An Evening with William J. Bratton

Conversations on Law Enforcement: An Evening with William J. Bratton

Becoming a policeman was a life-long dream for William J. Bratton. The retired New York Police Commissioner recently reflected on his 50-year career in law enforcement before a crowd of 150 attendees during the National Law Enforcement Museum’s “An Evening with William J. Bratton.”

Bratton recounted his first encounter with a police officer was not a pleasant one, but it was one he’s remembered ever since. During a driving lesson with his father in the 1960’s, a then young Bill Bratton says they were stopped behind a police car at a red light. The light turned green and Bratton’s father urged him to honk his horn when the police car didn’t move. After honking and going around the police cruiser, Bratton and his father were pulled over by the police officer. “The officer leaned on the window and asked me ‘who the [expletive] do you think you are?’ That was my first encounter with a Boston police officer. Fifty years later and I still remember that.”

Bratton is credited with a significant reduction in crime in New York City during both of his tenures as police commissioner there. He’s also credited with establishing CompStat. The performance management system leads to crime reduction by using comparative statistics to identify spikes in crimes and then implementing rapid deployment of targeted enforcement to deal with those spikes.

Asked what makes his policing successful, he likened the job to a doctor prescribing medicine, noting that its critical to know just how much to prescribe. He pointed to some law enforcement leaders who he says have misused and over-prescribed tactics such as Stop-Question-Frisk. “As the patient gets better, you must lower the dosage.”

Bratton also served as a former top cop for Boston and Los Angeles, in addition to his two tenures in New York, and he says he remains optimistic about the future. “I remember where we were in 1970 and I see where we are [today], particularly in New York City,” says Bratton. “New York City is the future of the world – that’s what the world is going to look like in 50 years. It’s a city where 40 percent are foreign born, almost 70 percent are not born in the city. It is the most racially and internationally diverse city in the America.”

Watch some short clips from the ‘Evening with William J. Bratton’

Watch the full coverage of the evening’s discussion.