This novel illustrates William Bratton’s personal, and professional life and the police initiatives that led to his success. From Bratton’s childhood until his tenure as commissioner, we see the superiority and management styles that he brought to the New York City Police Department, and the changes he made for progressive police leaders to fight crime. This paper will discuss Bratton’s career, the leadership positions he took in various law enforcement agencies, and his successful implementation to reduce criminal violence in the cities of Boston and New York.
William Bratton, former New York City police commissioner was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1947. He came from a working middle-class family. His father, returning from World War II served in the U.S Navy, and his mother worked as a housewife. At a very young age, Bratton always knew he wanted to be a police officer. He didn’t know any officers personally, and he didn’t have any in his family. His only exposure was in grade school, when an officer came around the classrooms once a year to talk about safety issues, and when officers were assigned to go door to door to fill out census cards for valid voter registration. Bratton’s influences were mostly from television shows and movies. He had the opportunity to combine his love for reading and police because the library he went to shared the same building with the local police station. Bratton would go to the library every day to watch the daily parade of marching cops going on duty and filing out for roll call. Unlike policing today, officers were assigned to walking post and foot patrol rather than driving in vehicles. This led to the beginning of Bratton’s fascination with policing.
Following graduation from Boston Technical High School in 1966, Bratton decided to join the Army. The Vietnam War was just beginning and he wanted to avoid being drafted, with no guarantee of what specialty he would be assigned. At the time, he was 18 years old and his goal was to be a police officer, but he couldn’t achieve that goal until he turned 21. Bratton served three years in the army. He started basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, then he went to military police school in Fort Gordon, Georgia. He spent a year in Vietnam, and then was assigned to a Military Police Sentry dog company. These were not in the plans of what Bratton wanted to do in life, but in 1969 Bratton was deployed from the military, worked as a telephone installer at a telephone company for about a year, and on October of 1970, he got the call to take the Boston Police exam.
In the 1970’s and the 1980’s police didn’t do a good job communicating or collaborating with one another. This became ineffective when police needed information from residents to solve problems. It was believed by American society that crime was caused by factors such as demographics, racism, poverty, the economy, and unemployment. The police could not do anything about these issues so they decided to focus their energy on improving their response to what crimes occurred. In hopes that crime would not increase, the NYPD improved their response in this direction. Unfortunately, it was the right direction for them to go in. The results became evident in the 1980’s with the drug problem of crack/cocaine. This problem caused an increase in violence, guns, and other weapons to support the drug trade. Unprepared for this type of problem, Bratton discussed how American police began to de-police by being taken from walking beats, out of neighborhoods and put into police cars. In hopes to deter crime, there was an increased presence of officers in local neighborhoods.
By improving response times to what crimes did occur, citizen satisfaction would increase and by increasing the number of arrest, officers were hoping to satisfy the demand that something be done about the crime and disorder that was occurring in the neighborhoods. Lastly, in hopes to improve investigative techniques, more crimes would be solved. However, none of this happened. The response time worsened due to the numerous amount of 911 calls. Police were not expected to deal with a lot of societal issues due to the amount of disorder on the streets, public drunkenness was an issue so the drinking problem expanded significantly, and instead of mental patients becoming deinstitutionalized, they became homeless. Family morals and values led to more disintegration leading children and minorities who had no structure or guidance to become susceptible to negative influences on the streets. Pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers became role models in the inner cities of New York, and the children began learning from them rather than their parents.
The schools also had issues, they became the substitute families. Police became increasingly ineffective in dealing with the crime problem. Their response was neither adequate nor sufficient. Fortunately in the mid 1980’s many police and community leaders, academics, media, and politicians began to understand that something had to be done about these issues. This change brought a new philosophy to the city of New York called community policing. Community policing is the new direction that all police forces should be going toward. It is very different from the modern policing techniques that were practiced in the past. The differences are its intent to prevent crime before it happens rather than responding to it after it occurs with the focus on creating a safe, social environment. It also encourages residents to participate with law enforcement in order to prevent crime from happening in the local neighborhoods.
Community policing is generally defined as a law enforcement philosophy that allows officers to continuously operate in the same area in order to create a stronger bond with the citizens living and working in that area. This model emphasizes rapid response, random patrol in police cars and reactive investigations. Bratton believed that community policing was defined by the 3p’s. Partnership is a method police use to work with communities and other entities of the criminal justice system by collaborating to expand the resources of dealing with problems. Problems is the second P in Bratton’s theory of community policing. Most 911 calls from residents are generated by a problem. If police focused on eliminating the problem, many 911 calls would decrease by reducing citizen satisfaction of slower responses to those calls. The last P is the overall goal of police to prevent crime.
