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Bill Bratton, ex-LAPD chief, on George Floyd, the cops

In his three-plus decades as the head of the Boston, New York and Los Angeles Police Departments, Bill Bratton has presented himself as America’s best cop. Back then, that was generally a good thing: he was awarded for overseeing big city police departments during a historic drop in crime in the United States, ushering in changes that reshaped the way work is done and confronted with the LAPD’s history of racism and abuse. a decade after the beating of Rodney King. Throughout, he was an unlikely mix of progressive reformer and ideologue, someone who didn’t shy away from exposing the failures of the profession and the cops while insisting that an aggressive, police-based police. data would reduce crime and improve race relations.

Today, of course, things are more complicated and tense. Since the murder of George Floyd by a cop in Minneapolis, the American police force has become as polarizing as politics in general. With his new book, “The Profession”, Bratton is building on what he freely admits to be his big ego and strong voice. With the help of co-author Peter Knobler, he looks back on his career in order to explain and defend his approach. And he tries to grapple with the present moment, arguing that Floyd’s murder set the police back decades while still sticking to his long-held, but now highly controversial belief that a civil society depends on a robust application.

Bratton spoke to The Times last week about the move to fund the police, the responsibility and burden of his profession and what happened to former boss Rudy Giuliani. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

It’s a topical book.

It was originally should come out before George Floyd is killed. Thank goodness we weren’t ready. I would say a lot of what is out there about policing comes from the other side. This is from the point of view of the internal police.

This morning’s New York Post headline is about the return of the squeegee guys who cleaned windshields at red lights. In 1994, I came to New York when Giuliani was mayor and he said to me, “We need to get rid of the squeegee pests. So here we are. This is what the book is about; in some ways we are back where we started. In the 1970s, it was depoliticization, decriminalization and deinstitutionalization. In 2021, what are we talking about? We’re talking about definancing, we’re talking about decriminalizing many of the laws we used to work with, and in many ways we’re talking about deinstitutionalization. But this time, instead of emptying psychiatric institutions, we are emptying the prisons. It’s already seen.

Does this discourage you?

It’s the optimism in me that I see this as a real opportunity. In many ways this crisis is worse than in the 1970s or the 1990s. The good news is that we have learned so much over the past 50 years. I would say that in 2016, when I left the police, we had come to the right place. And everything exploded with George Floyd. We hadn’t realized how thin the crust was on the running issue.

Much of the book is a defense of the police …

I don’t see it as defending the police. I don’t think they need to defend themselves. I plead for their importance, their essential character. Almost everything I have advocated, created, implemented in Boston, New York twice, LA is now under attack. I wanted to make sure my voice wasn’t lost.

As I read the book, one thing that stood out is how the police in America go through cycles of progress and setbacks or crisis. Do you think it will always be like this?

Police are like medicine. It is a practice. He will never arrive at a final destination. We are still struggling, for example, to know what should be the appropriate role of the police with the mentally ill, the homeless, and drug addicts. And it is 50 years after that these responsibilities were first entrusted to us in the 1970s.

There isn’t a chief of police in America who wouldn’t love to shed this responsibility, but I predict most of it won’t be taken away, because they won’t fund it. If so, then teach us how to deal with it better.

You mentioned Giuliani earlier. In the book, you say he’s not the man you knew in the 1990s.

Giuliani was smart. He was charging hard. And from what he did as an American lawyer, I saw him as a man of great integrity. He was a man with a big ego. I have a big ego, so I understand people with a big ego. And honestly, I don’t know what happened to him. The Rudy I knew would never submit to anyone. Whether it was him trying to get back into the game or making some money, while going through a very expensive divorce … No matter what, he has become a caricature of himself. .

Bill Bratton, ex-LAPD chief, on George Floyd, the cops

Bill Bratton in front of a collection of old and new cars supplied to the police.

(Courtesy of the author)

Throughout your career, and again in the book, you have rejected the idea that crime rates are being driven up or down by broader societal and economic forces. The police, you think, are the deciding factor. After years of decline, violent crime is on the rise again in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere. Why?

Basically, the police are handcuffed. Handcuffed in the sense that because of the abuse of some, Derek Chauvin [the now former officer convicted of murdering Floyd] and still others, the community does not trust the police to effectively enforce the laws.

And it is also the persistent failure of governments to deal with emotional issues, homelessness, drug addiction. The government is failing seriously at this. And who ends up being the net that catches all this debris? The police.

I would say we have the formula. We know what works. We should be building on that formula rather than some of the mistakes we have made in the past. These are incredibly difficult times. But, God, we have the opportunity to do it right. I would like to be a little younger, to come back to the game.

You write that the murder of George Floyd was “100% murder”, but you also say that there is no epidemic in the United States of police officers killing black men. This puts you at odds with many who see this as a systemic problem. Do you think something good came out of the country’s account last summer?

Certainly. I think blacks, to borrow from [Los Angeles community leader] Sweet Alice [Harris], are seen, heard. Look at the societal change over the past year. And, in the future, we hope to evolve in a better way. And I really believe that out of this chaos, all of this turmoil, we’ll be better off.

But you also say that the damage to the police has been dramatic.

A huge, huge amount. And, therefore, in some respects it will be the phoenix rising from its ashes. But we have a very strong phoenix in these ashes. In Los Angeles, the LAPD is a majority minority department, and there is a very strong Latino influence. You have a lot of gay officers. You now have a much stronger foundation to build on. But I’ve never seen morale as bad as it is right now, and it’s having an impact on recruiting new officers.

I arrived in Los Angeles in 2002. From a few years before, until the George Floyd protests, there had been no large-scale racial unrest in Los Angeles. Think about that in the city of Los Angeles, almost 20 years ago when things calmed down. And I felt great about it, because it was a lot of work that we had done. So in the same way, coming out of the turmoil this time, maybe we can move on.

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