If it’s still rather unclear how Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio intends to govern New York City, his selection of William J. Bratton as police commissioner on Thursday offered precious little in the way of clarifying clues. The former top cop in Boston and Los Angeles, Bratton served as New York Police Department commissioner at the beginning of Rudy Giuliani's administration in the mid 1990s, where his success is credited with popularizing neighborhood-mapping programs like Compstat and the "Broken Windows" theory of crime, which essentially holds that pursuing petty acts of vandalism and maintaining urban environments can prevent more serious crime.
What his admirers tend not to mention is that Bratton also ramped up the use of stop and frisk in Los Angeles, and that tactic represents the steepest cost imposed on the poor in the name of Michael Bloomberg's Luxury City—as well as a preferred campaign trail punching bag of de Blasio.
But if the Bratton appointment is no paean to the left, the guy is not a perfect Ray Kelly clone, either. He got good marks for community outreach in L.A., and is politically astute enough to know he was selected both to reassure the city's financial elite that life will go on after Bloomberg without a spike in crime and improve ties with minority communities that have borne the brunt of Kelly's most controversial tactics.
Of course, Bratton likes to defend stop and frisk as an essential police tool, and his Suspicious Activity Reporting System (SARS) in Los Angeles, premised on the idea that police ought to collect large swaths of information at their own discretion and even in the absence of criminal activity, sounds an awful lot like the NYPD's Zone Assessment program—also known as Muslim spying. Bratton, conservative and safe though he may seem, is something of a wildcard on surveillance, which he has declined to discuss in much detail. He’ll be moving back to One Police Plaza from Kroll, the investigative consulting firm contracted by Bloomberg to conduct stings in the Midwest showcasing how easy it is to illegally buy guns, and among his most recent ventures is the tech start-up BlueLine, a sort of Facebook for cops where they can securely share crime-fighting strategies up and down the law enforcement hierarchy.
Bratton mulled a 1997 mayoral run to challenge Giuliani after he was forced out of the department near the peak of his popularity. Thought to be sympathetic to the prospect of collaborating with the federal government, an area where Kelly and his intelligence division fell woefully short, Bratton inspires great confidence among experts on the city’s law enforcement apparatus. But when I spoke to him this summer, the incoming police commissioner might easily have been mistaken for Kelly (or Bloomberg, for that matter) as he diagnosed the city's crime woes.
"The reality is that the majority of crime in New York City is committed by young minority males against other minority males," Bratton told me. "There is too much of a rush to get by that very hurtful reality."