Police Commissioner Bratton Speaks At The National Network For Safe Communities Conference


Good morning, and welcome to New York City.

You’ve come to this city at a propitious moment. The topics of your conference—the idea that we must strengthen the bond between police and the communities they serve; the idea that we can have a safer and fairer city, everywhere for everyone; the idea that achieving it is a shared responsibility between communities and the criminal justice system—these topics are as of-the-moment as anything can be.
The crisis that policing, and law-enforcement, and courts, and prisons—and America, really—the crisis we face is the most serious I have seen in my forty-five-year career. It rivals and in some respects exceeds that of the 1960s. It’s center-stage because of last summer’s and last fall’s events, specifically, police-involved incidents during which black citizens died, in Staten Island, Ferguson, Dayton, and other places, as well as the protests and unrest that followed, and the assassinations of Detectives Liu and Ramos that followed that, and deaths of officers here and elsewhere since.
These events precipitated the crisis but they’re not the crisis itself. The crisis isn’t systemic police brutality, which is no longer part of our profession. And the crisis isn’t “racist police terror,” as a protester’s sign proclaimed. No, the crisis is about an abiding unfairness, a durable dissatisfaction.
It’s about a Great Divide between police and some of the community in our most troubled, vulnerable neighborhoods. Neighborhoods where poverty bites deepest, where jobs are most scarce, where schools are most challenged.
In my city, those neighborhoods are largely neighborhoods of color. Probably that’s the case in your cities, too, although it’s not the case everywhere, because disadvantage has many shades, and crime comes in many hues.
We belong to a noble profession, and this country’s freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear—rest upon the public safety we provide. The best parts of America’s history would have been impossible without the fair application of law and order. But some of the worst parts of our history, and particularly black history, would have been impossible without a perverted, oppressive law and order, too.
And it doesn’t matter that a lot of those worst parts happened before many of us were even born. Segregation and Jim Crow survived into the 1960s, only fifty years ago. What matters is that our history follows us like a second shadow—one we can’t shake. We can never underestimate the impact these had… The hate, and the injustice, and the lost opportunities—for all of us.
In his book Don’t Shoot, David Kennedy called it “the mirror-image catastrophe.” It’s the pernicious racial mistrust between community and cop. But where does this leave us, the police, the prosecutors, the people who practice public safety? Because law and order should never be the tool of oppression, not today. And while unfairness and inequality persist, we, as police, face a truth that some others would rather deny. We speak the truth about the world we experience.
In our most vulnerable communities, the vulnerable are often victimized by their own. In New York City—where half of our citizens are black and Hispanic—blacks and Hispanics commit 95% of our shootings. And blacks and Hispanics represent 96% of our shooting VICTIMS. This disparity exists across all violent crime, although it is not as stark as with shootings.
And yet, again — where does this leave us? We cannot forget what is behind us, nor the legacies still with us—but we cannot ignore the duty laid before us. And that duty is to make it right.
That duty is to achieve a true PUBLIC safety—one in which both security and the community are equally emphasized; one in which the wellbeing of our neighborhoods, our cities, our country belongs to the police AND the public. A common purpose. Because public safety are police legitimacy are a shared responsibility. That is the very essence of our democracy.
The fact that we’re safer today is indisputable. This city’s crime decline since 1990 is well known—an 80% decrease in overall major crime, with murders falling from 2,245 to 333 last year, the lowest in six decades. During the same twenty-five-year span, the city’s population has grown by 1.1 million people. Tourist visits nearly doubled, to fifty-six million. Burglaries and robberies are down 86.3% and 83.5% since 1990, and both also saw modern lows in 2014. Robbery, particularly, dropped an astounding 13.5% from 2013 to 2014. And overall major crime is down again so far this year.
But safety without public approval isn’t public safety. Sir Robert Peel told us, almost 200 years ago, that “the police are the public and the public are the police,” and that police depend on public approval.
On that score, our surveys tell us that, overall, we’re doing well. A Quinnipiac poll in May showed 56% of New Yorkers approve of how the police do their job. Congress would kill for an approval rating like that—but that’s a pretty low bar. It’s not enough. Particularly because, when you break those poll numbers down by race or neighborhood, what we see is less rosy.
We don’t need to bridge the Great Divide between the police and the community—we need to close it.
How do we do it? There’s no one path. There are many, being tried by police leaders throughout the country. They all require partners. They all require that, as the President said when he appointed Loretta Lynch as our new Attorney General last week, we use the law as our map, and justice as our compass. And they all require work—because none of this will be easy.
