RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
Not long ago, New York City in movies and TV shows, in music and in the popular imagination, was a dangerous, chaotic and disorderly place. The number of murders in New York peaked in 1990, when 2,245 people were killed. Also in 1990, Bill Bratton took command as chief of the New York City Transit Police. Later, he became commissioner of the entire NYPD. During those years and in the years following, the city saw a precipitous drop in the murder rate and similar drops in violent crimes, burglary and vehicle theft.
Crime in New York has continued to drop even as the city has climbed to historic heights in population. This year, there have been fewer than 300 murders in the city, the lowest total since reliable records have existed. Overall, violent crime has dropped for 27 straight years. Joining us now to discuss the drop is Bill Bratton, who served again as police commissioner from 2014 to '16. We reached him by phone. Thanks for joining us.
BILL BRATTON: Pleasure to be with you.
SUAREZ: You know, sociologists, criminologists, demographers have all had pet theories about why this happened. What's yours? Why is crime down? What's led to these numbers?
BRATTON: The principle cause is that there are many fewer people actually committing crime. So in New York City, the criminal population has shrunk dramatically even as the population has grown dramatically. Today, there are more guards and there are prisoners at Rikers. There are almost 10,000 correctional officers but about 9,000 prisoners on average. But there are many influences that created that reduction in criminals.
Beginning in 1990, the New York City Police Department returned to a mission that was focused on not only dealing with serious crime but also began to focus on disorder which had not been addressed at all in the '70s and '80s. And disorder is described as broken windows, quality of life minor offenses. The basic mission for which the police exists is to prevent crime and disorder. It's that simple.
SUAREZ: During the general decline in violent crime that New York City saw, a lot of other cities mirrored that success. But right now, the murder rate is starting to tick up again in places like Baltimore, Chicago, Louisville, Nashville. Is each city unique and up against things that resist generalization?
BRATTON: Each city is unique. You cannot approach it from a cookie-cutter approach. The challenge now in the 21st century is to take what we know works. Let me give you a quick example. Precision policing in New York City focuses on the gangs and gang members who are committing most of the violent acts in the city apart from the domestic violence, which is still a major part of the violence in America. And with that focus, coordinating and collaborating with the FBI and other federal agencies, state agencies, the department has been able to make phenomenal gains against gangs, much the same as Los Angeles has done the same thing in LA.
So instead of large numbers of stop-question-and-frisks in minority neighborhoods in New York, alienating those neighborhoods, stopping many individuals who are probably not engaged in anything that warranted the stop, crime went down but at an incredible cost to relationships with the minority community. Part of my appointment in 2014 working for Mayor de Blasio, we both committed to the belief that we could reduce even further the number of stop-question-and-frisks and still keep crime going down. Stop-question-and-frisks in New York City this year I think will total about 10,000 versus 700,000 in 2010. And the crime numbers this year in New York City will be historic lows.
SUAREZ: We're on the verge of New Year's Eve celebrations, and Times Square is about to be packed with a million people. Do you have any thoughts about preparation for big crowds in this day and age, especially with people perhaps a little bit more aware because of the recent terrorist attacks?
BRATTON: In terms of the preparations for the event, almost 6,000 police officers will be involved in New Year's Eve security events in New York City - almost 6,000. That's separate from the thousands that are going to be on regular patrol. And just about everything that can be done to protect against every perceived threat will be done. A lot of it will be visible. A lot of it will not be visible - plainclothes officers, the technology that's being used. The idea going into this very celebratory year for New York City as it comes to a close that the expectation is that it will be a very safe event, but as always, that you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
SUAREZ: Bill Bratton was NYPD commissioner from 1994 to 1996 and again from 2014 to 2016. He joined us by phone from New York. Mr. Bratton, thank you. Happy New Year.
BRATTON: Happy New Year to you. Pleasure being with you.
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