The idea of putting a uniform police officer on the streets to prevent crime and get to know the neighborhood that he/she is patrolling gives residents a more favorable view on their local police departments, builds a trusting relationship between law enforcement and the community, it gives citizens a better understanding about their expectations from the police, and it gives residents the opportunity to provide accurate information regarding criminal activity in the community. The presence of a police officer in local neighborhoods allows them to work with the residents on what the problems are, and how they can be addressed. Based on Bratton’s novel, community policing brought a major impact on these issues.
William Bratton became police commissioner of New York City from 1994-1996, hired by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who appointed him to his role. Mayor Giuliani used his campaign as a platform to do something about crime. During their tenure together, the two reduced crime by 40% and homicides by 50%. More importantly, they changed the way the streets of NYC felt. There was a significant improvement in the reduction of crime, and in the restoration of confidence. Their goal was to control and correct the misbehavior that had been ignored for the past 20 years. The two believed that if this behavior is not corrected first hand, overtime it leads to more disorder, more disturbances, and even more serious criminal behavior. Commissioner Bratton and Mayor Giuliani began to focus their policies on the Broken Windows Theory- a theory that addressed small crimes to create an atmosphere that discourages larger ones.
The theory tests that if you take a window and damage it in some way, ultimately if it is not repaired crime and disorder will be encouraged in the area. Critics assume that due to this unnoticed window, residents do not care about the area because they are not paying attention. When neighborhoods are clean, from the trash being picked up off the ground to graffiti being taken of the buildings, crime tends to decrease. The broken windows theory was popularized to view crime holistically. Bratton believed in “zero tolerance policing” that cracking down on minor infractions will attempt to decrease more violent crime. Unfortunately, many critics believed that his theory targeted communities of color. It was said that his implementation of the broken windows theory had increased havoc from Los Angeles, to New York City and beyond. There is much debate over the impact of New York policing tactics on reductions on crime and disorder during Bratton’s career as police commissioner. Broken windows policing alone did not bring down the crime rates but it did play a large role. Although Bratton’s efforts had some negative opinions, he defended his methods that required strategic training, supervision, and a positive relationship between law enforcement and the local community.
Modeled after the Broken Windows Theory, Compstat was developed in the early 1990s. Compstat is a computer program used to approach crime reduction using comparative statistics to identify crime. There are four levels to Compstat: timely and accurate information or intelligence, rapid deployment of resources, effective tactics, and relentless follow-up. Commissioner Bratton implemented the program in 1994. Compstat has allowed Bratton and his team to successfully compile information on crimes and the times they took place, victims, and other details to spot emerging crime patterns. Every precinct in New York was ordered to collect crime data, enter it into a computer database, and submit the disk each week to the police commissioner’s office. In 1994 the use of Compstat lowered the crimes of murder, robberies, burglaries, moto-vehicle theft, felony assault, and overall crime almost 27%. With this high-tech “pin-mapping” approach, police are quickly able to identify trouble spots as well as casual relationships, and then target resources to fight crime strategically.
During William Bratton’s long career of working in law enforcement, he became one of the most well-known figures in national policing. Bratton had a large amount of success during his 45-year tenure and is the only man to lead police departments in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. He served two terms as NYPD commissioner under two radically different mayors, first in the 90’s under Mayor Rudy Giuliani and returned to the department in 2014 under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Commissioner Bratton formally retired from the NYPD September 16, 2016. Bratton brought new innovations and techniques to policing during his career. He made it necessary for officers to attain a college degree while working on the force, he made sure officers were equipped with new weaponry, equipment, and uniforms, and he brought crime down to a record breaking low.
Bratton’s many successes made the news nationwide and landed him on the cover of Time magazine. He made a vow to the city of New York and took full responsibility for leading the department in finding new ways to reduce crime and fear in one of America’s biggest cities and beyond. Bratton fully believed that with able leadership, political will, well-trained cops, and community participation we can take back America state by state, city by city, borough by borough, block by block, and we will win (Bratton & Knobler, 1998, p. 313). Bratton and his team’s efforts made New York City one of the safest places to visit, work, and live.
Bratton, W., & Knobler, P. (1998). Turnaround: How Americas top cop reversed the crime epidemic. New York: Random House.
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Lortz, M. (2016, December 28). What is Community Policing? Retrieved from https://www.everbridge.com/blog/what-is-community-policing/