America’s top cop Bill Bratton weighs in on body cams, Sandra Bland and Sam DuBose

Jul 31, 2015

Mayor De Blasio And Police Chief Bratton Discuss Police Training

New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Bill Bratton attends a press conference after witnessing police being retrained with new guidelines at the Police Academy on Dec. 4, 2014 in the College Point neighborhood of the Queens borough of in New York City. ; Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

There’s a roiling debate about policing in the United States today. Videos revealing police work that was once hidden from public view have gone viral online. In the last two weeks, such video played primary roles in the fatal incidents involving Sandra Bland and Sam DuBose.

We sat down with former LAPD police chief and current NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton to get his take on the state of policing. Bratton is remembered in Los Angeles for his zero-tolerance policy, diversifying the police force, and his “broken windows theory” approach to policing — the idea that vandalism has a signaling effect in urban areas.

Bratton helped lower crime and shape policing in L.A. after the force faced serious race issues in the early 1990s. He said the 21st century is going to be a profound challenge not just for police, but for the public across the nation.

“We’re in the midst of a very profound revolution in so many ways, ” Bratton said. “It’s one of the reasons I came back to policing. … I don’t want to miss this.”

We get Bratton’s take on body cameras, race relations, social media, L.A.’s recent increase in crime stats after decades in decline, his thoughts on counterterrorism and his plans to “re-engineer” the NYPD.

Interview Highlights

On the impact of body cameras and the changes they might bring to policing:

They are going to have a profound influence, I believe. The influence is unknown at this time. We need to understand we are only in the beginning phases of  understanding how to use them. … Police agencies are all watching each other closely, exchanging information closely to determine what are the best policies and practices.

On the public opinion of police:

The New York Times has a major article on the profound effect might have on public opinion of police. I think something else it might have a profound effect on is public opinion of the behavior of the public the police have to deal with. I think that’s going to be one of the benefits. I don’t think the public fully appreciates all that we in the police department, police officers have to face, whether it’s dealing with demonstrations, whether it’s dealing with the encounters with the emotionally disturbed, domestic violence. Cameras are going to have a profound influence going forward on both police performance, behavior, policies and procedures, but I think also hopefully on public behavior and performance.

On the police department and social media:

The impact of the public news media — newspapers, television, etcetera, is going to be significantly outweighed in the future as newspapers begin to disappear, by social media. The NYPD, as many police departments around America are doing, are perfecting our social media capabilities, so we are increasingly able to drive the news and tell the news from our perspective.

In years ahead we won’t have to rely exclusively on [media] to tell the story, we will be able to present a version or a perspective that needs to be seen.

On race relations and community-police relations in New York:

We’re working very very hard to try to regain trust where we lost it, build on trust where we have always had it. We just issued a new department plan of action, we’re investing millions upon millions of dollars in training. Mayor de Blasio has been supportive of the variety of new initiatives. We’re totally reorganizing the NYPD … all of it geared towards having a much more inclusive, much more transparent organization.

On the conduct of officers in videos and the policing of “minor” issues

So often this is going to be the debate going forward … in some instances the videos have clearly indicated officers not operating within the law, operating outside and actually in a criminal behavior in many instances, but it’s also the idea that the public, the reason that we have laws and the reasons we ask the police to enforce them is that the public at some point in time has demanded that there be a law to address something as so frequently described as “minor.”

Well it’s going to be up to the public. If you don’t want us to enforce it, then do away with it, but you kinda ask us to effectively turn a blind eye to behavior that, if we start turning a blind eye to the behavior, it’s the whole theory of broken windows — the idea that you need to pay attention to the minor things, because if left unaddressed, they become much more significant and much more serious.

A lot of these minor disorder offenses that seem to escalate very quickly into the tragedies we’ve seen, some of them could be prevented so easily if the public just understood: 1. You don’t have the ability to resist arrest, and 2. You have an obligation to comply with the police officer’s order. We have the obligation, clearly, to not allow a refusal to the best of our ability escalate to some of the tragedies we’ve recently seen.

This story has been updated.


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