If Bill Bratton’s record in Los Angeles is any guide, New York will see little dramatic reduction in the police tactic of stop-and-frisk but improved targeting and community relations will soothe resentment.
New York’s newly named police commissioner presided over a surge of stop-and-frisk while running the LA police department but softened the political impact by reaching out to black and Latino community leaders.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who was elected on a promise of curbing the controversial tactic, appears to be calculating his appointee will finesse but not end it. Critics say the policy in its current form unfairly targets young minority men, an accusation which dogged the outgoing mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Bratton, 66, who served as New York’s police commissioner from 1994 to 1996 before moving to LA, repeated his support for stop-and-frisk in a briefing to reporters on Thursday, saying it should be used in correct doses, like chemotherapy.
“At a time when police and community should be so much closer together, that there should be a bond of legitimacy and trust between them, it’s not the case in so many communities in this city. It’s unfortunate. But it can be corrected.”
During his 2002-2009 stint in LA, he had helped bring “a police force that was literally at war with its African American community … to a position now … where there has been incredible improvement in those relationships,” he said. “That can happen and will happen here in New York City.”
Even before formally taking over a police department scarred by race riots, corruption and brutality, Bratton sought out black leaders like John Mack, then head of the Los Angeles Urban League, and civil rights attorney Connie Rice. Rice warned she would sue him, as she did his predecessors, but he invited her to help him reform a force still tainted by the beating of Rodney King.
A force dominated by white males, many war veterans, strengthened civilian oversight and recruited more minorities – today almost half the 10,000 officers are Hispanic. “We were seen as some type of invading army,” Gus Villanueva, a veteran detective, told the Guardian last year. “But the reason was [the level of] violence on the streets. We were running from one disaster to another.”
The LAPD’s improved image coincided, however, with a 49% spike in stops of pedestrians and motorists from 2002 to 2008, according to a Harvard Kennedy School report. Blacks comprised 9% of the city’s population but accounted for 23% of all those stopped. Over the same period the number of stops which led to arrests doubled from 15% to 30%, suggesting the police tended to have good reason.
In contrast, from 2002 to 2012 only about 6% of NYPD stops led to an arrest, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Black people comprise about a quarter of the population but accounted for over half those stopped.
Despite Bratton’s diplomatic outreach, the LAPD faced growing accusations of racial profiling during his term. Critics, citing traffic stop data, said police stopped too many black people and Latinos, treated them differently and failed to properly investigate complaints. The department never found an officer guilty of racial profiling.
De Blasio played down those LA criticisms when he unveiled Bratton as his pick. “The community came to understand that the stops that were necessary were being done for a good reason,” he said. “There was that communication, that sense of legitimacy, and an appreciation.”
In an interview with the New Yorker before his appointment, Bratton said stop-and-frisk was fundamental to policing. “It has to be done respectfully, and it has to be done consistently … but it has to be done.”
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