Oakland Hires Famed Former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, But His Role Is Unclear



One of the most prominent American policemen will try his hand at sorting out the Gordian Knot that is the Oakland Police Department. City officials announced yesterday they intend to hire William Bratton, a senior consultant with the risk management firm Kroll Associates and the former police commissioner of New York City and Los Angeles, as a consultant.

Bratton will be working to help OPD fight a spiking crime rate — but not to bring the department into compliance with its decade-old federally mandated reforms.

Bratton will be the third former police chief working as a consultant for OPD in recent years. His predecessors have not gotten along with city officials: Robert Warshaw, the former police chief of Rochester and current court-appointed monitor, has clashed repeatedly with City Administrator Deanna Santana, while former Baltimore police commissioner Thomas Frazier, who was hired to review OPD's response to Occupy Oakland last fall, strongly objected to Santana's efforts to censor a highly critical report prepared by his firm.

City officials say Bratton will be paid under a $250,000 agreement with Strategic Policy Partnership, a firm already retained by Oakland to review OPD's best practices and crime reduction strategies. Court documents show Oakland has spent just under $1 million on consultant contracts related to the consent decree in 2012, excluding the new deal that will bring Bratton to Oakland.

Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin — who along with the City of Oakland and fellow attorney John Burris, recently agreed to appoint a “compliance director” to speed up OPD's reform efforts — questioned the necessity of hiring Bratton, especially given the costs taxpayers are already shouldering for city-hired consultants. “I can't see any reason why they need to hire yet another consultant," he said.

Bratton is expected to improve OPD's use of CompStat — a computerized crime-tracking program that's already in use in Oakland, and that he used to great success in New York City during the 1990s — as well as oversee the reorganization of OPD's street patrols into five geographic areas. If the latter comes to pass, it will represent the second major reorganization of OPD's patrol division in two years: In July 2011, former chief Anthony Batts consolidated patrol duties into two geographic areas instead of three, merging a patrol sector encompassing the neighborhoods between Lake Merritt and Fruitvale with another that extended from High Street down to the San Leandro border. The reorganization was undertaken in order to cope with the impact of mid-2010 layoffs on the department. It is unclear how the most recent proposed reorganization will be implemented while OPD's staffing level remains at historic lows.

While serving as NYPD Commissioner from 1994 to 1996, Bratton became a media darling for enforcing a model of policing known as the broken windows theory, which focused on low-level crimes, and for pioneering the use of CompStat to target crime hotspots. However, there is debate as to whether New York's remarkable crime reduction in the 1990s was due to Bratton's policies or the community policing model taken on by his predecessor (and current NYPD commissioner) Ray Kelly. Bratton left the NYPD after clashing with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and went to work for Kroll Associates.

At Kroll, Bratton was part of the independent monitoring team that oversaw the Los Angeles Police Department's consent decree, which came about following the Ramparts police corruption scandal. In October 2002, he was hired as LAPD Police Chief. Up to his retirement from LAPD in October 2009, Bratton oversaw decreases in crime, improved public perception of LAPD despite high-profile debacles (most notably, a police riot during a May Day, 2007 demonstration in MacArthur Park), and successfully got LAPD out from under federal oversight.

Neither Bratton nor a city spokesman returned requests for comment.