This crisis we’re in didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen last summer, and it’s not going to be fixed by wishing. But as one of my predecessors as police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, once said: “I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life; I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Our challenge… our opportunity… our shared responsibility… our common cause… is to close the gap, once and for all.
So there are many paths. I’d like to tell you about some of the ways the NYPD is doing this. Ceasefire is one path, and that’s why we’re using it here in New York. I’m proud to say that I’ve been a supporter of the model since a much younger David Kennedy showed up in my office in Boston in 1993, shortly before I left the position of Boston Police Commissioner to become New York City Police Commissioner in 1994.
Most of you know the model, and NYC Ceasefire is no different. Together with a wide range of partners—such as the Brooklyn DA, the US Attorney, the ATF, probation and parole, Corrections, and social-service providers and other community members—we hold meetings, or “call ins,” with members of the groups who commit the bulk of the violence in our vulnerable communities. And then we follow the steps: One, focus on the groups, not individuals within the crews. Two, use the call ins to promise you’ll hold them accountable for what they’ve been doing, but let them know you’re giving them a chance to change first. Three, make an extreme example of the first group that breaks the pact, as you promised. And four, support the ones who abide by the pact—because you have to keep that part of the promise, also.
Hearing that from us—and from the wide range of government and community partners at the call ins—is what makes Ceasefire different. It’s worked across the country, and we’re confident it will work here. But we’re working on other things, as well.
Many of them coalesce around what we at the NYPD call “the Five Ts” — Trust, Training, Technology, Terrorism, and Tackling Crime. The purpose of these Five Ts is ensuring that we get both halves of “public safety” right. And that’s why the first T is TRUST. It’s the one we have to have, and it’s the one the others lead to. NYC Ceasefire is part of establishing trust. So are programs like Project Reset, which allows young nonviolent misdemeanor offenders to be diverted to community justice centers, rather than appearing before a judge.
Another big component has been changing the way we use certain tools. Reasonable suspicion stops—or “stop, question, and frisk”—are an integral, lawful part of policing. But this Department was using the tool too often. And at the scale at which it was used, it ceased to have the effect it was meant to have — and instead actively undermined our relationship around minority communities. It effectively eroded police legitimacy. My predecessor, Commissioner Ray Kelly, like me, evidently saw this. During his administration, from a high of nearly 700,000 in 2011, reasonable-suspicion stops decreased 22% in 2012, and they decreased 72% from 2011 to 2013.
During 2014, my and Mayor de Blasio’s first year, reasonable suspicion stops were down 93% from their 2011 high. We still use the tool—it’s indispensable to policing—but we use it in a more focused and impactful way. The rate of arrest has more than doubled, from 5.9% in 2011 to 14.5% last year. This decline, combined with declines in summonses and misdemeanor arrests, has led to something I call “the Peace Dividend.” Last year, when compared to their respective recent highs, there were more than 800,000 fewer stops, summonses, and arrests. Now, that doesn’t automatically mean 800,000 fewer contacts—it means 800,000 fewer instances in which enforcement was the outcome. Cops are still interacting with people in this great city, but they’re learning that there are alternatives to enforcement that can create equivalent changes in behavior. And complaints against police officers to the CCRB are down dramatically.
We cannot arrest our way out of our crime-control challenges. The future should not and cannot be in handcuffs. If a warning works as well as a summons in preventing disorder, we want officers to use the warning.
The key to Broken Windows and quality-of-life enforcement—and make no mistake, I still believe in and adhere to Broken Windows, and so does the mayor, and so do the people of this city according to the most recent Quinnipiac poll—the key to Broken Windows is stopping low-level disorder and petty crime before they can metastasize into more serious crime.
In the 1970s and 1980s, we stopped policing minor crime. We neglected the first of Sir Robert Peel’s nine tenets: “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.” We neglected prevention and we neglected disorder. You sweat the small stuff before it becomes the big stuff. But arrests and summonses aren’t the only answer.
Broken Windows is not “zero tolerance,” and it never was. It focuses on behavior and probable cause. Addressing conditions doesn’t automatically mean an enforcement action. But in order for officers to exercise this kind of discretion, we have to train them.
This brings us to our second T, TRAINING. In training, we’re simultaneously going back to basics and breaking new ground. For many years, rookie officers were assigned to high-crime Operation IMPACT zones right after they graduated from the Police Academy. Our newest cops learned the enforcement aspects of policing at the expense of the community-oriented aspects. To fix this, we’ve established a full-scale field-training program for our newest officers. We team them up with Partner Officers, specially selected senior officers who act as partners, coaches, and mentors. I want our newest cops, during their first six months, to be out there with our best, so they can learn the right way to do the Job and lay foundations for the next 20 years.
