A Crimebuster's Fall

Article excerpt

RUDY GIULIANI, THE MAYor of New York, was looking forward to the jan. 15 issue of Time magazine. A politician with national ambitions, Giuliani had plumped hard for the cover story, posing for photos and granting an in-depth interview. He had something important to say--how New York, a city associated with mayhem, had cut serious crime by a quarter and murder by 40 percent in two years. The war on crime, Giuliani proclaimed, can be won.

The mayor's office won't say exactly how Giuliani privately reacted when he was handed the magazine and saw that the face on the cover was not his own but that of a rival he had appointed: Police Commissioner William Bratton. But it wasn't long before the nasty leaks began. New Yorkers learned about Bratton's freebie trips to the Caribbean and his $350,000 book advance. The outcome was inevitable to anyone who had ever read a Greek tragedy or a New York tabloid. Last week Bratton, who had become an international poster boy for crime-fighting, quit his post, ending one of the most flamboyant New York cop-and-pol stories since Theodore Roosevelt was New York police commissioner in the 1890s.

Bratton, who used Roosevelt's huge mahogany desk in his office at One Police Plaza, rose and fell in part by being presumptuous. For decades, it had been widely assumed that police could do little to reduce crime. Experts held that crime rates were determined by larger social forces like poverty and racism. Nonsense, insisted Bratton, a former Boston police chief who worked his way up from the street. He decided to make New York's police commanders accountable, an astonishing innovation in a sometimes corrupt bureaucracy. On taking over in January 1994, Bratton summarily dismissed supervisors who believed they could cut crime only by 2 or 3 percent. The rest were subjected to grillings in Bratton's "war room" at headquarters. Gone were cops who worked bankers' hours and kept track of crime by putting little pins in maps. Using daily computer surveys, Bratton's men were ordered to pour their troops into high-crime areas. Bratton subscribed to "community policing," which requires officers to get out of their cruisers and walk the beat. Community policing--sometimes publicized by photos of policemen jump-roping or shooting hoops with kids--can appear touchy-feely. …