William Bratton has made the exceptional common. As police chief in both Boston and New York, he dramatically reduced crime by implementing modern, private-sector management techniques and by seeking support from each community’s philanthropic sector. Now he is looking to do the same in Los Angeles.
Road to Success
Bratton literally “came up through the ranks.” After a military stint in Vietnam, he joined the Boston Police Department, landing the force’s top uniformed position at age 33. Then an offhand comment to a magazine reporter that he expected to lead the department one day led him to a backwater job.
He eventually worked his way back into the department’s good graces before leaving in 1983 to head the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Police. Within three years, he had revitalized and expanded the department, turning a dangerous transit system into a safe one. He did similar work remaking Massachusetts’ notoriously corrupt Metropolitan Police (a park police agency that covered most of Eastern Massachusetts) before moving on in 1990 to head New York City’s Transit Police.
In this job he first began to attract national notice. He rebuilt the force, upgraded the firearms that transit policemen carried, cleaned up stations, and drove out panhandlers and vandals. A subway system that many New Yorkers were afraid to ride became safe and relatively clean almost overnight.
The plaudits he won, in turn, led to the position he had wanted for over 20 years: police commissioner in Boston. His job there didn’t last long-after just a few months, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called Bratton to New York in 1994 to head the city’s troubled department.
His accomplishment in New York City speaks for itself. He took over a police department employing more people than the Coast Guard, State Department, Microsoft, or Ford Motors, and transformed it from a well-meaning but often inept organization to an exemplar of public-sector efficiency. In his 27 months at the helm, crime fell by over one-third. Murders fell by half. Meanwhile, the measures that private-sector managers pay attention to-capital investments, overtime, and workforce productivity-all moved in the right directions.
Bratton pursued a complex, multi-faceted strategy to reduce crime in the Big Apple. Some popular accounts posit that a technique called “broken windows” policing-first proposed by Rutgers University professor George Kelling and his mentor James Q. Wilson-made New York’s turnaround possible. It did, but this is only part of the story.
The broken windows philosophy asks police officers to pay as much attention to small offenses like graffiti and panhandling as they do to apparently more severe ones like robbery. Advocates argue that when minor offenses are ignored, criminals tend to believe, correctly, that anything goes. Thus, taking care of minor offenses will also tend to reduce major ones. Bratton’s NYPD did engage in significant broken windows policing-nabbing subway fare-beaters, patting down suspicious looking people, cracking down on graffiti, and aggressively ticketing unruly motorists-but this alone did not cause the decline in crime. (In fact, high-profile crackdowns on both squeegee-wielding shakedown artists and paint can-armed graffiti vandals in the subway system preceded Bratton’s arrival at the NYPD.)
Also responsible for New York’s crime reduction was Compstat, a computer-based system that Bratton and others at NYPD developed. Compstat maps a city’s crime trends, then breaks these up into dozens of small, short-term objectives that can be attacked to produce the larger goal of reducing crime. By developing short-term objectives, Bratton and his inner circle could hold district commanders accountable for results.
The system, in effect, is an updated, public-sector version of the 1960s management philosophy of “management by objective.” Largely as a result of Compstat, more than half of the city’s precinct commanders retired or were forced out within Bratton’s first year. The information generated by Compstat also allowed Bratton to create a newly flexible schedule for officers that put more cops on the street during peak crime periods, while actually reducing the amount of overtime that officers worked.
Good lobbying got his force much improved equipment and training. And improved relations with the community, including prominent philanthropists and business leaders, created an atmosphere in which citizens were more willing to share information about crime with NYPD. The NYPD’s public approval rate in newspaper opinion polls, around 50 percent when Bratton took office, was over 70 percent by the time he left. Attendance at community meetings around the city also increased. “Without the community and private donors, we could not have done it,” Bratton tells Philanthropy.
Along the way, Bratton has made more than a handful of political missteps that would have ended the career of a less able manager. In his own memoirs he describes himself as “too brash and too arrogant” early in his career. When Time ran a story about the way that he and Rudolph Giuliani were turning New York City around, he appeared alone on the cover. Giuliani was furious and eventually forced Bratton out.
Following his time in New York, Bratton flirted with the idea of heading a big company and running for mayor of New York City. In the run-up to the 2001 elections, he even commissioned polls. He eventually endorsed unsuccessful Democratic candidate Mark Green and almost certainly would have held a high position in a Green administration. He tells Philanthropy, however, that he will not run for office in the future. “I like the appointive part of being a police chief. I don’t think I would be good at raising the money you need for politics.”
People Who Can Make a Difference
Bratton’s success is largely attributable to his skills as a manager and to his ability to work with private donors and corporate interests. Unlike many public-sector managers who lead by personality and political skill, Bratton functions more like a private-sector CEO. “He doesn’t always involve himself in every little detail, but he always has sight of the big picture,” says Maryland State Police superintendent Edward Norris, who worked with Bratton in New York. “He has a great eye for talent and is a good judge of people. It’s a very effective style.”
As for working with private donors and corporate interests, Bratton leads the nation’s big-city police chiefs. In New York, he raised private funds for everything from community organization partnerships to new equipment for his officers. In Boston, he once raised money to equip a special unit with bicycles and then saw the special unit make a bust right around the corner from a press conference where he unveiled them. “There’s enormous importance to breaking out of the blue cocoon and going to mix with the philanthropists in any given community,” he says. “They are the people who can make a difference.”
In Los Angeles (where he became chief in October 2002), he’s used a private police foundation to raise money to implement Compstat on the New York City model. Bratton has also raised money from the Wasserman Foundation, led by Casey Wasserman, grandson of former Universal Studios chairman Lew Wasserman; and from Bruce Karatz of KB Home Corp. High-profile donors have also included Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen.