These Partner Officers also work with hundreds of community partners who volunteer to introduce new officers to the neighborhood. For the first time, we’re training veteran officers, too, giving them three days yearly of intensive training in managing street encounters—defusing situations, and safely resolving the ones that can’t be defused. And in conjunction with a federal monitor, we’re also giving new training on reasonable suspicion, so that invaluable tool can be used as it’s meant to be used.
We’re supporting our officers, rookies and veterans alike, with new TECHNOLOGY, the next of the Five Ts. We’re piloting body cameras, and have more than 50 officers currently using them in the field. Although there are challenges associated with the cameras, such as cost, privacy, and policy, ultimately, I envision they’ll be as ubiquitous as radios.
Another technology initiative, one that is an integral part of the Five Ts, is our mobile digital program. Smartphones are being given to nearly every officer and tablets are being installed in nearly every patrol car. Their deployment allows a democratization of data across the entire Department. Patrol officers in the field will be able to use automated translation services, access universal search capabilities, complete NYPD forms, and even take fingerprints. And by linking mobile digital to our Domain Awareness System—including license-plate readers and CCTV cameras—we make every cop a partner in the fight against terror.
With regard to TERRORISM, our fourth T, the threat has changed dramatically in the past year. Organized attacks like the one in Paris remain part of the threat picture. But now there is also the “lone wolf” model of ISIS. To address this new, more complicated reality, the NYPD is changing our Critical Response Command, or CRC. Instead of drawing hundreds of officers from patrol precincts each day and depleting local patrol resources, the CRC will be staffed with dedicated personnel, equipped and trained to counter active-shooters and other types of terrorist attack.
And by leaving patrol cops on patrol, we augment our final T, TACKLING CRIME. This part hinges on a new Neighborhood Policing model that represents the culmination of my nearly 50 years in policing. A regular refrain in the conversation about bridging the divide between police and the community is that, despite training or new technologies, nothing will change until the police culture changes. Community policing has long been held up as the way to do that, but until now, we’ve never been able to really operationalize it.
For too long, “community policing” has been a program, rather than a philosophy. We separate the officers who do it from the ones who answer jobs, or catch bad guys. Our vison of community policing, “Neighborhood Policing,” changes that. Neighborhood policing is about establishing a real connection between cops and a neighborhood—its problems, its people, and its potential. It’s about the three Ps of community policing: partnership, problem solving, and prevention. It’s about shared responsibility and common purpose.
It starts with steady sectors, and putting the same cops in the same place every day. The same citizens become recurrent parts of each officer’s daily work. For citizens, officers become more than their uniforms, they become mainstays of the neighborhood.
Then we add in the position of Neighborhood Coordinating Officers, or NCOs—something borrowed from my time with the LAPD, and their Senior Lead Officer model. As I said, this is the culmination of a long career, and I’m taking what works from here, there, and everywhere, starting with Peel’s Nine Principals. The NCOs are dedicated to specific sectors, but unlike traditional community affairs cops, they’re in the field to address conditions and crime. Together with the steady sectors, they prioritize problems and leverage NYPD assets and partners to fix them.
I believe this model will be a great step forward in our effort to close the gap. We already have four pilot precincts up and running. Cops want to connect to the people they serve—it’s why they were called to the Job. That’s why we call it a calling. Neighborhood Policing fosters this connection. And as the relationship takes root, trust grows—which brings us full-circle within the Five Ts. Cops and community, collaborating towards their mutual interest: a true PUBLIC SAFETY.
With all of this, from Ceasefire to mobile digital to Neighborhood Policing, we have the opportunity to make our communities safer and fairer, everywhere for everyone. We have the opportunity to make public safety a shared responsibility that all of us embrace. And if we get it right, that’s a legacy. And we will get it right, I’m convinced of that, just as I was convinced in 1994 that we could defeat New York City’s crime, just as I was convinced in Los Angeles that we could decrease that city’s crime and bridge its racial divide.
But to accomplish this, to create the change, we must embrace it. To paraphrase Gandhi, “To create change we must become the change.” The criminal-justice sphere, and we, its leaders, can’t lose this opportunity to continue the journey of change that we’ve been on, the constant evolution of our profession.
Now the real work begins. Let’s not repeat history. Let’s make it. Let’s seize the opportunity that this crisis provides and successfully address the challenge of the 21st Century. Let’s all lead lives of significance. Let’s all have lives that matter and that have profound and lasting impact. Let’s all embrace the need to change.
Thank you.