January 2014 - June 2014: A Frenetic Start
In January 2014, Bratton quickly assembled his command team, marking the beginning of what Dermot Shea, the Deputy Commissioner for Operations, characterized as a “frenetic” period of evaluation and planning. Department officials held strategy meetings on topics ranging from victims’ rights to crime fighting to equipment. They also initiated a bottom-up review of the department. Finally, NYPD commissioned two surveys, one involving rank-and-file officers and another focused on the public, to understand more clearly why NYPD was drawing so much criticism. The data revealed deep mistrust within and outside the department (in some neighborhoods and boroughs) as well as substantial concern over policies like stop-question-and frisk. NYPD leaders therefore concluded that they needed to pursue three goals: changing elements of their operating model without increasing crime, reengaging the community and building trust, and increasing department morale.
While fully realizing these objectives would take years, NYPD officials felt that they could make immediate progress by developing a less defensive posture toward two recent efforts to increase external oversight. Initially, in June 2013, the New York City Council had passed a law creating an independent inspector general for NYPD. Then, two months later, a federal judge had recommended that the federal government establish a monitor for NYPD. , At first, NYPD and city officials bristled at this oversight, most notably by appealing the stop-question-and-frisk case in late 2013. In stark contrast, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to drop the appeal. To Shea, this represented a crucial transition. He explained, “If you’re going to change something, if you’re going to dig your heels in and defend your prior actions, what are we really accomplishing? We’re slowing down the pace of change…and in fact it’s going to be an antagonistic situation.”
July 2014 - December 2015: A Crisis of Confidence and A New Perspective
Unfortunately, just as NYPD began to pursue reform, the department and city endured a tragic series of events that caused public ire to rise and the department’s morale to plummet. In July 2014, Eric Garner, a New York City resident, died after an NYPD officer placed him in a chokehold. , Combined with several other similar events across the country, including the killing of Michael Brown, a teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, the incident contributed to an intense national debate surrounding the relationship between law enforcement and the black community. And in New York City, as Shea said, “the embers were really stoking,” with large protests, rising crime, and an uptick in assaults against and criticism of police officers. Then, in December 2014, a man assassinated two NYPD officers.
For Bratton, these tragedies presented a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, he had to assuage the concerns of NYPD officers, whose morale had plummeted. On the other hand, he had to demonstrate sensitivity to the public’s concerns and accelerate and concretize the reform mentality the department had begun to demonstrate during the first half of 2014. He began to accomplish his first goal—reassuring downtrodden officers—by delivering a powerful eulogy at the funeral for one of the slain NYPD officers in which he lauded NYPD personnel for their bravery and “hero[ic]” work. Meanwhile, the leadership team unveiled a more detailed reform agenda focused on five “T” goals: tackling crime, preventing terrorism, rebuilding trust, improving training, and making better use of technology. These guidelines were helpful in part because they provided a consistent, alliterative message to communicate with the media and community; in addition, as Shea explained, they embodied a new perspective surrounding the priorities that NYPD needed to advance.