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Bratton named NYPD commissioner

Fred Prouser / Reuters file

Los Angeles police chief William Bratton speaks to reporters at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles in this September 9, 2002 file photo.

Bill Bratton, who pioneered the crime-fighting techniques that helped make New York the nation’s safest big city as its top cop two decades ago, will return to his old job under incoming mayor Bill de Blasio.

"He knows what it takes to keep a city safe, and make communities full partners in the mission," said de Blasio in announcing his choice at a press conference in Brooklyn Thursday morning. "He understands that residents are safer and communities are safer … when you have a partnership."

De Blasio also said that he believed Bratton knows "stop and frisk" -- the controversial stop and search program that was a key issue in fall's mayoral campaign -- "has to be used with respect," and that Bratton was the right man to "reform" the practice.

"I love this department," said Bratton. "I have had a love affair with it since 1956."

Bratton, 66, and a contributor to NBC News, served as NYPD commissioner from Mayor Rudy Giuliani from 1994 to 1996, where he was widely lauded for a swift and dramatic reduction in crime, including homicide, which had been at an all-time high. His first job in New York, however, was as head of the Transit Police under Giuliani’s predecessor, Democrat David Dinkins, from 1990 to 1992. De Blasio served as an aide in the Dinkins administration.

De Blasio is set to announce Bratton’s appointment at a press conference in Brooklyn Thursday morning.

The long decline in New York’s crime statistics began when Bratton helmed those subway cops. He returned briefly to his native Boston to head the police force there until Giuliani brought him back as commissioner in 1994 to apply his theories of community policing to the nation’s largest police department.  They were theories that first took shape during that tenure as the head of the subway police.

As NYPD commissioner, Bratton managed to take guns off the street and reduce so-called “quality of life” crimes such as car theft, by using “Broken Windows” police practices, in which police addressed the small crimes that blighted neighborhoods. The crack dealers, petty criminals and squeegee men who plagued New York and shaped its national image began to disappear from the streets.

But as crack, gun violence and quality of life hassles were the key issues of that time, today the issues are civil liberties, the proper role of technology in policing public spaces, and the reshaping of “stop and frisk,” which became a lightning rod during the administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and a talking point during the mayoral campaign.

Current commissioner Ray Kelly stood behind the policy, which was unpopular among many city residents because it overwhelmingly targeted young black and Latino men. 

In a statement Thursday, de Blasio said Bratton would "bring police and communities closer together by ending the overuse and misuse of stop and frisk. At the press conference, he said, "We're not going to use it when 90 percent of the people being stopped are innocent. We're only going to use it where it is constitutionally appropriate."

Bratton said "every member of the public deserves respect .. We must do this respectfully." 

“I think it’s going to send a message to the cops and to the community that you can keep crime down and you can do it in a just way,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a national nonprofit that advises law enforcement agencies. “Bill Bratton is one of the most experienced police chiefs in the world. This will be his seventh police chief job. New York is lucky to get him.”

Bratton has been the force behind a change in policing that placed his disciples in many key jobs  across the nation.

He took his techniques to Los Angeles as the LAPD’s top cop in October 2002, reconfigured key parts of the city’s oft-troubled police department and presided over a nearly 30 percent reduction in crime before leaving the post in 2009.

Since then he has been a private-sector executive and a driving force in the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as an influential voice at PERF, where he served as president.

“The challenge back when Bratton came in to New York in the '90s was it had over 2200 homicides,” said Wexler. “Today it has less than 400. Back then it was getting crime down. Today it is keeping crime down. And doing that in a way that insures the cops that he has their backs and the communities that he understands and respects their needs.”

“I think from my view of the challenges that the NYPD has before it, primarily the public perception of stop and frisk and its impact on minority populations, he is a perfect pick,” said Michel Moore, assistant chief of the LAPD. “He is an insider and an outsider, he has never left New York or that department in his heart. But he has also been an outsider for the past seventeen years. So he’s a bit of a white knight."

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which has fought stop and frisk in the courts, said in a statement it was "look[ing] forward to working with the new mayor and police commissioner to ensure that fundamental changes are made to the NYPD, including a top-to-bottom culture shift that ends racial profiling and the abuse of stop and frisk."

Al Sharpton, a New York City-based civil rights activist and an MSNBC host, said he had spoken to both de Blasio and Bratton prior to the announcement. He said he had an "adversarial" relationship with Bratton when Bratton was NYPD commissioner under Giuliani, but had worked closely with Bratton during his tenure at the LAPD on gang violence and "police misconduct" issues.

"Mr. Bratton knows of my concerns and the concerns of others about racial profiling in stop and frisk policing, but at the same time is aware of our desire to continue the decrease of violence and crime in our community," said Sharpton. "I told [de Blasio] and [Bratton] that I hope they will work with a broad cross-section of New Yorkers to continue the pursuit of both and we discussed meeting over the next few days to discuss these matters with him and with other civil rights and community leaders."

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