NEW YORK CITY — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is “empowering” precinct commanders to make crime-fighting decisions within their neighborhoods without the time-consuming wait for top brass approval, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Reversing years of “micromanagement” atop 1 Police Plaza, Bratton expects a pilot program — dubbed "CENTCOM" and slated to roll out this month in southern Queens — will be expanded citywide to “decentralize” the NYPD’s power structure and make the department nimble enough to drive crime to even lower levels.
“I am someone who embraces decentralization more than anyone else probably in the history of the NYPD,” Bratton told "On The Inside."
“And I have always believed in empowering the organization down as far as you can go.”
Bratton had heard rumors that top brass had consolidated power at Police Headquarters during the two decades between his terms atop the NYPD. It did not take long for him to find evidence.
Within days of returning to the post in January 2014, an aide approached him with a request for the transfer of “a single police officer.” The aide said the move required his signature and that the NYPD’s “Office of Management and Budget” had already been involved.
He was incredulous.
“The transfer generated between nine and 14 pages of paperwork,” the commissioner recalled.
He was stunned to witness first-hand how “micromanaged” the structure had become, he said, with supervisors so handcuffed by the top brass that it was actually hindering crime-fighting missions and damaging morale.
There had been a fatal shooting of a teenager outside the Edenwald Houses near the 47th Precinct in The Bronx. Bratton went up to take a look at the crime scene. Deputy Inspector Raul Stephenson, a veteran of Harlem precincts who now was the precinct commander, briefed him on the slaying.
Stephenson explained that the shooting was gang-related and likely involved a crew from nearby streets. He anticipated a round of revenge and retaliation shootings.
Bratton asked what he was going to do to prevent the violence. The commissioner was stunned at what he heard.
Stephenson explained that he wanted to shift “Impact Zone” officers from their mandated posts to the part of the precinct where the crew resided.
But he said he first had to put the request in writing and send it to his Borough Commander who, in turn, would send it up to the Chief of Patrol’s office where it would be forwarded to the commissioner’s office at Police Headquarters for final approval.
“Can you imagine how long that request took to go up the chain of command and then back down the chain before the inspector could do what he wanted?” Bratton said.
“Something was happening in real time and our commander, who knows who is responsible, was unable to move personnel.
"And by the time he could, who knows how many more many more shootings there would be?”
Bratton was so disturbed by Stephenson’s story he turned to his aide, Deputy Chief James O’Neill, who is now the NYPD’s Chief of Department, and he said, “This stops tomorrow.”
He was determined to break the NYPD bureaucracy and push responsibility down the ranks of the sprawling 35,000 member force.
“We set out to create an atmosphere where officers have a sense of ownership, that if you have a problem, even if you are an officer in a sector, that you can make a difference, that you have the ability to make people's lives better,” O’Neill said.
“They can make that move and tell us later.”
Bratton has encouraged NYPD management to make decisions knowing he will back them — even if well-intentioned, thoughtful moves don’t work out.
His campaign initially began with words of encouragement at roll calls and CompStat meetings. Then he returned to having deputies at press conferences and public events address key elements of police operations — rather than him being the lone voice.
“I purposely expose my team to show we collaborate because it builds confidence among the troops, and the public, that we have a team dealing with issues, that this is not a one-man show,” he said.
With CENTCOM, Bratton is revisiting a program developed two decades ago, then called SATCOM, where local commanders in Brooklyn North were given access to specialized units such as narcotics, vice and gambling to attack problem spots with the full force of the department’s resources.
“Everything old is new again,” he said.
The quip, however, belies how successful the initiative may be in today’s safer Big Apple.
“We ask a lot of our officers and commanders and we hold them accountable,” Bratton said. “But we can’t do that if we do not give them all the resources, and the responsibility, they need to get the job done.”