessment center. He had to read eight to nine books that were phenomenal books on management and on issues of race, very much in play at that time. And he just changed the policing world. I took that first exam that he put together a new exam. I came in, I think number one on the written exam and number two overall. And so at the age of, I think it was 27, I was a sergeant, one of 60 new sergeants in the Boston Police Department. And some of the people I was exposed to, one who we are very familiar with Bob Wasserman, who is one of the most uncelebrated individuals in American policing, a personal mentor, a colleague of mine for 50 years, but who had profound influence on American policing behind the scenes.

And out of that class of early promotees came myself, Paul Evans, Billy Evans, subsequent police commissioners in Boston, Kathy O'Toole, a couple of years later, a succession of police leaders. He had planted the seed, like Johnny Appleseed, he was planting the seed of future police leaders. And I think I can say without fear of contradiction that my place in American policing over the last 40 years has been significant. And it would not have happened without Bob Wasserman. Well, Bob Wasserman who basically was one of the key aids to diGrazia.

So, he's been my role model, his idea of going to an organization in crisis and being able to transform it, but transform it in a way that when you leave, even after short period of time it's been transformed so much that the people coming behind you, the Jim Collins book on Good to Great management, that the right people on the bus, wrong people off the bus and then make sure they're all in the right seats so when you get out of the driver's seat, somebody else on that bus gets into the driver's seat, and it still keeps going down the road to the destination that you set. An extraordinary time in policing at the 1970s. And he was not much liked or admired by his contemporaries because he described most police issues at that time as pet rocks, you turn them over there was nothing there.

Rafael Mangual: I remember that passage in the book.

Bill Bratton: Imagine that.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah. No, I can't imagine that that went over. Well, I remember reading that passage in the book and audibly laughing out loud. You mentioned a couple of things so far, you mentioned the crimes spike, you also mentioned the chapter on whiz kids. And so, I wanted to ask you another question along these lines.

So, of course the United States saw one of the biggest single-year spikes in homicides in 2020 that we've seen at least in my lifetime. And the source of that has been the topic of a lot of debate, some people blame the economic stress brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, others blame the decrease in police legitimacy. I myself have suggested that the crime spike seems likely due at least in part to shifts in policy that have both raised the transaction cost of enforcing the law while at the same time lowering those breaking it. But I want to just read a short edited excerpt from your chapter on whiz kids and get your reactions.

So, you write that by the end of the 1970s, economic circumstances caused government to start cutting back on resources, budget considerations, creative deinstitutionalization, the court system began to reevaluate America's way of looking at the law and a sizable number of actions that would previously have taken people off the streets became decriminalized. Now, in the last year alone, a New York Times report found that 30 states have passed more than 140 police and criminal justice reforms.

We've seen a steady rate of decarceration over the last decade, somewhere in the range of 20 percent, as well as a 25 percent decline in arrests. We've seen bail reform, sentencing reforms, the election of progressive prosecutors in big cities across the country. And so my question is, do you see any parallels between what's happening in the policy space today and what was going on in the 1970s, and how should we be thinking about before moving forward given your experience with that world?

Bill Bratton: I'm ready to echo in describing the 1970s George Kelling analysis. And I use it frequently in my speeches in describing the errors of transition over the last 50 years in policing and going back 60 to 70 years into the development of the professional model of policing in the 1950s and 1960s, and George eloquently described what had happened in the 1970s very simplistically, which was his expertise. He took complex issues and made them easy to understand.

Three things happened in the 1970s that compounded the problem for crime and disorder over the next 20 years, deinstitutionalization the first thing. Letting out hundreds of thousands of poor souls from badly managed mental health facilities, well-intended but when they get out into the streets, there was nothing there for them, there weren't census to help them home care. It just was disgraceful in some respects, what government did to save money with the idea that, isn't this great that we're going to basically let these people out of these prison-like circumstances?

Secondly, we began to de-police our streets, in the 1970s, similar to what's happening right now, the numbers of police declined dramatically, New York City, which we're intimate with in the midst of its budget crisis laid off five to 7,000 officers who were laid off a year. And at one time the New York police force with, say, numbers at about 33,000 or 34,000, was down to about 19,000 officers at a time of growing crime and disorder on the streets.

