NYPD Blues?

Last July, I asked NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton a very benign question at a "Newsmakers Breakfast" my company produced: "Do you think you'll stick around for a second term after 2017?"

"Absolutely not," was Bratton's surprisingly candid response.

I was stunned, as were many in the audience that day. Instantly, two reporters scurried out of the room to report this breaking news. I sat there on the podium, feeling a mix of apprehension about the City's future without one of best Police Commissioners in our history and a journalistic concern that some other news outlet was going to break this story before my company could.

The daily newspapers the next day all had long stories about Bratton's surprising announcement. The secret was out and political observers began speculating about his successor while others began contemplating Mayor de Blasio's prospects for re-election without his well-respected police commissioner.

But then the political forces of the administration urged Bratton to reconsider his public decision and walk back his comments. Bratton then issued a more diplomatic statement that it was too early to make decisions about his future.

Earlier this month, Bratton stayed true to his word and stepped down as Police Commissioner, handing the baton to his trusted deputy, James O'Neill. Immediately, skeptical pundits tried to ascertain the story behind the official story.

So far, there is no definitive answer about Bratton's decision. But this turn of events got me wondering about the state of policing in New York as well as the rest of our chaotic country. It has probably never been a more perilous time to be a cop in America, with all too frequent assassinations happening in recent months as well as many cities becoming engulfed in protests over police misconduct.

There is no doubt that the tougher crime legislation passed two decades ago in Bill Clinton's administration as well as the ascendancy of the "Broken Windows" theory of policing has made our police force more aggressive in fighting all crimes, including petty ones like drug dealing and farebeating and public urination among others.

At the same time, a few very disparate trends emerged that affected society profoundly - guns became more plentiful and the homeless mentally ill began to fall through the cracks and were left to fend for themselves.

Police became much more concerned about preventing crime, aggressively stopping those suspected of carrying weapons and engaging in the controversial "stop, question and frisk" method of policing.

In large cities like New York, crime rates dropped steadily over two decades and today, our city is the safest large city in America. Bill Bratton and his erstwhile competitor and predecessor, Ray Kelly, started this impressive decline in crime in the early 1990s and now, a quarter century later, New Yorkers are the beneficiaries of a very impressive run of police commissioners.

After a huge spike in controversial "stop and frisks" under Bloomberg/Kelly, we now see crime rates holding steady while the use of "stops" has also dropped dramatically in the past few years.

With Bratton's exit in September, it is the end of an era. What lies ahead? Let's take a look at some trends and storylines.

First of all, New York City police officers seem to be going through a period of lower morale because they feel that the current Mayor is not their ally and that he favors those who criticize police more than he stands up for the thin blue line. There is some validity to this in the wake of two Mayors - Giuliani and Bloomberg - who always backed their Police Commissioners and the whole police force despite the heat they sometimes received. De Blasio has always been lukewarm in his support of cops and allowed his very strong ally in Commissioner Bratton to act as a buffer between the Mayor and the NYPD.

Compounding this feeling is the ongoing heated contract negotiations that still have not been resolved. Mayor de Blasio has settled with almost every other union in the city, but the police feel that the mayor has not offered them anything near what is fair. Last week's revelation that many members of the Mayor's administration got generous raises only rubbed more salt in the wound for New York's finest.

What to do? Well, first of all, the Mayor should try to figure out a way to make a grand gesture which shows how much he appreciates the men and women in blue and their good work in keeping our city safe (while other large cities like Chicago descend into violent chaos). If he can't do it through a more generous contract, then maybe he could offer merit bonuses? Or bonuses for police who live in the communities they serve?

Yes, there have been a number of disturbing events of police misconduct around the country that have been caught on tape and we must make sure these officers are properly disciplined. But we must not lose sight of the fact that every day, New York's thin blue line keep all of us safe and they continue to do so by breaking previous crime lows.

Tom Allon is the president of City & State. Questions or comments: tallon@cityandstateny.com.