NY Police Commissioner Bratton to retire; police accountability protests outside City Hall

Outgoing NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratten (l), Mayor Bill de Blasio (center) and Bratten's replacement Chief James O'Neill (r) at a press conference announcing Bratten's retirement. (Photo Credit: NYC Mayor's Office video grab)

Embattled New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his retirement Tuesday, just one day after police accountability protesters set up an encampment outside City Hall. But the Mayor insists the two events are not related.  FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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Two time New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his resignation at a press conference at One Police Plaza, with Mayor Bill de Blasio at his side. Bratton said he’s stepping down in September to work in the private sector, and detailed what he sees as his accomplishments during his second stint at the job.

Citing crime rates at historic lows in New York City, Bratton said the department spent $1.9 billion in the past two years, and made tremendous gains

“For our officers it has involved new training about how to de-escalation situations. We have reduced stop-and-frisk by phenomenal amounts – said it couldn’t be done – but we continued to reduced crime at the same time,” Bratton said. “We have reduced our use of force, our civilian complaints and launch the most innovative and far reaching community policing program New York has ever attempted.”

But Bratton’s tenure was marred by controversy. A major police union called for his resignation in May after a corruption scandal in which at least nine officers were caught taking bribes.

The move comes just one day after protesters set up an encampment across from City Hall, calling for the Mayor to fire the controversial police commissioner. But when asked if the timing of Bratton’s resignation was related to the ongoing corruption probe or the renewed protest, Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “One hundred and ten percent, has nothing to do with this.”

Bratton long championed “broken windows” policing, a model that critics say is inherently biased and exacerbates tension between officers and the communities they are sworn to serve.

“It’s a racist mechanism of social control – they know it, we know it. Frederick Douglass said it back in 1845 when he said, ‘They whipped the slaves for the slightest offences to discourage them from committing larger ones.’ That exactly what we are seeing police do with broken windows,” says Joel Northam, one of the organizers of a coalition of police abolitionists who occupied the park. The group called for an immediate end to broken windows-style aggressive policing.

“So basically [it’s] making minor infractions actual crimes,” Northam says, “Then in turn they say, ‘Oh, this neighborhood – which is more than likely a black and brown neighborhood – oh, it’s a high crime area therefore we need more police there. So it’s just like a cycle.”

Police accountability advocates say broken windows policing targets communities of color. The Movement for Black Lives issued an expansive nationwide platform this week, calling for an end to policing that that disproportionately targets black and brown people. But the platform goes much further – extending to climate justice, technology, healthcare and reparations for slavery.

Bratton’s resignation was not unexpected; he said just a few days ago that he would stand down by the end of de Blasio’s current term in 2017. He’s replaced by Chief James O’Neill. While there was widespread speculation that O’Neill would be named to the post, many hoped that the mayor would launch a nationwide search and identify a qualified candidate of color.

The shift in power at the NYPD comes as tension between police and communities of color remain high around the country; a weeks-long sit-in in front of Los Angeles city hall demanding the police chief be fired is in its fourth week; three officers in Chicago are on paid leave after shooting an unarmed black teen last Thursday; and tensions are rising again in Baltimore, where on Monday police shot and killed a black woman – and injured a 5-year-old child. The circumstances surrounding that killing remain unclear.

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