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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bill Bratton: You Can’t Police Without Stop-And-Frisk

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is pictured February 18, 2014. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is pictured February 18, 2014. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Bill Bratton ran the New York City Police Department (NYPD) from 1994 to 1996 under the Giuliani administration. He is credited with helping to bring down crime in that city during his short tenure.

Bratton is now back in New York City after a stint running the police department in Los Angeles. He has vowed to make the changes that his boss — new Mayor Bill de Blasio — wants, including the overhaul of the controversial stop-and-frisk practice, which has been criticized for unfairly targeting minorities.

Still, Bratton defends stop-and-frisk, which he calls “stop, question and frisk.”

“You cannot police without it,” Bratton tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “If you did not have it, then you’d have anarchy.”

Interview Highlights: Bill Bratton

On how he plans to improve the relationship between residents and police

“We’re going about it in several ways. One of the most significant directions we’re going is to reduce the number of ‘stop, question and frisk’ stops by the members of the department. This is a campaign commitment by the newly elected mayor Bill de Blasio. And his selection of me as his police commissioner was that we both believed that there were too many stops in years past and that the city would be better off with fewer stops.”

On the need for ‘stop, question and frisk’

“Stop, question and frisk is a basic tool of policing — not only American policing, around the world. But in United States, it’s defined by the Terry vs. Ohio Supreme Court decision back in the 1960s, which articulated when police can stop and for what purpose. So every police department in America every day does it.”

“The way it was practiced here for the last number of years is that it was overused. And it’s the overuse that then created the negative reaction to the basic policy itself. And the confusion about whether you can police with or without it. You cannot police without it, I’m sorry. It’s — if you did not have it, then you’d have anarchy, being quite frank with you.”

On what went wrong with ‘stop, question and frisk’ in New York City

“A system was devised where twice a year when we graduate our recruit classes, which number in excess of 1,000 officers, that those officers would be surged or assigned into the 10 or 12 highest crime neighborhoods, effectively to make up for the fact that those precincts had lost a lot of full-time officers that normally would have been assigned there when the department had almost 41,000. The problem with that is that those officers, while the most recently trained, were the least experienced. And they were put into neighborhoods where they were, from my perspective, inadequately supervised — there’d be one sergeant covering 10 to 12 of these officers, who were assigned in pairs. And so if they were making stops — and they were encouraged to be very active in making stops — if they were doing it incorrectly, if they were not doing it according to the law, if they were not doing it according to policies and procedures, very often there would be nobody there to correct that inappropriate or incorrect behavior. And so the habits of a 20-year career form very quickly in that first year. So I think that policy, while it’s a sound policy, in its implementation was where the flaws occurred.”

On translating New York City’s success in lowering crime to other major U.S. cities

“There is no one-size-fits-all. It’s a combination of things. Much the same as a doctor looking at patients, each patient is different — how much medicine you use for what illness. So that’s where good mayors and good police chiefs come in to play, in terms of what is the appropriate level of the size of the police force, what is the appropriate activities they engage in. Essential in all instances is to get community cooperation, support and trust. So that’s one of the reasons why in New York there’s so much attention being focused on reducing the stop, question and frisk activities, because particularly in the minority neighborhoods of the city — and unfortunately those areas of the city that have the highest crime rates are some of our minority neighborhoods — that you need the trust, cooperation and collaboration of community residents to really have an impact on crime. Police can’t do it alone. You can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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