Why we should thank Bill Bratton

Don Lemon interviews NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton
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Story highlights

  • New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has announced he will retire from his post next month.
  • Sean Kennedy: Bratton's policing techniques reduced crime in cities across America, from New York to Los Angeles and Boston.

Sean Kennedy is a writer based in Washington. Previously, he was a U.S. Senate aide, television producer and a fellow at public policy think tanks. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)In 1990, at the peak of the crack epidemic, New York City recorded 2,245 annual murders. Adjusted for population that year, an individual was as likely to be killed in New York as he was in Chicago, each of which averaged approximately 30.5 homicides per 100,000 residents.

If you consider the decrease in the rate of homicide since then, thousands and thousands of New Yorkers, particularly young men of color, are alive today because of one man's work -- and this man's name is Bill Bratton, the soon-to-be-retired New York Police Commissioner.
    Sean Kennedy
    Although homicides fell in the waning years of New York Mayor David Dinkins' administration, they dropped significantly under the Rudy Giuliani-Bill Bratton regime, plummeting to 8.9 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2001 when Giuliani left office.
    To effectively combat violent crime, Bratton introduced a new tool, known as CompStat, a data-driven approach to policing that identifies real-time problem spots and improves accountability through computer analytics and crime data transparency. He first pioneered the adoption of the tool when he led the New York City Transit Police Department under Dinkins and then the entire New York Police Department under Giuliani.
    Once police understood patterns of crime, they could prevent criminal incidents by intervening in areas defined as "hotspots." According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, CompStat actually contributed to a 63 percent decrease in crime in New York between 1994 and 2012.
    Coupled with CompStat, Bratton instituted "broken windows" policing, a proactive approach to policing that prioritizes penalizing petty crimes, such as vandalism and loitering. These misdemeanors are often indicative of neighborhoods that are predisposed to violent crime. By improving the general safety of these neighborhoods, Bratton gained local residents' trust and cooperation in combating crime.
    NYPD Commissioner defends New York crime rates
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    NYPD Commissioner defends New York crime rates 02:33
    Bratton's crime-fighting techniques make reading New York City weekly crime statistics today feel somewhat surreal. Over the last 23 years, murder and robbery have both plummeted 83 percent, rape has been slashed in half, and burglary has fallen 87 percent.
    But Bratton did not stop fighting crime after his successes in New York. He brought his skills to Los Angeles, where he applied many of the same techniques. In fact, crime dropped six years in a row under his watch.
    Bratton was even approached to lead London's police agency. Instead, he settled for a role as an adviser to the British government, where he preached data, transparency, and zero tolerance for all crime. And Mayor Bill de Blasio's best decision to date has been bringing Bratton back to New York.
    But Bratton's influence extends far beyond the cities he worked directly in and for. Hundreds of police departments across the country now use the Bratton model, including Baltimore and Boston. Still, many more lives have been saved by the efforts of Bratton's disciples, who work in cities big and small across the country.
    And, today, after decades of Bratton's tireless leadership, an individual is six times less likely to be killed in New York than in Chicago. If the current trend holds, Chicago's total body count this year will be more than double New York's, a city with three times the population size as that of Chicago.
    In other words, while Chicago's homicide rate for young, black males rivals the murder rates of third-world capitals, New York has become a paragon of public safety.
    To crib from another larger than life New Yorker: Bratton made New York, and by proxy, America safe again after decades of high crime. The peace of mind we enjoy walking the streets at night is courtesy of his commitment to restoring law and order.
    For that, we all need to thank Bill Bratton.