NY Mayor Matters More Than Police Commissioner in Setting Policy

I read now that New York Mayor-elect de Blasio is considering bringing back Bill Bratton as Police Commissioner to replace Ray Kelly. This continues an odd cycle of reinvention concerning these two men that demonstrates to me that when it comes to setting NY Police Department policy, it may matter less who the police commissioner is than who the mayor is.

Recent history shows us that Ray Kelly was first police commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins. During this term, Kelly designed and began to implement the first stage of Dinkins' Safe Streets Safe City program. This was and continues to be seen as a progressive policing strategy than emphasized community engagement as a crime-fighting tool. Of course Dinkins never had a second term to fully implement Safe Streets Safe City and see how well it would work, because then came Giuliani time.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani had a crime-fighting strategy that emphasized analysis, enforcement, and punishment even for minor quality-of-life crimes. Community policing to prioritize a healthy relationship between police and communities was considered a failed policy. The architect and implementer of Giuliani's policy, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. The success of Giuliani in "cleaning up New York" and reducing crime led to Bratton bringing that same strategy to Los Angeles after losing New York's top job in a battle of egos with Giuliani. Somehow in 2001, Bratton showed up at the side of Democratic Mayoral candidate Mark Green and gave him credibility on law enforcement. Did Bratton have a change of heart or was he just seeking an opportunity to get his old job back? It could have been assumed that Green would have had a different crime fighting philosophy than Giuliani for Bratton to implement. Green did not win and Mike Bloomberg brought back Ray Kelly.

Under Bloomberg, Kelly has implemented a policy with greater similarity to Giuliani than Dinkins. This is highlighted with the increased reliance on stop and frisk tactics, seen as invasive and a detriment to positive police community relations. One of the keys to Bill de Blasio's victory was to campaign against stop and frisk and make a pledge to replace Ray Kelly. A leading contender to replace Kelly, Giuliani's man Bill Bratton.

What does all this show? It seems that in setting police policy the key person is not the police commissioner but the mayor. The commissioner should be an able, proven executive and leader who can effectively implement the mayor's policies. Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton have shown themselves to be very capable implementers and I have little doubt Bratton will be effective for Mayor de Blasio. However, if the mayor-elect wants to send a clear signal of a change of directions perhaps another qualified candidate like Chief of Department Banks would be a better choice.