NEW YORK — In the most closely watched hire of his new administration, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio tapped William Bratton to serve at the city’s police commissioner.
The long-rumored move returns Bratton as chief of the nation’s largest police force at a time when the department’s “stop and frisk” practices, which allow officers to randomly search people, have come under intense legal and public scrutiny.
De Blasio made rolling back “stop and frisk” a major element of his winning mayoral campaign — even featuring his multiracial son, Dante, in an ad in which he vowed that his dad would be the “only one who will end an era of stop-and-frisk that unfairly targets people of color.”
But as many of de Blasio’s political rivals pointed out during the campaign, Bratton has been a proponent of “stop and frisk”— a program that expanded when he ran the Los Angeles Police Department between 2002 and 2009.
Both de Blasio and Bratton sought to play down the rift in a press conference Thursday. Bratton said that de Blasio's priorities "are my priorities." At the same time, de Blasio offered a slightly more toned down stance on "stop and frisk," likening it to chemotherapy in treating cancer.
“Used in the right dose it can save lives,” de Blasio said. “Used in the wrong dose, too heavy a dose, it can create its down dangers and problems, it can backfire.”
Bratton, de Blasio said, knows that when it comes to stop-and-frisk "it has to be used with respect and it has to be used properly."
In hiring Bratton, de Blasio played up the incoming commissioner's ability to soothe tensions between the police and everyday New Yorkers, insisting he will "bring the police and community back together."
"It's a new day," de Blasio insisted.
De Blasio’s pick is likely to mollify at least some critics who have worried about dramatic change at City Hall when Mayor Michael Bloomberg departs Jan. 1.
Bratton is a respected law enforcement veteran. He served as police commissioner in Boston before he came to New York, where he was tapped as the city’s top cop in 1994. Although he was credited with a dramatic drop in crime rates, Bratton resigned the post in 1996 amid rumors of conflicts with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He was hired as head of the Los Angeles Police Department in 2002 and worked there for seven years.
In an odd twist of fate, Bratton replaces current police commissioner Ray Kelly — nearly 20 years after he replaced him before. In 1994, Kelly served as police commissioner for then-Mayor David Dinkins, who lost his re-election bid to Giuliani. Bratton was hired by Giuliani to replace Kelly, who was later rehired by Bloomberg in 2002.
At the press conference Thursday, Bratton brought a children's book he checked out of the Boston Public Library as a child and apparently never returned. Titled "Your Police," it was about the New York City police department, and, Bratton said, it made him fall in love with New York and law enforcement.
He told reporters that he loved the title — and that his biggest goal will be to rebuild the strained relationship between New Yorkers and the police department.
"In this city, I want every New Yorker to talk about their police, my police, with respect and with confidence that they’re going to be respected in turn," he said.