William J. Bratton Remarks at NOBLE Friday, March 13, Atlanta, GA

On March 13, at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE) William R. Bracey CEO Symposium, New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton delivered a powerful message about the state of policing in New York City and across the nation. He addressed historical wrongs the police have done; acknowledged tensions, both past and recent; and presented a vision for the NYPD to “set right” relations with the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods by hearing their input and providing improved public safety.

William J. Bratton Remarks at NOBLE William R. Bracey CEO Symposium, Friday, March 13, Atlanta, GA

Good morning.

For almost 50 years, I’ve been on a journey in American policing.

Fifty years of evolution, revolution—crisis and opportunity.

We’re here during a crisis moment in the journey. It’s a time of challenge, and it’s daunting, but it should be exciting, too—for everyone in this room.

We have a chance to change things.

To advance the profession we love.

To work with the people we protect and the people we lead.

The crisis is 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, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and other places—as well as the protests and unrest that followed.

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 protestor’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.

Maybe that’s the case in your cities, too—although it’s not 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 as I said during a Black History Month event in Queens a few weeks ago, some of the worst parts of black history would have been impossible without a perverted, oppressive law and order, too.

Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, lynchings, blockbusting…

None of us did these things.

None of us were troopers on the bridge at Selma.

But it doesn’t matter that these things happened before many of us were even born.

What matters is that our history follows us like a second shadow.

We can never underestimate the impact these had…

The hate, and the injustice, and the lost opportunities—for all of us.

But where does this leave us, the police?

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.

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.

But where does this leave us, the police?

We cannot forget what is behind us, nor the legacies still with us—but we cannot ignore the duty laid before us.

As police, that duty is two-fold:

As police, we must prevent crime and disorder.

As police, we must fix what we’ve done and what we continue to do wrong.

It’s ours to set right.

It’s the crisis, it’s the challenge, it’s the opportunity.

The good news in my city is that crime and disorder are lower than ever in modern memory.

That’s the case in America over the last 20 years, and in many of your communities—although not in all.

At the same time, the police profession is changing practices that did more to alienate those we serve than protect them.

Take, for example, stop, question, and frisk.

It’s a critical, necessary tool—but it was being overused.

In 2011, NYPD officers stopped nearly 700,000 people, with a 6% arrest rate.

Last year, we did 46,000 reasonable-suspicion stops, with an arrest rate two-and-a-half times higher.

The bad news is that in the communities where we’re most needed, our presence is still most fragile.

Last year, we conducted a first-of-its-kind, citywide survey.

It proved what we sensed: in the neighborhoods that call us most, where crime still hangs on tightest, where we deploy most often, people are least satisfied.

Whereas 70% of all New Yorkers said the NYPD’s relations with people in neighborhoods were positive, 54% of black men under 40 said neighborhood relations were negative.

Black men are more than twice as likely as other New Yorkers to rate the NYPD’s job performance as poor or very poor.

People who feel unsafe in their neighborhoods are far more likely to be dissatisfied, too—even when that feeling does not necessarily correlate to actual crime rates.

So crime’s down, and people, even in the toughest neighborhoods, are safer than ever.

And police are more restrained than ever, and we’ve dialed back on some of the most publicized practices that strained community relations.

But then came this summer and this fall.

Grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island sent people into the streets.

And for a while it seemed that all the work we had done—improved collaboration with community groups, new programs that explore alternatives to arrest, enhanced training that emphasizes conflict resolution and safety—it seemed all that would be obscured by protests and anger at the police.

Dissatisfaction was more pronounced than ever.

It took tragedy to quell the greatest excesses of this—the terrible assassination of two officers who were everything we’d want community cops to be.

In the wake of that, people took a moment to SEE each other—to see past their preconceptions.

At two of the largest funerals in our city’s history, thousands of mourning cops let people SEE them, united in grief and the knowledge that it could have been any one of them, yet always willing to put on their belts and their vests and keep their city safe.

And the people let the cops see THEM, as our communities shared the sorrow, and brought food and flowers to their precincts, and acknowledged the profound promise every cop makes when he or she swears the oath.

In my city, I will not squander that.

In this country, we cannot squander that.

Not while other officers go out every day, into harm’s way and the uncertainty of America’s streets.

Officers like Robert Wilson, who sacrificed everything for Philadelphia, who fought until the end, whose wake is today, with our good friend and great colleague Chuck Ramsey in attendance.