The third concept, or the third D, is decriminalization—that so many of the laws the police could work with in those days were taken away because police had abused them. The use of drunkenness, drunkenness was now determined to be an illness, a disease, no longer a crime, loitering, idle and disordery behavior. Many things that police had used as tools and abused were taken away. Also, it wasn't so much a decriminalization, but there was also a tightening of controls on police, necessary tightening of controls, the Miranda decision, the Escobedo decision, many of the rules, constitutional tightening of guidelines.

And what was happening simultaneously, fewer police on the streets, fewer tools to work with, with those police on the streets and a large population of people engaging in erratic behavior who effectively became the foundation of the homeless population. If you look, you probably won't see the term homeless the way we use it today until the 1970s, 50 years later, we're seeing the same thing all over again, but we're also seeing the effects 50 years later of society's inability to deal with the mentally ill, inability to deal with what grew in the 1980s, which was the drug problem.

And the idea of, as we now into 2021, what's going on right now? We have the defund-the-police movement, reducing the size of police forces. We have the decriminalization movement with so many of the laws as part of the criminal justice reform effort the police used to deal with issues on the streets are being taken away. And what is the deinstitutionalization happening now? We are emptying our prisons and jails at a rapid rate. And what's coming out of those deals, 50 percent of people who were mentally ill, because we had no mental institutions to put them into, we put them into jail.

So, they're back on the streets, but also a lot of hardened criminals are being let out with no supervision like they did with the mentally ill back in the 1970s, with no jobs, with effectively no controls over their behavior. So, déjà vu all over again, Yogi Bear, Fred Siegel's The Future Once Happened Here, what happened in the 1970s is now happening again, the parallels to me are fascinating. And I write a lot of this in the book, as you're referencing. And the good thing is that there's an expression we open the book with, as you saw those who don't know the history are doomed to repeat it.

Those who know police know we don't know our history. I know our police history, it's something I study and I love history so I understand the history. So, that's the title of the book, the Arc of Policing. Over 50 years, we don't have to reinvent the world, we don't have to effectively start from scratch to reform the criminal justice system. So much of what we did was successful, could it be modified, could it have better outcome now that we know some of the unintended consequences?

Certainly, but one of my frustrations and certainly, as, Rafael, as we engage in so many extensive conversations between the two of us, there's this new term that has been applied by Bill Meyer and others: progressive phobia. The progressive group basically has the phobia for anything that came before their ideas. And so, that basically erases the last 50 years of policing as they seek to reform policing. And it's crazy. It's absolutely crazy, because despite our failures, we got a lot of successes, there's a lot of things that worked.

Rafael Mangual: I think that's really, really important for people to understand, that the arc of our history in terms of criminal justice policy. And when I read your book and I see so many parallels to what is happening today, I see us repeating that history. And what I fear is that, what came after the 1970s will come after what we're doing right now, which was one of the most incredible crime spikes in urban American history in the 1980s and 1990s saw just untold numbers of people shot, killed, wounded, robbed. In 1990, New York City saw 2,262 homicides, more than 114,000 robberies.

Bill Bratton: You know what's even more frightening than that, Rafael, if I can interrupt for a moment? 1990 also saw 5,000 people shot on the streets in New York. And I think the murder count will be even higher now that we have so many improved trauma centers that a lot of those shooting victims are saved that would have been 20 years ago homicide victims. And the shooting number is the one that most frightens me, not so much the homicide number, but the shooting number, because that's the real issue.

But it is this idea that it took almost 25 years to get to 1990, it took us a year to get to 2021. So, the dramatic explosion of crime after almost 30 years of a decline, it was like the pandemic, nobody saw it coming and all of a sudden it was here with such devastating effect. And that's what's the frightening aspect about it. In the twenty-first century, everything is accelerated anyway, we're in the whole world of internet it's digital, but the old-fashioned thing about crime and disorder how did it just fall apart so quickly? I still scratch my head about what the hell happened.

Rafael Mangual: Now, I know it. It really is a disconcerning and precarious time that I think we're living in. And then I think people in American cities are starting to feel it. And one of the things that you talked about in your chapter on community policing, was this sense that people weren't going to put up with untold amounts of disorder, eventually everyone had a breaking point and you talked about the suburbanization that followed the crime increase.

And when I think about the financial positions of American cities today, they rely on a relatively small slice of their population for their tax base. But these are also people with means to leave if safety is not something that they view is guaranteed to them. And I wonder what you make of the risk of that happening again. Do you see a move away from cities as crime gets out of control? Do you think that that ultimately harms the ability of municipalities to fund their departments to the requisite degree that's going to be necessary to get this problem under control?

