Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Bratton

De Blasio’s Unforced Errors Pile Up

Bill de Blasio has just completed his first year in office, but his press clips are starting to make him sound like a lame duck. Today’s New York Times story on de Blasio’s deteriorating relationship with the police is based on “dozens of interviews in recent weeks” with police officers and “senior police leadership.” But in a classic sign of a political team already looking to shift blame, the most damaging anecdote is the one that begins the story, and it clearly signals discomfort within the mayor’s team.

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Bill de Blasio has just completed his first year in office, but his press clips are starting to make him sound like a lame duck. Today’s New York Times story on de Blasio’s deteriorating relationship with the police is based on “dozens of interviews in recent weeks” with police officers and “senior police leadership.” But in a classic sign of a political team already looking to shift blame, the most damaging anecdote is the one that begins the story, and it clearly signals discomfort within the mayor’s team.

The story is headlined “In Police Rift, Mayor de Blasio’s Missteps Included Thinking It Would Pass,” which really does sum up the in-depth piece quite well. But it also signifies a sense of frustration from those around the mayor that too many of his errors are unforced, and that his lack of focus is materially damaging the administration’s image. Here is how the story opens:

Not long after Mayor Bill de Blasio sat beside the Rev. Al Sharpton at a July summit meeting on police reform, a political adviser gave the mayor a blunt assessment: You have a problem with the cops.

Rank-and-file officers felt disrespected by the mayor, the adviser explained, and were dismayed to see Mr. Sharpton, a longtime critic of the New York Police Department, embraced at City Hall.

But Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, rejected the notion that officers disliked him. His message, the adviser later recalled, was clear: Everything was under control.

Everything was not under control, but de Blasio didn’t seem to understand how easily it could have been. In one sense, the exasperation of the mayor’s defenders–especially among those on the mayor’s team who don’t want de Blasio’s anti-cop reputation to stick to them–is understandable. Crime is down, and even the mayor’s critics among the political class, such as former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, plainly reject the accusation that recent police deaths are on de Blasio’s head.

And yet, the police could turn that back on the mayor. After all, they have changed tactics as ordered and have still been able to keep crime low, showing they can adjust to a very different view of police work in the mayor’s office than the view that has prevailed for two decades. (Though to be fair, current Police Commissioner Bill Bratton was commissioner for a spell during that time as well, so there is some continuity–or at least familiarity.)

Giving de Blasio the benefit of the doubt, then, he might not have believed there was a burgeoning crisis between him and the defenders of public safety because there was no crisis in public safety. As far as he was concerned, there was no sign personal animosity behind the scenes was endangering New Yorkers.

Which is why the pattern of seemingly gratuitous mayoral swipes at the police were so baffling. And they undermined the sense that if there were a crisis of some sort, the mayor would have the NYPD’s back. In other words, if the two sides couldn’t get along when the streets were quiet, what would happen when the quiet dissipated? It’s easy to see why the police felt the groundwork was being laid to scapegoat them if need be. The Times explains the relationship from the NYPD’s perspective:

Some bristled when Ms. Noerdlinger, the former Sharpton aide, was named chief of staff to the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray. And when a television reporter caught the mayor’s city-issued S.U.V. speeding, other officers noticed, Mr. de Blasio failed to take responsibility, implicitly faulting his police detail.

And in November, when Mr. de Blasio arrived late to a memorial ceremony in the Rockaways, in Queens, his aides said his police boat had been delayed by fog. The mayor later conceded he had overslept. The incidents left an impression that Mr. de Blasio could undermine the police.

The unease that had been simmering first boiled over in July, after Eric Garner, an unarmed black Staten Island man, died after being placed in a police chokehold. Eager to address the furor, Mr. de Blasio invited journalists to attend a round-table discussion at City Hall, intended as the sort of “come together” moment that he prides himself on.

That’s when things really went off the rails. The Times, which has been supportive of de Blasio, admits “the stagecraft was odd from the start. On the mayor’s right sat Mr. Bratton; on his left was Mr. Sharpton, the symmetry suggesting the two held equal sway in the administration. When Mr. Sharpton began a broadside on law enforcement, the mayor silently looked on.”

The New York Times story is probably intended as a wake-up call. Thanks to his maladroit, and at times just plain lazy, management of city affairs, de Blasio is begging for a primary challenger. The fact that crime has stayed low would help him fend off a Republican, but Democratic mayors of New York don’t usually lose in the general; they get primaried. (Starting with Abe Beame in 1977, three consecutive Democratic mayors were unseated in primaries. Beame didn’t even make it to the runoff that year, in which Ed Koch beat Mario Cuomo.)

And ironically enough, the maintenance of public safety makes it easier for de Blasio to get challenged from the left. This is because the election wouldn’t be about law and order; it would take security for granted, enabling the conversation to focus on things like inequality and social justice. Actually, they would only ostensibly be about those things. In reality, a primary challenge to de Blasio would simply be about identity politics.

The reason the last Democratic mayoral primary wasn’t totally about identity politics is because the strongest candidate archetype was the role played by Anthony Weiner: a candidate with an authentic “from the boroughs” persona. But Anthony Weiner couldn’t get out of his own way, and never gave the voters reason to believe he was a changed man.

De Blasio’s ineptness, if it continues, will almost surely attract serious Democratic opposition. He needs to turn around his public image. But to do that, he’d have to listen to the advice he’s getting. And that would be a change indeed.