The assassinations of my officers, of Detectives Rafael Ramos and Joe Liu, they gave us breathing room—but the crisis of American policing is still out there.

Recent incidents on LA’s skid row, or in Madison, Wisconsin—or right here in Atlanta—prove it.

This crisis is greater than any our profession has faced since the height of the late 20th Century crime wave.

We surmounted that crisis by fundamentally transforming policing.

We undid decades of reactive policies and adopted accountability processes like Jack Maple’s CompStat.

We refocused on old lessons that had been pushed aside like Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles, which reminded us of our purpose: preventing crime and disorder.

We can do it again.

Twenty-five years ago, our public-safety crisis was about safety.

Today, our public-safety crisis is about the PUBLIC half of that equation.

Twenty-five years ago, we gave cops permission to be cops again.

Because crime was out of control, we made controlling crime—and disorder—our priority.

And we started measuring.

We measured commands and commanders and, ultimately, cops.

And we held them accountable.

As a profession we accepted our responsibility for reducing and preventing crime.

It’s true, many of our measures were enforcement-based, because enforcement was needed to prevent crime.

But we didn’t just measure success in arrests and response times.

We learned that we can’t arrest our way out of the crime problem.

The future could not be in handcuffs.

In New York, crime plummeted: 39% overall from 1993 to 1996, with murders falling by half.

Quality of life improved dramatically and disorder was brought under control.

And CompStat was scalable—when we put it into action in L.A., we saw the same results.

Other jurisdictions saw them, too.

But when I left L.A. and moved back to New York as a private citizen, I noticed something: the crime-prevention outcome—the results—was being confused with the enforcement inputs—the means.

When we designed CompStat, “more” was never the point.

“Safer” was the point.

And in New York, we’ve returned the system to its roots.

We care about results, not numbers.

It’s what the numbers represent that matters.

In 1994, what mattered was crime, and we needed numbers that represented crime, that got crime-control results.

In 2015, what matters is citizen satisfaction—and there’s the rub.

We often don’t have numbers that reflect that.

Without citizen-satisfaction numbers, we can’t hold commanders, much less officers, accountable for it.

“You can expect what you inspect,” as the late, great Jack Maple used to say.

But we’ve never been able to inspect the community’s satisfaction with our service.

Until now.

Mobile digital technology can be the accelerator.

These days, the majority of 911 calls are made with a cellphone.

And most complainants give cellphones as contacts.

Imagine a system that sends automatic text messages containing very short citizen-satisfaction surveys to every 911 caller—and every complainant, and domestic-incident reporter, and accident reporter, and every service recipient who provides a cellphone number or email address—within 24 hours.

Such a system will let us start listening—in a way we never have.

Because just as we needed to SEE each other after the sacrifice of Detectives Ramos and Liu, we need to HEAR each other, too.

We’ll be able to HEAR how citizens FEEL—about their neighborhoods, about their police—and we won’t be limited to crime-rate proxies about their sense of safety.

This system will go beyond the one-time, citywide survey we conducted, which was so instructive and provided such an important baseline.

This system will be real time, continual, and pegged not only to commands but to specific officers.

THIS is how we bridge the divide.

We LISTEN to the community.

We absorb the feedback.

And we make every police-citizen interaction an act of collaboration.

We make the community active partners.

And by linking survey results to commands and specific officers, we teach commanders and cops to make citizen satisfaction a priority.

Evaluate a cop according to response time, and he’ll wait to pick up Jobs or put himself on scene before he rolls up.

Evaluate a cop according to enforcement, and she’ll dial back her discretion, and use admonitions more and more sparingly.

The trick is to evaluate multi-dimensionally.

We can measure cops according to enforcement AND citizen satisfaction AND correcting conditions.

Most officers, when we give them expectations, they’ll meet them.

We don’t abandon crime-fighting: it’s the core of what we do.

But we can do more than fight crime: we can provide PUBLIC SAFETY.

This is our chance.

This is the crisis of a generation in our profession.

We can confront the things we need to do better.

It’s ours to set right.

We have the opportunity to try and make our communities safer AND fairer.

And if we get it right—the fairer part, especially, because we already do the safer part very well—that’s a legacy.

But to accomplish this, to create the change, we must embrace it.

To paraphrase the Indian civil rights leader Gandhi, “To create change we must become the change.”

The police profession and us, its leaders, can’t lose this opportunity to continue the journey of change that we have been on.

Now the real work begins.

Let’s not repeat history, let’s make it.

Let’s lead it.


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