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The nation's largest police department will soon be run by one of the nation's most prominent law enforcement officials. New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced that William Bratton will be the NYPD's next boss. It's a repeat engagement. Bratton was New York's police commissioner in the mid-'90s. He's also run police departments in Los Angeles and Boston.
NPR's Dan Bobkoff reports that Bratton's appointment comes at a critical turning point for the department.
DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: It was almost exactly 20 years ago that another New York mayor, Republican Rudy Giuliani, appointed Bill Bratton to run the New York Police Department. Today, it was a progressive Democrat, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
MAYOR-ELECT BILL DE BLASIO: Bill Bratton has proven that you can fight crime effectively and bring police and community together.
BOBKOFF: Today, crime in New York has never been lower. In 20 years, murders and other serious crimes have fallen roughly 80 percent. But as he accepted the job today, Bratton acknowledged that relations between police and minority communities have soured.
BILL BRATTON: At a time that police and community should be so much closer together, that there should be and born in legitimacy and trust between them, that is not the case in so many communities in the city.
BOBKOFF: The big reason for this is Stop-and-Frisk, that's a controversial tactic of police stopping, questioning and searching anyone they see as suspicious, no warrant required. A judge ruled that much of the practice unconstitutional this and appointed a monitor. The current administration appealed but de Blasio has vowed to drop that.
But for New Yorkers like Nicholas Caldwell, Bratton will have a lot of work to do.
NICHOLAS CALDWELL: No trust, 'cause you can't do nothing anymore. You walk down the block sideways, they be, what you doing? Where you going? Where you coming from?
BOBKOFF: Last year, New Yorkers were stopped and frisked 530,000 times. The vast majority were minorities and innocent of any crime. But today, de Blasio said its use will be curtailed, not eliminated.
BLASIO: The unconstitutional use of Stop-and-Frisk, the targeting of young men of color regardless of whether they had done anything wrong, that's going to end.
DAVID KENNEDY: While the politics go on, the practice is actually changing as we watch.
BOBKOFF: David Kennedy is a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He says the NYPD is already changing, focusing more on the few people responsible for the most serious crime. He says the number of random stops is way down from last year, even as crime has continued to fall. But Kennedy says there's another reason to de Blasio picked Bratton.
KENNEDY: There's been a very, very powerful and public argument that if the NYPD relaxes his vigilance for a moment, that the city will go back to the bad old days of 2,400 homicides a year and out of control subways.
BOBKOFF: In choosing Bratton, de Blasio is trying to quell those fears while also answering critics of Stop-and-Frisk. Bratton is lauded for repairing minority and police relations in Los Angeles, at the same time crime fell there. New York also gets a high-profile national figure to match the stature of its predecessor, Ray Kelly.
LEONARD LEVITT: Bratton is really one of the seminal police figures of the 20th century.
BOBKOFF: Author and longtime NYPD watcher Leonard Levitt says Bratton deserves a lot of credit for the dramatic crime declines in many parts of the country. The techniques he championed in New York 20 years ago have been copied nationwide. One is CompStat, which keeps detailed data on crime statistics in neighborhoods while holding local chiefs accountable.
The other is the so-called broken windows theory. That's when police go hard after low-level crimes. That can, over time, stop neighborhood decay, preventing more serious offenses. Levitt says it worked.
LEVITT: No city experienced the deep drop over a long a period as New York did, which was largely because of the systems that Bratton had put in place.
BRATTON: But for New Yorkers, it's not Bratton's past that matters. It's whether he can keep crime low while charting a new course away from the controversial tactics of the last administration's police department.
BOBKOFF: Dan Bobkoff, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.