Commissioner Bill Bratton’s decision to close the second chapter on his New York City tour as head of the nation’s largest police force doesn’t come as a surprise. But it creates a vacuum at a point when Queens and the rest of the city are grappling with a racial divide between the police and the community as well as the threat of terrorism.
Bratton has kept the lid on simmering tensions, which could have exploded on several occasions. A tough cop who earned his stripes as the top crime buster in the country, he faced the black community’s rage over the Eric Garner killing as he made a strong case that the public should still respect the police.
Confronted by dissension in the NYPD ranks over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s views on policing, Bratton reprimanded his forces when they turned their backs on the mayor at a funeral for one of the two NYPD officers assassinated in Brooklyn in December 2014.
Bratton has been a master of the balancing act, overhauling department practices after a federal judge ruled against the wide use of stop-and-risk, which reached record levels in southeast Queens and Jackson Heights. He has tried to build better bridges with the Muslim community and stood solidly behind the members of his department in the public debate over police tactics.
Crime has plummeted across the city under his command since he was tapped by de Blasio in 2014. But the city was a far meaner place back in 1990 when he was named head of the city’s transit police. Homicides peaked at 2,245 that year. He beat back crime and by the time Bratton took over the NYPD from 1994-1996, murders had fallen below the 1,000 mark. He resigned after clashing with law-and-order Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Despite hitting these milestones, Bratton has taken on his toughest assignment in trying to reshape the relationship between the police and the community. His neighborhood policing approach, which puts officers on the ground in high-crime areas, has paid off in the 113th Precinct in South Jamaica, which led the city with a 15 percent drop in felonies in 2015.
But minorities throughout the city still have a deep-seated distrust of the police.
A 45-year veteran, he has new challenges on top of his recent role as a reformer: the threat of reprisals against his officers in the aftermath of police shootings across the country, global terrorism and corruption within his department.
Bratton has kept the city safe despite daunting odds. We wonder what the next chapter will be after he leaves in 2017. A run perhaps for mayor unless he’s had too much of the city.