Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, December 5, 2013
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has named William J. Bratton his Police Commissioner. In returning to the job he held under Rudolph Giuliani in the nineteen-nineties, Bratton will be in charge of fulfilling one of de Blasio’s most prominent campaign promises: to end the stop-and-frisk tactics that were such a prominent part of Michael Bloomberg’s record as Mayor.
But Bratton’s views on stop-and-frisk may be considerably different from those of his new boss. In May of this year, I profiled Shira Scheindlin, the federal judge who presided over the class-action lawsuit that challenged the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policies. In the course of reporting that piece, I interviewed Bratton, and we discussed stop-and-frisk in some detail.
Bratton emphatically endorsed stop-and-frisk as a police tactic. “First off, stop-question-and-frisk has been around forever,” he told me. “It is known by stop-and-frisk in New York, but other cities describe it other ways, like stop-question-and-frisk or Terry stops. It’s based on a Supreme Court case from 1968, Terry v. Ohio, which focussed very significantly on it. Stop-and-frisk is such a basic tool of policing. It’s one of the most fundamental practices in American policing. If cops are not doing stop-and-frisk, they are not doing their jobs. It is a basic, fundamental tool of police work in the whole country. If you do away with stop-and-frisk, this city will go down the chute as fast as anything you can imagine.”
We also discussed the current controversy over stop-and-frisk under Raymond Kelly, Bloomberg’s Police Commissioner. “What you have right now is a controversy in which nobody really understands what they are fighting about,” Bratton said. “Stop-and-frisk is not a tool solely to look for guns. Unfortunately, both the Mayor and the Police Commissioner refer to it that way, and that’s a problem because so few guns are recovered. But so what? The vast majority of stops are for a wide variety of things. Is someone drinking a can of beer on the corner? You want to stop that behavior. If somebody is aggressively panhandling on the street, urinating against a building. Is there somebody that you suspect is casing a building? Or is that two guys just locked out of their apartment? Police officers notice what may be a burglary. Of course they should be noticing and investigating. There are countless examples of what you want police to do.”