As Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio approaches his first day in office, perhaps the most important issue in this city is who he will choose for Police Commissioner.
And as of today, that person is William Bratton.
Everything that benefits this city starts with a willingness and a trust that when people step outside their doorway or walk down a street or take a subway late at night that they can do so with the confidence that they are safe. If we had more crime, fewer people would come to this city and they would be spending their much-needed dollars elsewhere. Restaurants, bars, music venues and Broadway would all suffer. Imagine what our budgets and services would look like if we had 10 million tourists instead of 53 million tourists. A safe city is good for business. The big issue for the NYPD has been the “Stop, Question and Frisk” policy, which, when reviewed carefully, targets more people of color than those who are white. Whatever your take on SQ&F is, we can all agree that crime is at historic lows and therefore this city is much more inviting to everyone, and people who live here feel safe.
Years ago, my mom and dad, as so many thousands of other parents did, took us out of Manhattan at a young age because of high crime. Years later when I came back to Manhattan after college, my friends and I, coming home from a night out, would often serpentine from one side of the street to the other just to be safe. I remember being just a kid when my family came into the city to visit some friends. My brother, a friend and I were headed to a sporting goods store on 42nd Street. On the way up from the subway, we entered an arcade and were quickly surrounded by a small gang. All hell broke loose and we all ran in different directions right into the arms of undercover policemen. Awhile later, we were in a small windowless room with a few of the kids who’d tried to mug us, now handcuffed to the bench they were sitting on. One by one people left the room until it was me, a policeman and one of the “wanna be” muggers, still handcuffed. The cop turned to me, I was all of 13, handed me a blackjack and said “hit him.” I refused. He badgered me about being a coward for not hitting a defenseless teenager. That memory of the police and the way they handled the situation is seared in my brain.
Police are held to a very high standard. They are civil servants. A phrase people roll right past until they take a good look at it. The police of today are not the police of long ago. Most people don’t want to think about the police until they need them. Routinely, police go above and beyond and many are able to defuse difficult circumstances and tense misunderstandings.
“Stop, Question and Frisk” has become very controversial because for many, it is seen as racial profiling. I do not begrudge anyone for that feeling and there is no way for me to fully identify with that feeling. We must appreciate, though, that we are in very different times, and through good police work the city has been made safer.
Now that Mayor-Elect de Blasio has selected Mr. Bratton, we should take a moment to thank Commissioner Ray Kelly who has done a yeoman’s job of keeping our city secure since 2002. Yes “SQ&F” will likely be modified and Kelly has taken a hit for it but it is undeniable that this is the safest big city in the world and the credit lays at his door. It goes a long way towards helping to shape what New York City now means to everyone around the world.