Forum: NYPD blues good, lucky, or both?
By Tony Bouza
Asked which soldiers made the best generals, Napoleon answered, “lucky ones.”
The same is true of police chiefs. Bill Bratton, one of the smartest, ablest, slickest police executives around, also had the good sense to be lucky. The problem arises when good fortune is confused with design. Such transpositions lead to hubris.
Mayors, who repeatedly label their choices “the best P.C. ever,” regularly trot out guys who come equipped with new answers and the latest jargon. Watch street crime rise, and the chiefs wheel out the latest sociological, economic and racial theories to explain the phenomenon. See crime decline, however, and you get a barely audible “aw shucks,” as the chief’s programs get paraded to an admiring media and public.
For nine years I ran one of the country’s most aggressive police departments using decoys, stings, SWAT teams, undercover operations and even allowing chokeholds. We employed tough street tactics against drunks, vagrants, peddlers, even musicians.
The issue of police aggressiveness deserves special mention because every big-city chief calls his or her department super-tough on crime, and no citizen ever thinks of any good reason that this might not be true. It isn’t. The political realities are more complex.
(Tony Bouza was police chief of Minneapolis from 1980 to 1989, following a long career with the NYPD. He is the author of “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire” [Plenum Publishing, 1996].)