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The NYPD Chief Who Did His Job Too Well

2 minute read
Michael Duffy and Massimo Calabresi

Rudy Giuliani knew right away that he wanted to hire William Bratton as police chief when the two first met in 1993. “When Giuliani was elected mayor, we had something like 2,200 murders that year,” says Adam Walinsky, a law-enforcement expert who helped arrange that first meeting. “He went out to get a guy who was going to completely shake it up. He knew within the first half-hour of conversation that [Bratton was the man for the job].”

Starting in 1994, Bratton wasted no time. A former Boston police chief, Bratton decentralized the stovepiped NYPD, put more cops on the street and did block-by-block crime analysis, deploying patrols to hot spots. By the end of his first year, crime had declined by 12%; in 1995, it fell 17% more.

But as crime dropped, the mayor and the chief began to rumble. Bratton believed that an aggressive p.r. strategy would act as a booster rocket for the revolution under way in the police department. But Giuliani saw him as a credit-hogging media hound. The situation quickly turned ugly. Giuliani’s deputies took over Bratton’s press operation and eventually fired half the staff. City Hall began whispering to reporters about Bratton’s heavy travel schedule. And Giuliani tried to put the brakes on a $350,000 Bratton book deal. By the time Bratton appeared on the cover of TIME in January 1996, the love was gone. Bratton announced his resignation two months later.

Was Giuliani wrong to push Bratton out? It seemed so at the time, but by then Bratton had already done the heavy lifting of reform. More intriguing now is the fact that Giuliani chafed alongside Bratton, a certified policing genius, but bonded easily with Kerik. (Where Giuliani clearly erred was in naming Howard Safir to replace Bratton. Safir was an unqualified disaster.)

Meanwhile, Bratton decamped to the private sector and eventually became chief of police for Los Angeles. “The reason they split wasn’t that Bill had failed to do the job,” says Walinsky. “Strange as it may sound, even a city as big as New York wasn’t big enough for the two of them.”

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