The Bratton era in New York is remembered chiefly for putting two big ideas into practice: Compstat meetings, which not only analyze crimes and share information and tactics but help hold precinct captains accountable for driving down crime in their neighborhoods; and “broken windows” or “quality of life” policing — that is, the notion that going after low-level crime and signs of civil disorder reaps big dividends in identifying bad guys and reducing public fear. Both can now be found in police departments around the country. Yet Bratton’s biggest accomplishment did not reside in management reform or new strategies. Instead, he reordered the way we think about policing.
In the early 1990s — Bratton took over the Transit Police in 1990, then rose to national prominence after becoming police commissioner in 1994 — police officials around the country argued that their job was to respond to crime. With a few exceptions, they rarely talked about fighting it. As Bratton dismissively put it in his 1998 recounting of his experience, “Turnaround,” “Crime, the theory went, was caused by societal problems that were impervious to police intervention. That was the unchallenged conventional wisdom espoused by academics, sociologists, and criminologists. I intended to prove them wrong.” And, he might have added, police brass everywhere.
During his two years at the helm of the NYPD, homicides fell 44 percent and serious crime overall dropped 25 percent, and they continued to fall after he left. Under Bratton and his small brain trust of tacticians, the NYPD became a laboratory for crime-reduction schemes and strategies — and a proving ground for police officers and officials who took seriously the idea that they could prevent crimes from occurring. “If you watch what goes on in Compstat, and spend time in the precincts and boroughs,” says David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, “you see a lot of what would now be called community policing and problem-solving policing.” What you also saw in the Bratton era was a relentless focus on pursuing new ways to circumvent crime and disorder, including cracking down on the “squeegee men” who were intimidating drivers; interdicting guns; experimenting with deployments; resuscitating walking beats; using minor infractions to stop and frisk young men; and finding ways to solve the problems posed by corner liquor stores, badly controlled nightclubs and other venues that invited crime.
Academics still debate how much of a difference this made — crime fell generally in the United States during the 1990s — and they always will. “There is no way to unpack what happened or to resolve the debates about it,” says David Kennedy. “But I’m in the camp that says you really have to think that policing mattered a whole lot.”
So are city officials all over the country. Faced with a community worried about crime, they can hire a chief who frets that there are limits to what he or she can accomplish. Or they can go with someone inculcated in an attitude that holds, as former NYPD deputy commissioner of operations Garry McCarthy puts it, “Every crime can be prevented. Is it a reasonable expectation? No. But if you shoot that high, you’ll do pretty well.”
That is one reason McCarthy is now police director in Newark, New Jersey, hired earlier this year by Mayor Cory Booker to bring down that city’s high crime rate. The philosophies of policing that McCarthy has been using these past 10 years were, he says, “nurtured in [the Bratton] era.”
Nurtured, and then exported. Bratton, who had an infamous falling-out with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and left the NYPD in 1996, has spent almost five years — longer than his entire time as an official in New York — as chief in Los Angeles. John Timoney, who was Bratton’s chief of department in New York, went on to be police chief in Philadelphia, and now holds that position in Miami. Peter Abbott, former head of the NYPD’s mounted and administrative units, is chief in Sarasota, Florida. Jane Perlov, a former deputy chief of detectives in Queens, was Raleigh’s chief from 2001 until earlier this year, when she became chief of security for Bank of America. Patrick Harnett, who was Timoney’s executive officer in New York, served two years as chief in Hartford and is now consulting on police matters in Oakland and San Francisco. Daniel Oates, a former deputy chief in Brooklyn, spent four years as chief in Ann Arbor and since 2005 has been chief in Aurora, Colorado. Ed Norris and Kevin Clark were NYPD veterans who each served stints as chief in Baltimore.
The group’s record is not unblemished. Norris, for instance, brought down Baltimore’s homicide rate during his three-years there but was later convicted of fraud for misusing police department funds. Both Abbott and Oates have struggled with issues of morale among officers who accuse them of being overly demanding and inaccessible. And Bratton, of course, is under fire for his officers’ aggressive handling of a crowd of reporters and bystanders at a May Day immigration rally.
Yet on the whole, the Brattonites’ impact on their departments and on crime commands attention. Timoney provides a dramatic example. Before he arrived in Philadelphia, murders had been topping the 400-mark for years. By the time he’d been there two years, they dropped to less than 300. He left at the end of 2001, and by last year the figure was back above 400. Meanwhile, since he arrived in Miami in 2003, the murder rate has dropped from 20 per 100,000 residents to 14, and the problem Timoney was most expressly brought in to address — police shootings of civilians — has almost abated. Perlov, Abbott, Oates and Bratton himself have also presided over noticeable drops in crime.
While the Bratton basics are having a major impact in other cities, so is — if Providence’s experience with Esserman is any guide — the less tangible conviction that a police department is not an adjunct to community efforts to keep order. It is its centerpiece and organizing force. Even among the Brattonite diaspora, Esserman stands out for an iron-willed determination to explore just how thoroughly a police department can enmesh itself in community life.
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Jack Maple, 48, a Designer of City Crime Control Strategies
His official rank was only lieutenant in the city's transit police when Police Commissioner William J. Bratton appointed him a deputy commissioner in 1994. Thomas A. Repetto, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, said it was like making a Coast Guard lieutenant a three-star admiral in the Navy.
It paid off. ''Jack was one of the truly great innovators in law enforcement who helped to make New York City the safest large city in America,'' said Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who recently visited him.
