Privacy SOS

On Bill Bratton and the police-industrial complex

During the 2013 election, New York major-elect Bill DeBlasio pledged an overhaul of the NYPD's most renegade policies, among them stop and frisk. But then he announced his intention to appoint Bill Bratton —  the inventor of the controversial tactic and advocate of the 'broken windows' policing strategy — as police commissioner.

The mayor-elect wants the public to give Bratton a chance as someone who can bridge gaps and heal community-police relations. But lots of people in New York and beyond are very upset about Bratton's appointment, citing his history and support for stop and frisk, broken windows policing, and COMPSTAT. That's all bad, but there's a lot more you probably don't know about the big city police chief.

A new report in TruthOut shines a glaring light on some of Bill Bratton's lesser known and little discussed accomplishments, among them becoming the embodiment of the revolving door between the private and public sectors at the municipal police level. As I told journalist Darwin Bond Graham,

"What's troubling about the past decade is that for a long time we've had this revolving-door problem called the military-industrial complex. But now, the military-industrial complex has morphed into a military-industrial-surveillance complex, and it has connected all the way down to the local police through federal funding and new surveillance technologies."

Bond Graham's timely, in-depth piece explores how Bill Bratton has long been riding that wave. He might even have been the first top cop to catch it.

Nowhere is the police budget bigger than in New York, and since the late 1990s, New York City's police have led cities across the nation in militarizing local cops and expanding the surveillance state's reach. William J. Bratton, Mayor Bill de Blasio's pick for New York's police commissioner, is more responsible than anyone for expanding the police state in New York and the rest of the country. Bratton is responsible as a cop and as a highly paid private-sector consultant, board member and executive of corporate contractors. De Blasio's selection of William Bratton to run the NYPD yet again makes this Bratton's second term as New York's police commissioner and his fourth spin through the revolving door between public office and private industry. Since the mid-1990s, Bratton has bounced back and forth between police departments and their corporate contractors.

Bratton was a career cop who joined the Boston Police in 1970 and worked his way up through the ranks. By 1986, he was Boston's police chief. After a brief stint in charge of the New York Transit Police from 1990 to 1992, he was appointed New York's police commissioner in 1994. The role gave Bratton a national platform to promote zero tolerance policing policies and to overhaul the NYPD with a corporate-like command and control structure guided by statistical analysis and other methods drawn directly from the business world. Reported rates of crime plummeted in New York City while Bratton was behind the desk at 1 Police Plaza. In fact, crime rates already had been declining for several years. As police commissioner, Bratton readily took credit, but Mayor Rudolph Guiliani forced him out after only two years on the job. Guiliani apparently saw Bratton as a potential competitor for the mayor’s office and a subordinate who was casting too long a shadow.

That sudden dismissal began Bratton's other career as a private security consultant and board member of police-industrial contractors. In 2000, Bratton incorporated The Bratton Group LLC to contract with governments and corporations over security matters. In little time, Bratton was recruited by Michael Cherkasky, a longtime associate and former Manhattan assistant district attorney, to join a team assembled by Kroll Government Services to monitor the LAPD. The department was under a federal court order demanding reforms to address its systemic violation of human rights. Cherkasky's team, including Bratton, was paid $11 million to oversee the LAPD for five years. Bratton, however, left the Kroll monitoring team within the first year, accepting the post of chief of the LAPD.

Read more.

This blog was corrected to reflect that Bratton is an advocate and not the inventor of the broken windows strategy. Thanks to @OLAASM.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.