Bill Bratton: I do, in the sense that 50 years repeated the cycle, what happened in the 1970s that American cities were dying, American cities were being written off basically, everybody, the whites who could afford to get away from school to segregation, housing desegregation were fleeing, excuse me, to the suburbs. And we're seeing that potential once again, and with the cities what's left behind in the cities is the poor and the minority, in cities that in many instances rely on not so much manufacturing like they used to years ago, rely now on tourism, rely on the ability to attract outsiders whether to come and work or to come and be entertained, to come and be educated.

If those cities are seen as dangerous places, people who can afford to are going to look to send their kids to school elsewhere, they're going to look to go someplace else for their entertainment. And that's something that New York is going to have to watch very closely, as we hope this will be birth of the Theater District, et cetera. As colleges and universities, as they begin to reopen once again for kids coming back to school. Your parent is going to pay $75,000 to send your kid to NYU.

And you're seeing night after night on the news Washington Square Park degenerating into chaos, is that where you're going to send your kid? USC had an experience years ago, USC receives over a billion dollars a year with Asian students attending USC, principally Chinese. They had a young Chinese student murdered on the periphery of the campus some years ago and the fall-off on Asian applications in that school was immediate and phenomenal. So, those are issues that are going to have to be looked at going forward, that we saw a time when Americans were fleeing the cities.

I talk about it in the book. My two favorite courses when I was attending college with a federally government sponsored program to educate police as part of the efforts to professionalize the profession in the 1970s, where urban geography and art appreciation, you have a geography with Professor Betsy, you'll see him, talked about the importance of cities, that's where cultures were generated and where people could come together. And so, I was reading this and it was exciting at the time that Boston was dying.

And secondly, art appreciation, understanding the idea from that wonderful instructor. Dr. Avenatti's idea of, I'd look at a painting and I didn't like it, renaissance artists, I'm somebody that likes the impressionist or Norman Rockwell. But what he taught me was to understand, to look beyond, look behind the picture: what was its impact on history? The Renaissance, for example.

He taught me a very important lesson for police, to see each other, not to judge somebody by the color of their skin, the fact that they were wearing, what the clothes they were wearing, what type of hair style they had, but to see them and that's so important today as we go forward for our police officers, our new police officers, to learn to see people beyond just the image in front of them.

Rafael Mangual: That's quite inspiring. You talk about the danger of people leaving cities. And of course, one of the biggest achievements of the 1990s was the urban crime decline, which brought people back into American cities and really I think served as the basis for the revitalization, the newfound dynamism. And when I think about that crime decline, I think it's safe to say that we would both agree that broken windows the theory posited first by George Kelly and James Q. Wilson played a role in producing the great crime decline from 1990s.

But, when I read your depiction of policing in the 1970s, it wasn't obvious to me that there would be such an appetite to look to the social sciences for insights about how to improve policing. So, I was just wondering if you could just talk to us a little bit about the cultural shift that led to the evolution of policing as a science and also tell us, what it was about broken windows that resonated so much with you as a police executive?

Bill Bratton: This audience I'm sure is very familiar with the term broken windows and the idea of references quality of life. I was very fortunate a number of experiences in the 1970s as I was growing up in the Boston Police Department, that shortly after being promoted to sergeant, I had the opportunity to meet the commissioner of the metropolitan police in London and with Bob diGrazia, who was hosting a visit by him. And he exposed us to something I had never heard of, Sir Robert Peel, creator of the Metropolitan Police in London, 1829.

And he shared with the group that met with him, Peels nine principles of policing. That's my Bible, Moses had 10 commandments, I have the nine principles of policing. And the first one is the basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent, prevent crime and disorder. In the 1970s, and Kelling wrote eloquently about this: as we come out of the 1960s, society, government, political leaders said to the police, "You cannot prevent crime, you can only respond to it. Society is going to have to work on what causes crime, poverty, unemployment racism."

So while we fix that, well, they really fixed it, didn't they? That you the police you should just basically focus on improved response to crime, 911 calls, numbers of arrests so you can show activity, but it was all after the fact. I was very fortunate that as a newly promoted sergeant and with Bob Wasserman's influence and then subsequently when I met Kelling in the 1980s, I was assigned to help develop a neighborhood policing program in a very distressed area of Boston that house some of the leading institutions in Boston, I write about this in the book. Northeastern, Boston University, the Museum of Fine Arts, 21 of the leading institutions in Boston were concentrated in an area called Back Bay, Fenway Kenmore, and the crime rate there was phenomenal in the 1970s.

