Bratton's Retirement Offers NYPD Opportunities to Implement New Reform Policies, Says LAS Criminal Defense Chief

Tina Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said the retirement of Police Commissioner Bratton offers the NYPD an opportunity" to implement new policies that foster accountability and transparency.”

Luongo told Salon that “We hope that the Mayor and the new senior management team of NYPD are truly committed to real reform and rebuilding bridges that have long been burned by broken windows discriminatory policing of Black and Brown people.”

Disputing Bratton's record: Mass stop-and-frisk is over but "broken windows" endures in NYC

As NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton makes a sudden exit, seemingly naming his own successor without public input, a heated debate over his legacy continues. Bratton has been criticized for abuses committed by the nation’s largest police department — a department which, thanks to flush funding he secured, has dramatically grown under his watch. But Bratton has also presided over the termination of the NYPD’s most controversial enforcement measure, dragnet stop-and-frisk. Hailed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a key crime-fighting strategy, Bratton has proven doom-and-gloom naysayers wrong by dramatically reducing stops while presiding over historically low crime rates.

“Nothing’s perfect but this really shows that police departments can do what the public is demanding right now, which is to hugely reduce the way they’re using enforcement, especially in minority communities, and also produce more safety,” says David Kennedy, director of John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s National Network for Safe Communities. “That’s what people want.”

It’s not just that, according to city data. The number of people from New York City in jail and state prison has plummeted, as have marijuana arrests and criminal summonses (though pot arrests rose sharply at the beginning of this year).

Bratton, however, had protesters calling for his resignation until the very end thanks to his continued and fervent embrace of broken-windows policing, which targets small-scale quality of life offenses. Like stop-and-frisk, broken windows is sold as a measure that decreases more serious crime.

“We are glad that Bratton is leaving,” says Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, senior community organizer at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Absolutely. We never wanted him in the first place.” Mayor Bill de Blasio “ran his campaign primarily on stop and frisk and racially discriminatory policing—and then to hire Bratton was a huge slap in the face.”

The anger over Bratton’s appointment exploded in July 2014, when he and de Blasio were confronted with widespread demonstrations after Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Eric Garner, suspected of selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island, into a fatal chokehold.

Bratton deserves credit for ending mass stop and frisk, says Brooklyn College sociologist Alex Vitale, and for reducing enforcement of some other low level offenses—like issuing summonses instead of making arrests for requesting MTA card swipes. But “on the other side of the ledger,” he says, there has been “no real accountability for officers involved either in excessive use of force or corruption and misconduct.”

“Broken windows policing,” Vitale continues, “is going full tilt and has even been enhanced in some areas like going after homeless folks…broken windows policing is alive and well in New York, and it’s going to continue as long as the mayor believes in it. And he’s made it clear that he does.”

The number of New Yorkers caught up in the system due to broken windows policing, before and during Bratton, is enormous: NYPD issued 1,839,414 “quality-of-life” summonses between 2010 and 2015 for offenses ranging from public urination to drinking in public. The rate of quality-of-life enforcement, however, declined sharply after Garner’s death. The incoming commissioner, James P. O’Neill, will face continued resistance on broken windows—especially given that, according to a recent report from the NYPD’s inspector general, there is “no evidence” that such enforcement has any effect in decreasing crime.

“Issuing summonses and making misdemeanor arrests are not cost free. The cost is paid in police time, in an increase in the number of people brought into the criminal justice system and, at times, in a fraying of the relationship between the police and the communities they serve,” the report stated. “Given the costs of summons and misdemeanor arrest activity, the lack of a demonstrable direct link suggests that NYPD needs to carefully evaluate how quality-of-life summonses and misdemeanor arrests fit into its overall strategy for disorder reduction and crime control.”

Complaints about broken windows continue to span the city. In East Harlem, homeless people complain that the NYPD is engaged in a crackdown that seems aimed at making their life in the neighborhood impossible. In recent years, more than a hundred thousand summonses have still been issued each year for open container. And the Police Reform Organizing Project complains that people of color made up 86.5% of misdemeanor arrests for the first three months of the year.

“The retirement of Commissioner Bratton is an opportunity to implement new policies that foster accountability and transparency,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Practice of the Legal Aid Society, in a statement. “We hope that the Mayor and the new senior management team of NYPD are truly committed to real reform and rebuilding bridges that have long been burned by broken windows discriminatory policing of Black and Brown people.”