TURNAROUND - How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic
With Peter Knobler
The following excerpt is reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc. New York and Edward W.
Hayes, P.C., literary agent for the author.
Don't stick your neck out. It's the first principle in running a police organization. Never say your goal out loud; you'll only look bad when you don't achieve them.
That's not me.
New York's newly elected
mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, had chosen me to be police commissioner of the City of New York - the number one police job in America - and it was time to stick my neck out. The city was a mess. People were afraid of
being mugged, they were afraid of having their cars stolen, they were afraid of the everyday assault on common decency and good conduct that had become standard New York behavior. Surveys showed that more than half
the people who had recently left the city did so to improve the quality of their lives. And chief among the reasons they couldn't do that in the city was crime.
Although I was born and raised and had worked
almost all my life in Boston, I knew New York. My two years as chief of the New York City Transit Police in the early 1990s had given me a full immersion in the way the city handled itself - a view from the
underground cop. Nothing changes fast in the city. There is the sense that this is the way it is, this the way it's always been, and this is the way it always will be. New Yorkers respect strength and admire spirit,
they pride themselves on their toughness -it's tough enough just to get by - but when I got there they had just about given up.
New Yorkers wanted a way out of the danger and lawlessness they saw around them.
They couldn't walk from their apartments to the subway without getting aggressively panhandled or threatened or worse - "Hey, hey, hey, mister, gimme a quarter. That the best you got?" They couldn't walk
to work without seeing men and women using the streets and sidewalks as outdoor toilets. They couldn't stop their car at a traffic light without some guy smearing their windshield with a filthy rag and demanding a
dollar for his efforts. Squeegee men, these fellows were called, and to many people it seemed they just about ruled the city. I had joked frequently that they should replace the torch in the Statue of Liberty' hand
with a squeegee - it was a more fitting symbol of the welcome many people received when they got here.
New York City felt it was under siege, and there was the widespread sense that no one was doing anything
about it. In 1990, shortly after he was elected, Mayor David Dinkins and his entire administration took a major hit when, in response to a particularly bloody week in the city, the New York Post ran this tabloid
headline in huge type on its front page:
"DAVE, DO SOMETHING"
Mirroring the local perspective, the story went national shortly thereafter. Time Magazine had a cover story in September featuring
"The Rotting of the Big Apple." In response to this challenge, Dinkins was able to pass "Safe Streets" legislation that increased the size of the city's three police departments by over six
But by 1994, even this ongoing infusion of personnel hadn't seemed to help. There was a sense of doom on the streets. The police department seemed dysfunctional. Several generations of
corruption scandals had left it seemingly without the will to fight crime. The cops on the beat wanted to do their jobs, but the brass didn't trust them to do it. Corruption on a commander's watch can kill his
career, so rather than aggressively attack the places where most crime occurred, particularly drug-related crime, police officers had been ordered by their superiors to stay out of them; the feeling behind many
desks was that it was better for cops to stay away from criminals and steer clear of temptation than to chase them down and put them away.
Mayor Giuliani was a former federal procecutor. He liked putting
criminals in jail; it was what he had done for a living. Giuliani was elected mayor in 1993 largely on the quality-of-life and crime issues, and, impressed with my earlier record as transit chief, he brought me in
to help clean up the rest of the city. I brought to New York a lifetime career in law enforcement and had led the turnaround of four major police departments, including, the New York City Transit Police and Boston
Police Department. Like most American police departments, for the last twenty-five years the NYPD had been content to focus on reacting to crime while accepting no responsibility for reducing, let alone preventing,
it. Crime, the theory went, was caused by societal problems that were impervious to police intervention. That was the unchallenged conventional wisdom espoused by academics, sociologists, and criminologists. I
intended to prove them wrong. Crime, and as important, attitudes about crime, could be turned around. Using law enforcement expertise, leadership and management skills, and an inspired workforce, I intended to
create an organization whose goal and mission was to control and prevent crime- not just respond to it. By turning around the NYPD, and reducing crime and fear, we could turn around the city. And, who knows, maybe
even the country.
I believe that police could, in fact, be counted upon to have a significant effect on crime. With effective leadership and management we could control behavior in the street, and by controlling
behavior we could change behavior. If we could change behavior we could control crime.
When I interviewed with Giuliani for the police commissioner's position, I told him we could reduce crime by 40 percent in
On December 2, l993, at the announcement of my appointment as the city's new police commissioner, a little more than a month before I took office, I stood beside the mayor and made this promise:
"We will fight for every house in this city. We will fight for every street. We will fight for every borough. And we will win."
The turnaround had begun. Like Babe Ruth pointing his bat to the bleachers
indicating where his next home run would land, I was confidently predicting the future. I was a leader who had spent my whole professional life seeking out and turning around low-performing, dysfunctional police
departments. Now I had been given the challenge of a lifetime - the NYPD. One of my predecessors, Commissioner Lee Brown, when he led the department, likened the experience to trying to "turn an aircraft
carrier around in a bathtub." I intended to turn it around with the speed of a destroyer.
Bratton, William, with Peter Knobler, Day One: Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime
Epidemic. Excerpt reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc. New York and Mr.Bratton's literary agent, Mr. Edward W. Hayes.
Copyright © 1998 by William Bratton. All rights reserved.