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NYPD Commissioner Is A Man Caught In The Middle

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NYPD Commissioner Is A Man Caught In The Middle

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NYPD Commissioner Is A Man Caught In The Middle

NYPD Commissioner Is A Man Caught In The Middle

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The ongoing work slowdown by the NYPD puts police commissioner William Bratton in a tough spot. Bratton was hired to improve relations between the NYPD and the community, as he's credited with doing in Los Angeles. But first, he will have to ease tensions between city hall and the department's rank-and-file.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. We turn now to the fraught relationship between the nation's largest police force, the mayor of New York and the man who's caught in the middle. New York City police Commissioner William Bratton met today with the heads of the city's police unions in an effort to rebuild trust between City Hall and the departments rank-and-file. NPR's Joel Rose has this profile.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Commissioner William Bratton had harsh words this week for the scores of officers who turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funerals for Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

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POLICE COMMISSIONER WILLIAM BRATTON: The selfishness of that action. A funeral is not a place for that.

ROSE: But in practically the same breath, Bratton also said this...

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BRATTON: At the same time, I compliment the 20,000-plus who did what you'd expect at a funeral - They stood, saluted and honored their comrades who had passed.

ROSE: It shows the narrow line Bratton is trying to walk - on the one hand, show support for his rank-and-file, and on the other, back a mayor who swept into office on a promise to rein in over-policing of minority communities. Now, on top of all that, Bratton is dealing with a de facto work slowdown - arrests and summonses for minor offenses are down dramatically. Police union leaders deny coordinating it, but they're clearly furious at de Blasio. They say he contributed to an anti-police climate by not cracking down on protests after the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in police custody, a climate the unions think fed into the shooting deaths of officer Ramos and Liu. Now the anger may be extending to Bratton. Edward Mullins is the head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association.

EDWARD MULLINS: Commissioner Bratton had a huge amount of credibility coming into this position, and I think that a lot of it's been tainted at this point. So what everyone's looking at now is that the commissioner is doing the mayor's bidding for him.

ROSE: With his silver hair and thick Boston accent, Bratton looks and sounds like a throwback to another era of policing.

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BRATTON: In my heart, in my soul, I always will be a cop. And I use that term proudly.

ROSE: Bratton spoke at the NYPD graduation ceremony last month and he reflected on his own graduation in 1970.

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BRATTON: One day after my 23rd birthday, with 155 other young men, of 155 of us in a very racially-diverse city, there were only three minority officers.

ROSE: But despite the old-school exterior, Bratton has continued to reinvent himself and his profession. He took over the NYPD for the first time in 1994, when he introduced reforms like CompStat, a system that tracks crime and arrests. And he embraced the theory of broken windows - the idea that police should be tough on small quality-of-life crimes to prevent bigger crimes from happening. Crime in New York City dropped for the first time in decades, and departments across the country adopted his innovations. Then in 2002, Bratton took over the top job at the Los Angeles Police Department, which had a terrible relationship with minority communities.

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CONSTANCE RICE: I introduced myself and I said, welcome, Chief Bratton, my name's Connie Rice, and please don't take this personally, but, I will be filing a lawsuit against you next week.

ROSE: That Constance Rice, a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles, speaking to NPR's Morning Edition last month.

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RICE: And you know what he said to me? Connie, don't sue me. Come inside and help me. I've got to change these cops.

ROSE: She credits Bratton with transforming the LAPD's relationship with communities of color, and she thinks he can do the same in New York. That's clearly what Mayor de Blasio was hoping when he brought Bratton back to New York a year ago. But that change hasn't been happening fast enough for everyone, as protests continue over Eric Garner.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Bill Bratton has got to go. Hey, hey. Ho, ho.

ROSE: Monifa Bandele is with Communities United for Police Reform.

MONIFA BANDELE: We really need to see this new Bratton that was touted when he came back from LA.

ROSE: Bandele says the department's emphasis on the broken windows theory leads to too many arrests in minority neighborhoods.

BANDELE: The broken windows piece is just critically important, and we see it as directly connected to what happened to Eric Garner.

ROSE: But Bratton defends broken windows, he says many communities want the police to go after minor offenses. That hasn't been happening much in the past few weeks during the NYPD's apparent work slowdown. But Bratton doesn't sound worried. At a press conference in December, he described the current tension as a change moment, much like when he became a cop in the 1970s.

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BRATTON: We have transformed the NYPD over that 40-year period of time where we have some of the lowest, if not lowest, rates of use of force of any police department in the United States. And I think I can successfully predict that we will come out of this better and stronger as we go forward.

ROSE: If William Bratton is right about that, he may be the one who gets much of the credit.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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