Bratton Leaves as NYC Top Cop; Legacy is Debated

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Departing NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo by Policy Echange via Flickr.

William Bratton, who led police departments in Boston, Los Angeles and New York City and saw his crime-fighting strategies copied across the nation, ends his public career today in New York, the Associated Press reports. Bratton, 68, will participate in a traditional “walkout” at police headquarters, where commanders line up to bid him farewell three years into his second stint as police commissioner. Violent crime in the city remains near a modern-day low. It’s not clear how much credit Bratton should get for New York’s transformation from its bloody era of the 1980s and early 1990s. “The idea that the NYPD has a huge impact on crime was always a very dubious claim,” said Eugene O’Donnell of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Bratton fiercely defends the legitimacy of his signature “broken windows” strategy, an idea proposed by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling, that you can deter violent crime by cracking down on lesser types of lawlessness, like graffiti or turnstile jumping. Bratton earned acclaim for his assaults on “quality of life” crimes, and for mining crime data to deploy his forces more effectively. New York City’s homicide rate had already begun to drop in the two years before he became commissioner in 1994, but during his 27-month tenure it plummeted. Between 1993 and 1995, killings fell by 40 percent. Homicides fell another 35 percent in the two years after Bratton left the department, forced out by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Some criminologists say the impact of broken windows on violent crime is minimal.


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