De Blasio, With Bratton by Side, Seeks Balance After 2 Killings – New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, at Police Headquarters.
By MATT FLEGENHEIMER
December 22, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio, publicly silent and largely out of view the day after two police officers were killed in Brooklyn, re-emerged on Monday, straining to demonstrate leadership over a fractured city.

Mr. de Blasio visited the families of the slain officers, spoke to a nonprofit police group and, for the first time since the shooting, took several questions at a news conference at Police Headquarters.

And at every stop, the liberal mayor of New York, who ascended to office on a pledge to reshape the Police Department, had company: Police Commissioner William J. Bratton — once renowned for helping turn back crime in the 1990s, now the essential bridge between the mayor and a department that distrusts him more deeply than ever.

Mr. de Blasio, at the helm of a city still raw from weeks of protests, called for a suspension of the demonstrations, asked the public to report any possible threats against police officers and urged New Yorkers to thank and console officers in mourning, even as detectives continued to trace the movements and communications of the gunman before the attack on Saturday.

Yet on a day of somber reflection from the mayor, who spoke haltingly at times, seeming to search for the right words, he grew impassioned as he forcefully defended the rights of peaceful protesters and wondered, rhetorically, if the news media would “keep dividing us.”

Mr. Bratton stepped in repeatedly to buttress his boss. “Do some officers not like this mayor?” he said. “Guaranteed.”

He added, to laughter, that “amazingly, some don’t” like their commissioner, either.

Mr. Bratton said union leaders — who led an extraordinary protest against the mayor on Saturday, turning their backs to him as he and Mr. Bratton walked past at the hospital — had agreed to a “standing down” of rhetoric until after the funerals. (The first funeral, for Officer Rafael Ramos, will be on Saturday, Mr. Bratton said.)

Yet even as the mayor said it was time to “put aside political debates, put aside protests,” it was clear that he remained ensnared in the signal challenge of his tenure so far, with few clear lifelines to officers.

Since Mr. Bratton’s appointment a year ago, his responsibilities have been extensive. He was charged with keeping crime low while overseeing sweeping changes in police strategy, which have already included retraining programs and a less stringent approach to marijuana possession.

The challenge, always complicated, has become increasingly fraught.

“If a bridge is going to be formed, Bill Bratton has to be the foundation,” said Vincent E. Henry, a former city police officer and the director of Long Island University’s Homeland Security Management Institute. “I do not envy him.”

For decades, there has been perhaps no relationship exposed more plainly to the crucible of New York City government than that of a mayor and his police commissioner. Emergencies arrive daily. Trust waxes and wanes. Egos predominate, as they did during Mr. Bratton’s first, abbreviated tour in New York, under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

But to date, the chief tension surrounding Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Bratton, it seems, has owed to a striking lack of public tension: Critics have searched for any between them and found none, to the consternation of some of each man’s allies.

In separate, wide-ranging interviews conducted the day before the shootings, the two described their municipal marriage as an easy fit, despite preconceptions to the contrary.

Mr. Bratton, the mayor noted, earned a reputation as a reformer as commissioner in Los Angeles and had been widely expected to serve under Mark Green, a liberal Democrat, if he won the New York mayor’s race in 2001.

“A lot of people kind of just stopped their thinking about him after ’96,” Mr. de Blasio said.

And Mr. de Blasio, the commissioner said, was “not as dogmatic as people, I think, think he is around issues of progressiveness. On policing, he’s very pragmatic.”

On Monday, the two emphasized the hundreds of millions of dollars the mayor had directed toward the department in recent months.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Mr. de Blasio said.

In an interview on NBC, Mr. Bratton rejected the suggestion that the mayor had contributed to any increased threats against officers, as unions have argued.

But he conceded that the shootings appeared to be a “direct spinoff of this issue” of the recent protests. The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had alluded to the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner on social media, the police said.

At the same time, officials cautioned that the gunman had a history of mental health problems.

Mr. de Blasio took care on Monday to describe the gunman as a “very troubled individual,” repeatedly urging vigilance among New Yorkers who might encounter threats against officers.

For much of the year, the mayor has been engaged in a protracted struggle with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. Administration officials have attributed much of the unrest to a contract dispute.

Police unions, as Mr. Bratton observed on Monday, have long clashed with mayors. “It is what it is,” he said. “This is New York City.”

But the dynamic laid bare since the shootings, and even before, has been different, current and former officers said.

Many were particularly bothered by Mr. de Blasio’s comments after a grand jury declined to bring charges against a white police officer in the case of Mr. Garner, the unarmed black man who died after a chokehold in July.

Addressing a national reckoning over law enforcement and race, particularly amid protests in Ferguson, Mo., Mr. de Blasio said he had trained his biracial son, Dante, to “take special care” in any police encounter.

Union leaders said the mayor had sent a demoralizing message to his force: that officers were to be feared. Mr. Bratton defended the remarks.

In fact, the mayor has repeatedly praised officers this year.

On Monday, Mr. de Blasio defended his handling of the demonstrations, adding that his campaign pledge to bond residents and officers was as pressing as ever.

“It’s not going to be the kind of city it was meant to be,” he said, “if there is a division between our police and our community.”

He also criticized the news media for giving what he deemed as disproportionate attention to vitriolic or violent protesters.

The overwhelming majority, he said, “are good and decent people who do not say negative things, racist things, nasty things to police.”

“What are you guys going to do?” he asked reporters. “Are you going to keep dividing us?”

Mr. de Blasio’s position since the Garner decision has hardly pleased all police critics. Some lamented his calls on Monday to suspend protests. And many civil rights advocates have expressed disappointment in the mayor’s defense of “broken windows” policing, the aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses, which Mr. Bratton has championed.

For now, it seems, any public debate over police tactics is suspended, at least at City Hall.

Mr. de Blasio emphasized on Monday that the focus should be on the victims’ families, at turns invoking his own.

He and his wife, Chirlane McCray, thought of their own children, he said, as they spoke to Officer Ramos’s.

As a teenager, the mayor told the family, he had also lost his father.

Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, J. David Goodman, Michael M. Grynbaum, Marc Santora, Nate Schweber and Nikita Stewart.

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