And what was also phenomenal was the disorder, prostitution, aggressive begging, the homeless, graffiti, all the things that drive the public crazy. So, very early on, after having been exposed to Sir Robert Peel's emphasis on crime and disorder, I saw firsthand as I went to community meetings that I organized, people didn't want to talk about the serious crime and there was no shortage of that. They wanted to talk about stuff that was driving them crazy, the prostitute on their doorstep at night, the gang in the corner raising hell all hours of the night.

And why weren't the police doing anything about that? Well, in the 1970s and 1980s, police as we reduced our numbers, as we basically pull back, we focused on responding to 911 calls, and to serious crime and officers were no longer walking a beat so we lost intimacy with the neighborhood. When we got air conditioning in 1978 in our police cars, we just rolled up the windows and we lost even more contact with the neighborhoods. And so, I early on, was exposed to what Kelling and Wilson wrote so beautifully about five years later, the idea that it is important to focus on not only serious crime, but what the patient and every community is a patient basically and police chiefs are doctors.

You have to listen to your patient, what do they want you to work on? I understood for the next 50, 40 years that you had to work on both. If you only worked on one, you were not going to cure the patient. That's why Kelling and Wilson, social scientists basically, were criticized heavily, and they still are that a lot of the criminal-justice research community hated George. Why? Because, George got out into the streets and walked around. Most of the other characters sat in their classrooms and their laboratories, and they wrote about stuff that they weren't touching and feeling and smelling.

George was out there and when he teamed up with Wilson, Wilson with his eloquence as well as his standing something that Manhattan Institute fully appreciates. And Manhattan Institute, I think really appreciates the association with those two great leaders. I certainly do, because a relationship with Kelling for me was one of 40 years of intimate friendship and learning constantly from that great man.

Rafael Mangual: So, when you first came to New York City, you didn't come to the NYPD, you came to the Transit Police and you talked a lot about the initiatives that you undertook in that role to address the broken windows underground, the subway fare evasion, the graffiti on trains, having cops to have a visible presence the bus passes upstairs, et cetera. Did you know before you got here that you were going to incorporate the work of George Kelling into how you were going to police the subways in New York City and with subway crime in New York on the rise again, do you think that there's a degree to which the department has gotten away from that enforcement, and what would be your advice to the NYPD moving forward on that?

Bill Bratton: Basically a contemporary bulletin, just saw a news clip just before we got on the air here, that subway crime finally is going the other way that with the surge of more officers into the subway, they've actually been able to reduce it based on a report that was just released this morning so good news. But going back to the entrance into New York through the Transit Police, in some respects, that was like in baseball, I was basically recruited into the minor league and I went with the hope that eventually I'd get called up to the majors. And Kelling and Wasserman were already working for a year in the subways of New York with Bob Kiley, who was the chairman of the MTA.

And they had been brought in very specifically to deal with the disorder issues and then subsequently the crime issues, which were growing in the subway as they were in the streets of New York. They both had known me for a number of years and felt that this would be an opportunity for me who was an adherent to what they were espousing, the importance of crime disorder. That so much of what was going on in the subway was the perception of crime based on the quality of life issues that were so prevalent there.

And so, they dangled the carrot in front of me, they'd come to New York to the minor league, if you will, the Transit Police, and who knows if you successfully might get called up to the majors, the NYPD and no disrespect to the Transit Police, but they really were considered the old police. The idea when somebody said I worked for the New York Police Department, and people say, "Oh, where, Transit?" Then people say, "Oh," because trans was a separate department at that time.

And thank God I had that experience with Transit, because it really proved the concept of crime and disorder. It really showed that a 25 years surge in crime and disorder on the subway we reversed it in less than a year and a half. And it was so significant Giuliani who had lost the election to Dave Dinkins in 1989, running again in 1993 asked to meet with Kelling and I, who we talked about what had gone on in Transit and why Transit was so successful reducing crime while the city streets were not seeing the same level of success. And he asked, "Well, could you do the same thing in the streets of New York?" And we said, "Certainly," and that's how I ended up getting hired and bringing George in as one of my advisers as Police Commissioner of the NYPD.

