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INTERVIEW: Bratton Says New NYPD Policy 'Is Not a Get Out Of Jail Card'

By Murray Weiss | March 4, 2016 7:13am
 Police Commissioner Bill Bratton speaks during a press conference at NYPD headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton speaks during a press conference at NYPD headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

NEW YORK CITY — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has a warning for anyone who thinks quality-of-life enforcement is disappearing because the NYPD is amending its approach to people who publicly urinate, drink booze or take up two subway seats in Manhattan.

“The idea that ‘Anything Goes’ is not going to happen, not as long as I am the police commissioner,” Bratton told DNAinfo New York's “On The Inside” in an exclusive interview Thursday.

Bratton was reacting to what he perceives as misleading media reports suggesting that a policy shift this week by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and the NYPD means they are turning a blind eye to certain minor criminal offenses.

“This is not closing our eyes,” Bratton said. “This is not a ‘Get Out of Jail Card.’ I have been around too long for that.”

Under Vance's new approach, suspects caught violating these low-level crimes will still technically be arrested, but instead of being cuffed and hauled to criminal court to see a judge, they will receive a summons and be sent on their way as long as they have identification and no open warrants.

“You are still being arrested, but if you don’t show up and answer that summons, make no mistake that we will have officers knocking on your door at 5 a.m. to get you,” the commissioner added.

The change in Manhattan will help free up valuable prosecutorial, police and court resources that are clogged with thousands of minor offenders and open warrant cases, officials say.  

If successful, Bratton said the NYPD will talk to other district attorneys to expand the policy to the outer boroughs.

“The times are changing and you adjust,” he said, recalling his early stint in the Big Apple in the 1990s when the city was awash in 2,200 murders a year and hundreds of thousands of other serious violent crimes.

“We don’t need what we did in the 1990s,” he continued, insisting he is not abandoning his support of “Broken Windows” policing that helped topple crime to record lows by enforcing minor crimes to deter more serious ones.

“An arrest is not the appropriate resolution for every incident,” he continued, pointing out there has also been a dramatic drop in controversial stop-and-frisks. “Yet the city continues to get safer.”

The City Council is pushing to decriminalize quality-of-life offenses, making them mere city code violations. But Bratton said those offenses must remain within the power of the criminal justice system.

“We don’t have an issue with modifying quality-of-life offenses. They have to stay as crimes, however,” he said.

The commissioner struck a sarcastic tone deriding recent tabloid articles that “gloated over everything negative,” including one reporting New York was ranked 96th in best places to live in the country by ignoring, he said, that the study also said it was because housing costs are high here.

The commissioner also talked about the public’s fear over the recent spate of slashings, concerns about subway safety, which has prompted the NYPD to beef up police presence on the rails at night, and the mayor’s initiative to help the homeless and diminish “their unpredictability that creates fear on the streets.”

“We have to deal as much with the perception as the reality,” he said. “The city has gotten safe, and aberrant behavior gets more attention.”

For example, Bratton pointed out that the number of slashings this year is up over last year, but roughly the same as in 2014. Most incidents, he said, involve people who know one another or are sparked by a specific incident, he noted.

As for the subways, he said he has the luxury to deploy hundreds of extra police underground even when crime on the city’s rail system is low.

“But you have to go where the patient says they are feeling pain, even if the doctor thinks you should not be feeling pain there,” he said.

As for the homeless, Bratton believes decisions decades ago to shutter mental health facilities continues to be felt on the streets, but added that Mayor Bill de Blasio is committed to expanding outreach and treatment and to supporting the NYPD to keep New York the safest big city in the nation. 

“This is our new norm,” he said.