Mr. Maple was architect of the department's Compstat program, through which crime statistics are examined weekly at rigorous meetings of top officials and precinct commanders. Mr. Maple, a student of military history, compared the system to Britain's use of radar against Nazi bombers.
Mr. Maple interrogated his subordinates with style. Once, when an inspector was struggling through an explanation, he projected a Pinocchio image on a screen behind the inspector, using a light beam to make the figure's nose grow.
But the system allowed the police to act against crime, rather than just react. Though Compstat may sound like common sense, Mr. Bratton said that it marked a radical departure. ''The best-kept secret in the United States is how ineffective police have been in fighting crime,'' he said. One reason Compstat worked was that it allowed top officials to question lower-level commanders directly. ''Jack Maple cleaned out the whole middle level of bureaucracy,'' said Richard Emery, a civil rights lawyer.
Compstat won an award from the Ford Foundation as an innovation in American government, and has been adopted in scores of other cities -- including New Orleans, Newark and Baltimore -- some of which Mr. Maple advised as a consultant after he left the department in 1996. Mr. Bratton calls Mr. Maple the smartest man on crime matters he ever met.
Boardroom Tactics Utilized In the Battle Against Crime
It is 8 A.M. and Jack Maple, a Deputy New York City Police Commissioner, and Louis R. Anemone, one of the department's super chiefs, are facing a room full of commanders of precincts and detective squads.
One by one, the commanders -- mainly captains, lieutenants and sergeants -- have been rising to report on crime in their neighborhoods and what they have been doing about it.
Armed with the latest precinct statistics, Mr. Maple and Chief Anemone press the commanders on how they have been carrying out the department's new strategies on dealing with guns and drugs and on improving the quality of life in the city as well as following Commissioner William J. Bratton's mandate that every officer be prepared to respond to any type of crime rather than shift responsibility to special units.
Such meetings, which are much like those regularly held by major corporations, may seem a little thing, but they are new to the New York City Police Department and they are rare among departments around the country. Mr. Bratton, who took charge of the department in January, started the meetings in April as a way of making sure that sweeping changes he is introducing are being put into effect. He personally attends some of them. Perhaps more than any other single thing the department is doing, the meetings reflect the Commissioner's intent to mobilize the tools of corporate management as he searches for "creative ways to reduce crime and the fear of crime."
The meetings, Mr. Bratton said, are "a phenomenal accountability tool." Focusing on Crime
"People have got to have an answer or they're going to be somewhat publicly embarrassed in front of their peers," he said. "I also get to hear from sergeants I would not normally see. It's a way of identifying talent."
It is also a way to rivet attention on the department's principal task: countering crime.
In contrast to Mr. Bratton's approach, said Lawrence Sherman, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland, most police chiefs concentrate their energies on logistical and administrative matters rather than actual law enforcement.
"Police officers should think in terms of patterns," he said. "But all too often they have thought in terms of individual cases and of schedules and maintenance. Innovative police agencies are oriented to problem solving, and this is a big switch."
Hubert Williams, the president of the Police Foundation, a research organization in Washington, and a former director of police in Newark, said the meetings "set the tone and tenor" for Mr. Bratton's department.
"He's obviously opening up lines of communication and establishing methods by which he can effect control over a very, very large department," Mr. Williams said.
The meetings are clearly a departure from the past. Patrick V. Murphy, who ran the Police Department under Mayor John V. Lindsay in the early 1970's, followed a military-style chain of command. He talked to the brass and they talked to the troops. Lee P. Brown, who came to New York from Houston to work for Mayor David N. Dinkins and introduced the concept of community policing in New York, met weekly with his senior civilians and officers and individually with precinct commanders. His successor, Raymond W. Kelly, met weekly with his senior aides.
"Internal communications are not very good in most police departments," said Mr. Murphy, who is the director of the police policy board of the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington.
The Nation; Guys, Dolls and Winning the War on Crime
The Bratton-Maple partnership was a major reason that Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was able to keep his campaign promise to reduce crime, which so impressed voters that, in today's mayoral free-for-all, all the candidates feel compelled to announce that they will continue the effort, even as they maneuver to distance themselves from some of the brutality that came with it.
Mr. Maple pressed for more and better information. He demanded crime numbers from each precinct daily, not once every six months. These numbers were updated on localized maps. He persuaded Mr. Bratton to have weekly meetings during which Mr. Maple and other commissioners debriefed precinct, narcotics and squad commanders, a system that became known as Compstat.
Today, about one-third of the nation's larger police departments have adopted the system, with Baltimore applying it to its entire government. Recently, Mr. Giuliani has been talking about doing the same.
Compstat brought a previously unimaginable level of accountability to the New York Police Department. As Mr. Maple wrote in his book ''The Crime Fighter: Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business'': ''I designed the process knowing that an organization as large as the N.Y.P.D. never gets to Nirvana. Trouble arose only if the commanders didn't know why the numbers were up or didn't have a plan to address the problem.''
Mr. Maple's trip to the top was a long slog, even though he was one of the youngest detectives in the department's history, and despite his record high score on the lieutenant's exam. As a young cave cop, he annoyed his bosses, who hated the large numbers of arrests he made, each of which made more paperwork for them. For his zeal he was once punished by being assigned to the northern Bronx when they knew he lived in southeastern Queens.
Research Links Lead Exposure, Criminal Activity
Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.
The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.
What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.
"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."
Why Did Crime Fall in New York City?
Did the “broken windows” strategy and CompStat drive down crime in New York City in the 1990s?