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Won't Get Fooled Again: Questioning de Blasio's Top-Cop Pick

Bill Bratton and Bill de Blasio at press conference announcing Bratton’s return as NYPD Commissioner.

A major point of contention in the recent New York mayoral race was the NYPD’s controversial, and some say illegal, stop-and-frisk policy, which targets in large part black and Latino citizens of the Big Apple. When Bill de Blasio won the election, most activists and advocates of doing away with this deplorable tactic were ecstatic, sure that the progressive Mayor-elect would trash the policy and institute reforms. Unfortunately, it suddenly looks like the classic Who line - “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" - is yet again a reality, with de Blasio appointing former NYPD chief, and stop-and-frisk innovator, Bill Bratton to step back into his old job of heading up the NYPD.

“Asking Bill Bratton to come back and stop racial profiling is like asking an arsonist to help you put out fires,” hisses former Black Panther and current City Councilman Charles Barron (D, Ray Kelly- Brooklyn). “You don’t ask the person who’s the architect of racial profiling, stop and frisk to come back and now put a stop to it.”

Bratton, who's about to replace Ray Kelly as Police Commissioner for the second time, is a firm proponent of “broken windows”-style policing. This is the contentious notion that going after and arresting citizens committing petty "quality of life" crimes, like turnstile jumping, car window washing and marijuana smoking in public, will net those most likely to go on to commit real, serious crimes down the road. While statistics show that crime figures did vastly drop due to stop-and frisk tactics, innovated by Bratton during his first reign as NYPD Police Commissioner (from 1994 to 1996, under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani), it’s a fact that minorities in NYC have been and continue to be unfairly targeted by said policy, with allegations in and out of the NYPD of blatant racial profiling being part and parcel of the policy, and with less than 10% of those stopped by police ending up arrested for any offense whatsoever. Arrests for drugs and other minor offenses skyrocketed during Bratton’s first tenure as Commish, going up an incredible 97% during his watch.

While marijuana arrests were not nearly as high during his first time around as top cop in NYC, there's no denying that once he took over these arrests went through the roof compared to those under his predecessor (ironically enough, also Ray Kelly). During Kelly's first tenure, there were 812 pot busts in 1992, and 1,450 in 1993. Then in stepped Bratton and up went arrest figures, with 3.141 in 1994, 5,716 in 1995 and 9,433 in 1996. Granted, under Bratton’s successor, Howard Safir (1996-2000), these arrests doubled, doubled again, and then nearly doubled yet again by 2000 (17,992 in 1997, 32,936 in 1998, 33,819 in 1999 and 51,267 in 2000). In 2012, under Kelly, pot arrests remained a major NYPD priority with 39,218, albeit down from 50,684 in 2011.

Bratton resigned from his first run as NYPD Commissioner while under investigation by the Corporation Council for a smelly book deal he signed, as well as for numerous unauthorized trips he’d accepted from individuals and corporations. Bratton also had a number of personal differences with Giuliani. His record of extensive on-the-job traveling continued while he served as head of the Los Angeles police department; he was out of town a full third of the year on personal and official business in 2005.

While many have had high hopes for serious change in the way the city, particularly the NYPD, is run under de Blasio, his appointment of Bratton as Police Commissioner is not sitting well with many of the city’s leading reformers and civil liberties advocates. Nor is the fact that while Bratton served as head of the LAPD, he increased the deployment of stop-and-frisk there.

“I have not heard [Bratton] make a definitive statement that the way stop-and-frisk was carried out in New York City over the last 10 years was ineffective," adds Delores Jones-Brown, a former prosecutor and the director of the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime and Justice. "It’s wrong, ethically and morally. I don’t need to hear him waver."

It remains to be seen whether this innovator of stop-and-frisk tactics really can make serious change to a  system he himself helped institute. Needless to say, it’s not a promising start to de Blasio’s tenure as Mayor as he simply shuffles around the bodies in the NYPD, but doesn’t cull the old crew at all.

Preston Peet

Preston Peet

Editor of "Under the Influence, the Disinformation Guide to Drugs," former editor of DrugWar.com, and writer of numerous articles around the globe.