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NYPD Commissioner William Bratton On Why He's Stepping Down


We're going to speak now with New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. In a surprise announcement yesterday, Bratton said he is stepping down on September 1. This is his second time around as head of the nation's largest police force. Under his watch, crime rates in New York have come down. But his force, like many others, is under scrutiny for its treatment of people of color.

Commissioner Bratton joins us from New York now. Welcome.

BILL BRATTON: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Two terrible events come to mind from your time as commissioner. Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American man who died after a police officer put him in an illegal chokehold, and what appeared to be the revenge killing of two police officers as they sat in their squad car. I mean, these sorts of terrible events have been your challenge. Why leave now?

BRATTON: Well, first off, let me clarify, it did not appear to be a revenge killing. It was a revenge killing, a direct retaliation, according to the individual who murdered my two police officers. So let's clarify that right off the bat. It was a revenge killing, an assassination of two American police officers sitting in a marked police car. In terms of why I'm leaving now, it's the right time for me now.

Over the last two and a half years that I've been fortunate to work with Mayor de Blasio, we've made extraordinary progress in the New York City Police Department addressing all the issues that America is concerned with at the moment. Terrorism, there's no police department in America that's better prepared to both prevent or respond to an act of terrorism.

We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars preparing the city for it, 550 additional officers in our counterterrorism unit. In terms of crime, crime unlike many other cities in America unfortunately, which are experiencing increases in crime, New York City has been experiencing a steady decrease.

Now we're into our 25th straight year of crime decline, including particularly in the areas of shootings and violence. That's great news for this city. The city is experiencing phenomenal growth, 8.5 million people versus 7.5 million back in the mid-1990s, 60 million tourists. In the area of quality of life that New York City, like the rest of America, is experiencing the distress of homeless populations increasing, particularly service resistant homeless on the streets.

But we spend more money than any city in America on that issue, almost $2 billion a year.

MONTAGNE: Let me just get to something else. You made your name or you have been known for something called broken windows policing both in New York and also when you were chief here in Los Angeles where I am. The idea that going after petty criminals reduces more serious crime, that has some merit. But many say that had unfairly or has unfairly targeted minority communities.

Have you been balancing that with other thoughts now?

BRATTON: We have been balancing it in the sense first off, a couple of your comments. We do not target minority communities. The bulk of quality of life enforcement, not broken windows, quality of life enforcement occurs in minority communities. Why? Because that's where we're called to deal with complaints from those communities. In New York City, we have proven conclusively that the bulk of what we do on quality of life enforcement is in response to 311 calls or 911 calls for emergencies.

We have shown that over and over again. Does it have disproportionate impact in minority communities? Yes. Why? 'Cause they're calling us. They want help. We know how to respond and assist. The challenge for us is in the response to ensure that we are handling it appropriately. And so to that end, in New York City, we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on retraining the whole police force.

We're about to go into a three day training process following up on what we did last year with every officer. This year, we'll be dealing with issues of implicit bias, on issues of procedural justice. Everything that any commission, including the president's commission, Police Executive Research Forum, has recommended that an American police force do, we are doing in New York.

We are probably (unintelligible) the curve rather than going into the curve on this issue. There's an old adage, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Well, we're making it in New York.

MONTAGNE: Well, good luck to you in private life, as I gather you are now going to. William Bratton is commissioner of the New York City Police Department, announcing his resignation yesterday. Thanks very much for joining us.

BRATTON: Thank you. Pleasure being with you. All the best.

MONTAGNE: And his successor has already been named. That would be New York's Police Chief James O'Neill, who's been on the force for 33 years. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.