What the data say about whether Bill Bratton, New York’s outgoing top cop, made the city safer

From The Washington Post:

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced on Tuesday that he will resign next month amid demonstrations by frustrated activists and acrimony between the department’s rank and file and the city’s civilian leaders, apparently bringing an end to his divisive and influential career in law enforcement.

As the top cop in America’s most populous city, Bratton implemented methods that some criminologists credit with helping make New York City much safer. Crime has declined nationwide since Bratton began his first stint as commissioner in 1994, but the decrease has been even more dramatic in New York than in other major cities.

Bratton left his post in New York in 1996, before returning to the helm again in January 2014. He will be succeeded by James O’Neill, who is currently the department’s chief.

Bratton “has left an indelible mark on American policing, and he has worked diligently to try to advance the field,” said James Bueermann, the president of the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C.

At the same time, Bratton relied on strategies that other experts say did little to reduce crime, and have potentially damaged public safety by eroding confidence and trust in the police. Demonstrations against racial bias have partly defined his current tenure as the head of the department, which began when he returned to New York after serving as police chief in Los Angeles.

New York’s most dangerous year was 1990, when there were 30.7 killings for every 100,000 people in the city, more than average for large U.S. cities at the time. Now, though, New York is substantially safer than the typical big city. There were 4.1 homicides per 100,000 people there last year, a decline of 87 percent over a quarter century.

It is likely that much of that decline was due to factors beyond the control of the police, including Bratton. Indeed, violence began to decrease before Bratton first took office.

Yet Franklin Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California at Berkeley, …

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