Exclusive: NYPD’s William Bratton Vows to Win Back the Black Community’s Trust

The New York City police commissioner tells African-American leaders that he wants to “repair relationships” between the black community and the police department.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attends his first news conference with police Commissioner William Bratton at One Police Plaza on Jan. 2, 2014, in New York City.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Stop and frisk, a law-enforcement policy found to disproportionately target men of color, emerged as a key issue in last year’s New York City mayoral race. Now-mayor, then-candidate, Bill de Blasio, who is white and the father of a biracial teen son, spent much of his campaign decrying the measure and vowing to stop its discriminatory enforcement if elected mayor. But his decision to bring back William Bratton as the city’s police commissioner concerned some stop-and-frisk critics, to put it mildly.

Salon specifically decried the return of Bill “Broken Windows” Bratton—a reference to his previous tenure as commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose administration’s focus on petty crimes, known as the “broken windows theory” of policing, led to contentious relationships with communities of color. But even more troubling to some Bratton skeptics has been his past praise for stop and frisk.

But on Tuesday night, Bratton attended a private reception with community leaders where he took questions and heard feedback on the New York City Police Department’s fractured relationship with the black community and how to improve it. The event, hosted by author Crystal McCrary and Citigroup executive Raymond McGuire, was attended by leaders like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Sherrilyn Ifill, the National Urban League’s Marc Morial and the Rev. Al Sharpton, as well as media figures such as CBS’ Gayle King and Michelle Miller and thought leaders like Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem and stylist June Ambrose.

The evening’s conversation was candid, cordial and occasionally uncomfortable, with concerned parents referencing the widely shared fears that black parents raising black sons have in the era of Trayvon Martin. Although the discussion itself was off the record, Bratton and others agreed to share a few thoughts on the record with The Root.

Asked if his hope is that events like this one will ease tensions between minorities and the NYPD, Bratton replied, “Certainly.” He added, “Mayor de Blasio, who I am fortunate to work with, made [stop and frisk] a centerpiece of his campaign to reform it. The good news is, [in] the very short period of time that he’s been in office and I’ve been police commissioner, the numbers have declined dramatically, and I think a lot of the tension has dissipated—a lot of the anger and frustration has dissipated—and I’m hoping to be in a position to move on.”

Pressed to expound on his plan for winning back the trust of some of those in communities of color who have become disillusioned with law enforcement, Bratton added, “A major theme and term I use is ‘collaboration.’ We are attempting to repair relationships where they were damaged. We are also trying to build new ones—like this evening, for example.”

He continued, “You can get so much more done when you are working together than working against each other. So the theme is, in every way, shape or form, to try to build relationships.”

He went on to credit his wife, journalist Rikki Klieman, for encouraging him to participate in the evening’s event. Klieman, by her husband’s side the entire evening, said, “I think nights like tonight are so critical for this administration.” She referenced her husband’s tenure as head of the Los Angeles Police Department, saying, “When Bill and I were in Los Angeles, we made a point of getting out to all communities of color and listening, and that’s what this evening is really all about. It’s our turn to listen rather than talk.”

Asked for his reaction to the commissioner’s remarks, Dyson, a staunch critic of stop and frisk, expressed cautious, concerned optimism. He said the difference between Bratton’s approach and that of his predecessor, Ray Kelly, was like “night and day.” Of Bratton he said, “He’s at least trying to hear what people think to craft his policies to be more effective.” He also said, “I think he’s very sharp, very compassionate and very sensitive. I think he understands the give-and-take between police, people and communities.” But, he added skeptically, “I think he has a bit more faith in the process than I do.”

Morial, president of the NUL, summed up his reaction to the evening by saying, “I thought it was an impressive presentation and I thought it was sincere, and I think we heard from Bill Bratton a very progressive policy of 21st-century policing, and I also think he was appropriately critical of the policies of the past while at the same time charting what he’s going to do in the future.”