Bratton thinks private-sector giving to the police has benefits that go beyond simply reducing crime. On the one hand, he says, police departments are “able to do things that a city can’t or won’t do with tax revenue.” He gives some particular examples from Los Angeles: “I have a $1 billion budget here in L.A. and only $50,000 for information technology. I need to raise private money to get the technology we need in the divisions and in the patrol cars.” On the other hand, Bratton says that working with philanthropists has advantages all its own: “You’re also coming into contact with the people who really make a difference in a community.”
The flexibility with which private money can be spent also gives chiefs a significant advantage. “It’s rare that more than 1 percent of the police budget is going to be from private sources,” Bratton says, but “a lot of the time, that’s the most important 1 percent.”
Bratton’s appeal to philanthropists combines the possibility of doing good combined with the self-interest in community improvement that comes from reducing crime. “He was always one to appeal to self-interest,” says John Timoney, now Miami’s police chief and a close associate of Bratton in New York. “The appeal he gave wasn’t only, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’ but also, ‘Fighting crime is good for business.’”
Despite the ways in which supporting local police can assist a community, Bratton argues that police are at a disadvantage when it comes to raising money. “In most cities there are 200 or 300 philanthropists who always buy tickets to each other’s events,” he says. “As the police, we can’t do that. We often can’t even name things after people.”
Reaching Out to the Community
Bratton’s efforts sometimes go beyond simply helping his own agency. Like most police chiefs, he has a good sense of what programs work to improve communities, and he often helps worthy organizations. The Reverend Eugene Rivers, head of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation-a faith-based organization that works to reduce violence in inner cities-says of Bratton, “He’s a source of reason and support; he’s one person who really understands the vital role that faith can play in keeping a city safe. He knows what policing is about and how faith can help fight gangs.”
Rivers is currently working to improve his organization’s presence in Los Angeles. “Bill has been a major help to me in lining people up,” he says. William E. Simon Jr., a philanthropist and GOP candidate for California governor in 2002, has been Rivers’ key private supporter in his Southern California efforts, which Rivers is conducting in partnership with Bishop Charles Blake, a prominent black Pentecostal pastor in Los Angeles. Through mentoring, faith-based partnerships, and community outreach, Rivers’s Ten Point Coalition will work to provide educational opportunities and alternatives to gang life for at-risk youth.
In Boston, the Ten Point Coalition and a variety of police and probation efforts achieved a virtual end to youth homicide. In the early 1990s, 20 to 30 young gang members died each year. In recent years, the number of gang-related youth homicides has ranged from zero to 5. Rivers says he hopes to achieve similar results in Los Angeles and simultaneously “break the multigenerational gangsta mentality” that infects many inner-city residents.
He tells reporters he will work with “clergy and police to pry kids from the grip of gangs.” What he hopes to offer, “in a profound political and philosophical sense, is fatherhood. Nobody owns these kids. At the deepest psychological and emotional level, there’s a loss about these young kids that’s universal-and it’s Harlem, it’s South-Central, it’s Detroit, it’s the South Side of Chicago, it’s east side Baltimore. Now they’ll talk about job banks, but what they’re really looking for existentially is a relationship, becauseÉthere are no fathers.”
Bratton still hasn’t been police chief long enough in Los Angeles to determine if he can render a New York-style transformation. The city poses a significant challenge in a number of ways: (1) It has more known gang members than any other city in the country and a public culture that glorifies violence; (2) Los Angelenos move around almost entirely in automobiles, thus presenting a challenge for officers seeking to do the pat-down searches that proved politically popular in New York; (3) while New York’s police department has always had a fairly good self-image, a series of scandals has shaken morale in the LAPD-once the nation’s most respected police force. And things have worsened in recent years. While crime declined impressively in Los Angeles during much of the 1990s, it rose significantly in each of the last four years. Police-community relations are also in a shambles as a result of racist and dishonest cops who have planted evidence and harassed innocent citizens.
So far, however, Bratton appears to be making a difference. Crime has started to go down. As of late May, homicides had dropped about a third relative to 2002. Working with Kelling, Bratton has been developing solutions to particularly severe public-order problems in five areas of Los Angeles ranging from transients along skid row to the alarmingly high homicide rate in the police department’s South Bureau. Order-maintenance efforts along skid row have drawn criticism from the city’s left-wing leaders, but so far Bratton and Kelling have refused to back down.
Thanks to money from philanthropists and local foundations, which was used for paying consultants and purchasing new computer equipment, Bratton recently unveiled the first part of Los Angeles’s own version of Compstat. It was developed by a firm run by John Linder, who worked with Bratton developing Compstat in New York. Kelling also plans to work with Bratton on a Manhattan Institute-funded project to evaluate the changes in the police departments’ management structure and determine how, if at all, they affect crime. “We’re hoping to detail the changes he makes and link them back to Compstat,” explains Kelling.
Polling shows that Los Angeles residents like the police more since Bratton came, and so far major corruption scandals have not erupted on the new chief’s watch. Mayor James Hahn has shown a strong commitment to the police department and continues to provide strong leadership in the fight against crime. The powerful City Council, however, has not cooperated all the time, recently delaying plans to hire additional officers Bratton says he needs. Bratton, for his part, is confident he’ll succeed. “When I’m next on the cover of Time magazine, I’m going to make sure that the mayor is there with me,” he says. “You can count on it.”
Eli Lehrer is senior editor of The American Enterprise and co-founded the Heritage Foundation’s Excellence in Policing Project.