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Is Skyrocketing Gun Violence a Wake-Up Call for de Blasio?

Important caveats apply, but the news out of New York City on gun violence is not good. The New York Post reports:

The number of shooting victims has skyrocketed across the city this year — up 43 percent in just the last month — while fewer guns are coming off the streets, NYPD statistics reveal.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly shifted the focus from shootings to a steep decline in homicides, and claims he is not worried about the gun violence.

But sources told The Post it will only get worse in the hotter summer months, and that the alarming trend is the result of a more “reactive” police force handicapped by the inability to use tactics like stop-and-frisk.

“Cops aren’t putting their hands on anyone,” a source said.

It’s early yet, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is not entirely wrong, as a Post editorial concedes, that “Crime goes up, it goes down.” But as the Post also points out, crime fluctuates for a reason. There has always been a contradiction bordering on hypocrisy in liberal calls to crack down on legal gun ownership and Second Amendment rights to reduce gun violence while tying the hands of the police and impeding the proven–and constitutional–efforts to actually reduce gun violence.

Part of the left’s argument against the NYPD was that its “stop and frisk” policy resulted in relatively few arrests. They took this to mean that in such cases the stops themselves were unnecessary. It’s easy to spot the logical flaw here: the point was not to fill the prisons but to prevent crime. Which is exactly what the policy did:

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Important caveats apply, but the news out of New York City on gun violence is not good. The New York Post reports:

The number of shooting victims has skyrocketed across the city this year — up 43 percent in just the last month — while fewer guns are coming off the streets, NYPD statistics reveal.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly shifted the focus from shootings to a steep decline in homicides, and claims he is not worried about the gun violence.

But sources told The Post it will only get worse in the hotter summer months, and that the alarming trend is the result of a more “reactive” police force handicapped by the inability to use tactics like stop-and-frisk.

“Cops aren’t putting their hands on anyone,” a source said.

It’s early yet, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is not entirely wrong, as a Post editorial concedes, that “Crime goes up, it goes down.” But as the Post also points out, crime fluctuates for a reason. There has always been a contradiction bordering on hypocrisy in liberal calls to crack down on legal gun ownership and Second Amendment rights to reduce gun violence while tying the hands of the police and impeding the proven–and constitutional–efforts to actually reduce gun violence.

Part of the left’s argument against the NYPD was that its “stop and frisk” policy resulted in relatively few arrests. They took this to mean that in such cases the stops themselves were unnecessary. It’s easy to spot the logical flaw here: the point was not to fill the prisons but to prevent crime. Which is exactly what the policy did:

Research has converged on the conclusion that a shift from reactive to proactive policing by the N.Y.P.D. has played the crucial role in what the criminologist Franklin Zimring called a “Guinness Book of World Records crime drop.” Starting with community policing under Mayor David Dinkins, and greatly intensifying under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani with the Compstat system’s intensive monitoring of crime, the city flouted the leading theory that police cannot reduce crime but can only respond to it.

While crime rose in many large cities over the past decade, it continued to decline in New York City. Zimring singles out the use of focused vigilance with “hot spot” policing, which began in 2002, as a particularly plausible explanation. Our research shows that a central element of that approach is the increased use of stop and frisk in high-crime neighborhoods.

Yet activist judge Shira Scheindlin embraced the very same logical flaw that the left was trying to push against the NYPD, and dramatically escalated the left’s war-on-the-war-on-crime by including it in a ruling outlawing the practice. That gave ammunition to those seeking to oust the successful police commissioner Ray Kelly, and far-leftist Bill de Blasio’s victory in the mayoral election sealed Kelly’s fate.

Getting rid of Kelly was only an element of the plan to discard the strategies that had helped bring down crime and save the lives of countless New Yorkers, especially those in minority neighborhoods. Now the NYPD is on the defensive because gun confiscation is down and gun violence is up.

Bratton’s spin includes bragging about the fact that while shootings are up, homicides are down. This, as California police officer “Jack Dunphy” (a pseudonym) writes, is not due to police work:

The fact that more people are being shot but fewer of them are dying is more of a testament to the state of emergency medicine in New York than to anything Bratton might be doing. Those two lines on the graph cannot diverge for long, and with the police effectively neutered, the criminal class surely will take advantage.

It’s great that a combination of emergency medicine and, probably, luck has kept the homicide rate from spiking along with the gun violence. But de Blasio must know–and Bratton surely knows–that if the numbers don’t improve soon, or if they get worse, the NYPD better have a strategy to turn things around.

As I’ve written in the past, the success of Rudy Giuliani’s administration may have helped get de Blasio elected by taking a problem off the table for the Democrats, but it will, for the same reason, likely make the voters less willing to give de Blasio a break if things head south. After the Giuliani and Bloomberg years, New Yorkers have had two decades of steadily improving quality of life and have come to expect a degree of safety in the city streets.

Those who have been in the city long enough to remember the situation Giuliani inherited will see its return coming a mile away, and vote accordingly (with their feet if necessary, by leaving the city). Those who have never known a less safe New York may very well panic at the first sign of disintegrating public safety. Either way, de Blasio and Bratton don’t have much room for error. If these numbers are not a fluke, New Yorkers will know precisely who to blame.

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