Bratton and de Blasio: an opportunity for meaningful police reform in New York as long as we don’t waste itFriday, January 10, 2014 at 5:15 pm by Sarah Berlin
Last week, New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced the most recent addition to his administration, naming Zachary Carter the chief lawyer of the city. Carter served as United States attorney in Brooklyn from 1993 to 1999 and oversaw high profile cases like that of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was brutally assaulted and tortured by NYPD officers in 1997. Like de Blasio, Carter has expressed a commitment to creating opportunities for disadvantaged groups and fighting police misconduct. This appointment appears to be a step in the right direction towards greater fairness in policing and an end to the rampant profiling and abuse that have come to define the NYPD.
At the same time, de Blasio has set up a glaring contradiction in his administration by appointing Bill Bratton as police commissioner. On the one hand, de Blasio has taken a firm stance against racial profiling and has come out against Stop and Frisk, a practice recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal court because it discriminates against people of color. Furthermore, the mayor-elect has appointed a chief lawyer who may actually hold the NYPD accountable. On the other hand, de Blasio has handed over the NYPD to one of the original architects of Stop and Frisk, a man with a disturbing history of pursuing discriminatory policies that only create the illusion of safer cities.
Bratton was the New York police commissioner from 1994 to 1996 and was Chief of the Los Angeles police department from 2002 to 2009. He took a tough approach to bringing down crime rates, which included implementing Stop and Frisk, applying the “broken windows” theory, and instituting a computer system for tracking crimes called CompStat. Crime dropped during Bratton’s tenure in New York, but a 1996 report by Amnesty International concluded that the number of civilians shot dead by police increased during his first year as commissioner, as did the number of civilians who died in police custody. Although CompStat has been touted as a resounding success for creating data-driven policing, the system also provides opportunities for corruption. Officers can distort the numbers by classifying crimes according to the department’s demands for decreased crime. (The 2012 book The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation reveals that this is exactly what happened with the NYPD).
Bratton’s harmful policing strategies didn’t end in New York. While serving as the chief of the LAPD, he oversaw a practice similar to Stop and Frisk that disproportionately targeted black and Latino residents. Mirroring the extensive surveillance of Muslim communities throughout the country and in New York, Bratton also proposed a plan to map the Muslim communities of Los Angeles. The LAPD claimed that the plan would prevent terrorist attacks and neutralize the impact of extremism. Bratton ultimately abandoned the plan due to community outrage, but never admitted that the plan itself was problematic and potentially unconstitutional.
Returning to New York City, these recent changes–a new mayor, a new chief lawyer, a court ruling against Stop and Frisk–are not enough to ensure a future for the NYPD free of corruption and discrimination. Especially with Bratton leading the police force, independent oversight of the department is necessary for translating de Blasio’s commitment into action. Groups like Communities United for Police Reform and DRUM have already done significant work to organize against racial profiling and press for accountability. Any further reforms enacted can only be made meaningful through this kind of continued organizing and pressure from the residents of the city.