And I think, not only talking about it in the book, The Profession, but I think this audience that we're talking to certainly understand the rest is history, so they say, we come in and basically although the crime turnaround in America began in the subways of New York, the success on the streets of New York, where it was much more visible, really began the catalyst of the trying turnaround in America for so many reasons, quality life enforcement, broken windows, CompStat, focusing on serious crime in a very different way. And the idea of the old adage, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. New York was viewed as the most dangerous major city in the world at that time and in a few years, it was rated as the safest large city in the world.

Rafael Mangual: That's exactly right. And for many New Yorkers, this city is largely considered the center of the universe. And for that reason, I think some of our audience may not know as much about your time as Chief of Police in Los Angeles, which is another very large city with an incredibly troubling crime problem. If you go back to the 1980s and 1990s I don't know if there was a department that was ever as vilified as the LAPD in popular culture, in music, you had NWA F the police, it really was at the center of the discussion about problems within the policing profession during the high crime time of the 1980s and 1990s.

And I think that vilification came at a time in which, L.A. was really ground zero for America's gang-violence problem, yet somehow you managed to oversee a period of crime reductions and reform during your tenure there. There was a consent decree in place, and in your chapter on getting to the heart of the black community, you write that you were quote, "Able to influence change in the LAPD culture by significantly improving the training that they were receiving at the academy," which is something that was directed by the consent decree back then, you also noted that the department received a better equipment, which did not seem to be what you expected given as you wrote that mayors tended to see police departments as a potential liability of that headline waiting to happen.

So, in our current moment, calls for police report has really coalesced around slogans, like defund the police to which you've responded we should refund the police. And so the question is, what do you tell people who argue that you can't achieve reform while rewarding police departments with more funding? Do you see a tension between the calls for defund and the calls for improvements?

Bill Bratton: I certainly do. I'm very active in rebuking the defund-the-police movement label, that at this critical time with rising crime, with rising dissatisfaction with the police, to reform the police to the level of expectation that so many who wants to see police improve, it's going to require refunding as police have for too long in America been asked to do too much with too little, in the sense that the burden of the homelessness, burden of the emotionally disturbed, burden of the drug addicted has fallen to the police to deal with while at the same time, the training is so necessary to deal with the equipment, et cetera.

The ability to recruit people who are capable of dealing with those complex societal issues has just not kept pace. So, the L.A. chapter that you seek about was significant in the book, because it spoke to dealing with a department that had been at war with this black community for 50 years, and the issue of race and police entwined, you can't separate the two and you're never going to resolve police reform or ever resolve the issue of race reformation without basically addressing both issues at the same time. They're joined like this, and you can't separate them.

One of the greatest successes in my professional life, I believe was in L.A. going into a department in crisis. And I always seek to go into departments in crises because at a crisis comes opportunity, but you can also accelerate the change. And one of the accelerations you can change more quickly is the culture of an organization, and every organization I've gone into I've changed the culture. In the case of the LAPD, it was a culture of animosity toward the black community directed by the political leadership of that city for 50 years, and the police leadership for 50 years, Daryl Gates, Bill Parker, legendary police leaders who effectively created a culture of intolerance of blacks in Los Angeles.

So, I think one of my more successful times as chief was Los Angeles, where we successfully addressed the race crisis, successfully addressed changing the cultural department, successfully addressed the crime problem, and I think significantly banished the very tarnished badge of the LAPD, probably one of the most famous badges in the world, going back to Dragnet days, it's so recognizable and I've had the great pleasure of leading two of the three most iconic police departments in the world.

And I think in both instances, changing their cultures to cultures that were much more proactive, much more reform oriented, the third iconic entity agency I would describe is The Metropolitan Police in London. They're the ones that the books are made about, they're the ones that the movies are made about. And I always had a time factor. I talk about it in the book. I came very close to being asked to head The Metropolitan Police back about ten, 12 years ago. I was not a British citizen of the British Isles however, so I could not take that position.

I would've loved to, Ricky, we always joked he had a backpack ready to go in a moment's notice, but going back to L.A. it shows how you can really with the right leadership, the right team, I had incredible people both from within the department and outside working with me. I had strong political support, Mayor Hahn, who brought me to L.A., understood by appointing me and removing a black chief who was not particularly successful, but basically the black community was still supportive of, it would cost him reelection and he did it.

