N.y. Police Chief To Quit, Ending A Feud A Sharp Crime Drop Became A Source Of Friction With The Mayor. Now, Bratton Is On His Way Out.

Posted: March 27, 1996

NEW YORK — A month into his term as mayor, Rudolph Giuliani hired William J. Bratton as police commissioner to help deliver on his campaign promise that New York would be a safer place.

It worked. Murders and other felonies dropped dramatically. Bratton became a national symbol in the fight against urban crime, his face on the cover of Time magazine, the embodiment of America's desperate wish to see criminals driven back.

But Giuliani let it be known that he thought Bratton was getting too much of the credit. So it was no great surprise yesterday when the commissioner announced that he would leave the administration in three weeks for a job at Boston First Security Corp., where he will run a New York division of the firm.

As head of the nation's largest police department, Bratton, 48, a lean, telegenic Bostonian, says he just decided to move on at the time of great triumph for himself and his 44,000-member department. But the departure of a man who has become the poster boy of how to fight crime in this country has left the city to ponder why Giuliani, who has seen the greatest successes of his administration in reduced crime numbers, is letting the man who was the quarterback of that success walk away.

Yesterday, the men praised each other, but their differences have played out in public for months.

Recently, the mayor refused to automatically renew Bratton's contract, saying city lawyers should first review a $350,000 book deal that Bratton had signed to write his memoirs. They also clashed over a trip that Bratton had taken to the Caribbean on a private plane owned by a Wall Street figure who specializes in leveraged buyouts.

Such a spat was a stunning reversal from when Giuliani and Bratton crisscrossed the city like frontier lawmen, upbraiding cop killers, dirty cops, drug dealers, terrorists, squeegee men and panhandlers.

In a city where 74 percent of the residents thought crime was the most important issue, these were the good guys.

Over the next two years, murders fell 38 percent - from 1,926 in 1993 to 1,182 in 1995. Other serious felonies were down nearly 20 percent.

But while the mayor and the commissioner wowed the city and the nation with their remarkable success, the relationship began to sour. There were clashes over who deserved credit for the reduction in crime, and at one point, the mayor's office began handling press calls for the police department. The mayor ordered firings and transfers in the police department, and wanted to personally review high-level promotions and transfers.

For more than a year, Bratton was reported to be leaving for this job or that.

Even as the spats continued, Bratton came to symbolize a hope that city streets could be safe again, that the approach to fighting crime in big cities could be professional, controlled and effective.

In arresting street-level drug dealers, the police department got hundreds of thousands of guns off the street. Using daily crime reports, officers were redeployed in the areas with the potential for the most trouble. With fewer guns on the streets, and more officers in the trouble spots, Giuliani's promised results soon became visible.

Officers drove panhandlers off the subway and arrested people who urinated on the sidewalks or played radios too loudly. The mayor called it a crackdown on ``quality-of-life crimes.''

Both the mayor and commissioner made clear that they intended to upset the status quo. When officers began arresting squeegee men who rushed motorists at the tunnel exits and major intersections, it set off a controversy about whether the new get-tough Republican mayor was picking on little people. Neither man shrank from the controversy.

Interviewed on television, Bratton was blunt about the squeegee men: ``They ought to get off their asses and get jobs,'' he snarled. Some New Yorkers loved it.

Somehow, the successes did not bring the two men closer.

The strains began showing in 1994, when the mayor chastised the commissioner for frequenting some of the city's celebrity night spots.

A year ago the tension boiled over when the mayor, unhappy with the amount of publicity generated by the police department's press operation, ordered that 35 employees in the Department of Public Information be transferred. Deputy Commissioner John Miller, who headed the office, quit instead of making the transfers.

Miller, who had been a popular television crime reporter, accused the mayor of trying to control information coming out of the police department for political purposes. ``It's not the mayor's information,'' he said. ``It's the public information.''

Yesterday, there was no mention of friction. While praising Bratton, Giuliani said he would quickly name a replacement.

Critics said that Bratton's departure is part of a pattern for the mayor.

``He drove him out the door,'' said former Mayor Edward Koch. ``He cannot tolerate seeing an independent person get the applause of the city on their own. Instead of letting the police commissioner rightly accept the applause of the city for doing a good job, the mayor announced that he did it.''

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