How many politicians do you know will make a conscious decision to do the right thing from their perspective, for the constituents, knowing it's going to end their political career? And he did. And he was defeated in the next election. However by that time, my own popularity was such that the mayor that succeeded him campaigned on the idea that if elected, he would ask me to stay, in the morning after his election seven o'clock in the morning he was in my office making the offer and asked me to stay. So there's the irony of it, one mayor loses an election because of me, another mayor wins an election because of me, it's only in America can something like that actually happen.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah. That's a fascinating story. I think it's true that you wouldn't see the same willingness among political leaders to take that chance today.

Bill Bratton: Oh, no. Not at all. The political cowardice of today, Rafael, is phenomenal. Phenomenal.

Rafael Mangual: I agree. But one of the other things I don't think you would see today that was in place back then was a consent decree that actually prioritized improving the police department by funding it. I think a lot of Police Executives might be weary today about taking a position in a department that's currently under the thumb of the federal government. And that's something that we've seen grow over the last 10 years, the number of police departments under consent decree.

And it would seem to me as an outsider looking in, that modern consent decrees don't seem to be overly concerned with improving crime. And as someone who just reads these things as an outsider, I don't see them as calculating in any way to produce improvements in the quality of life for people living in those communities beyond getting behind popular reform measures for the department. Do you see that as a problem, do you think that there needs to be a change in the nature of federal oversight? And what do you say to police leaders today who are weary about going into departments in crisis despite potential opportunities for growth and improvement because of what they see as hamstringing by the federal government?

Bill Bratton: Let me speak to the very significant issue you raise, consent decree there's currently 50 of them and the federal government is actively engaged in seeking more of them. Some of them are by mandate, others are actually requested by Chiefs of Police and mayors. So there's different types, but in the case of L.A., I had the experience of being part of the federal monitorship, the monitoring team looking at the LAPD for almost a year before I applied for the Chief of Police shop.

So, it provided an entrance way into that department in a very intimate way. So, going through the door, something I've always tried to do to effectively understand what I was getting myself into. I had the intimacy of being a federal monitor. The issue you raised is correct, that the federal monitorships are intended to focus on policy and oftentimes to deal with issues about racial injustice and are not focused on dealing with crime.

And indeed, if there's a deficiency of consent decrees it measures do you meet these standards? In the case of the LAPD, there was 700 somewhat standards that had to be met with 95 percent compliance before they could come out from under the consent decree. But nowhere in the consent decree, and no where in most consent decrees does it measure well, what is the impact on the city and the community, as it relates to the issue you raise, crime? Did relationships improve with the community? Did crime go down?

And it's a deficiency, but it's also a limitation of the federal government in terms of what it can impose on a civil rights violation. What I was doing with the consent decree in LA, was using it basically as my hammer and chisel to get money out of the City Council to effectively modernize the police department under the guise of basically meeting the policy requirements for better training, better facilities, et cetera, but also then using it to deal with the crime initiatives that I was putting in place.

So, any police chief going into an organization crisis, you're going to have to deal with policy, you're going to have to deal with culture, and you're going to have to deal with crime and disorder. Consent decrees deal with policy, but don't deal with crime and disorder. So, if I were a young Chief today looking for a new assignment, I would actually look for a department under a consent decree, because you can use and leverage that consent decree for purposes separate from what it was originally intended.

It can affectively allow you to batten down the doors of resistance to funding the department. And at the same time, many Chiefs myself included are critical of some consent decree aspects, including professional monitors. There are several out there who basically are never going to let go of the department they're monitoring because it's a money pit. And even if you have a monitor who's in the face for 10 or 15 years, what do you think is [inaudible 00:46:55] monitor if they haven't come in a compliance and they get rid of chief, after chief, after chief, mayor, after mayor, after mayor, but they never get rid of the monitor. Well, there's something wrong there with that picture.

Rafael Mangual: I couldn't agree more. Commissioner Bratton, I want to thank you again for another incredibly thoughtful conversation, I wish we could go on for another hour. For our audience, again, the book is The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America, there is a link in the chat box I think that you should be seeing it if you're interested in purchasing the book. Also, please consider following the Manhattan Institute's Research from the Policing and Public Safety Initiative, you can do that on our website, if you're able also please consider supporting the Institute at the link that you see in the chat. Remember that MI is a nonprofit organization and our work depends on support from people like you. Commissioner Bratton, thank you so very much.

Bill Bratton: Thank you. Rafael, you're the best, the absolute best. Thank you.

Rafael Mangual: Thank you.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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