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President-elect Biden is ‘uniquely qualified’ for police reform: Fmr. NYC Police Commissioner

Yahoo Finance's Alexis Christoforous and Bill Bratton, Former NYC Police Commissioner, discuss police reform outlook under a Biden presidency.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Joining me now is former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton who was also, by the way, top cop in Boston and LA. Commissioner, good to have you on the show again. Thanks for being with us.

Look, Biden had a tough time getting police endorsements this time around. We had the National Association of Police Organizations backing Obama and Biden twice. They were neutral in 2016, but this year they backed Trump, and the president of that organization called Biden/Harris, quote, "the most radical antipolice ticket in history." Do you think that that's a fair assessment, and what could the new administration do to change that perception?

BILL BRATTON: That's not a fair assessment. That's a dog whistle that I think you'll find as the Biden administration comes into position. The Biden experience with law enforcement over the last 40 years will take center stage, and that experience is collaboration.

The vice president worked very, very hard, both in his Senate time and his vice president time, to build alliances and relationships with America's police leaders and America's police unions and has significant support from both of those.

What he got caught up in this year is the whole issue around criminal-justice reform, Black Lives Matter. There's a lot of different streams of initiatives that a lot of the rank-and-file officers and police unions in particular feel are directly targeting them, targeting their value, targeting their importance, targeting their professionalism and fairness. So the vice president, now president-elect and his vice president-elect, I know both of them very, very well. Kamala I certainly worked with when I was chief in Los Angeles and she was up in San Francisco as the district attorney up there. They're very mindful of the need for not only law and order, which somehow or another has become a dirty word in this country, but law and order and justice.

And what is being asked for with criminal-justice reform is reform of the criminal-justice system. So you can have law and order, but you can have justice at the same time, and I think the president-elect is uniquely qualified to fill that bill.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, last time we spoke was July, believe it or not, shortly after George Floyd was killed while in police custody. And at the time, you told me that the critical first step to meaningful police reform is establishing a set of national standards. How might you recommend Biden and his administration go about doing that?

BILL BRATTON: You got a good memory there kid. But in terms of-- the first step has already been accomplished. You may recall that President Obama had a White House conference. It was on a national initiative as such. It was a White House conference that came out with a number of standards. I think there were 32 of them. These were reform initiatives to basically move forward with law and order but law and order with justice and effectively beginning to reform the criminal-justice system.

So there's already a strong foundation that was embraced largely by American policing back at that time. It was not going to be too onerous. And so there's a foundation to build on that was set up by Obama and Biden, what, now four years ago.

I think, however, what is necessary this time is not a White House conference but actually a national commission, one similar to going back to the '60s and '70s, the Kerner Commission. There is a need to effectively develop national standards that would be applicable-- in some cases required, in others strongly suggested-- and thirdly, funded by the federal government to encourage that at the state and local level that there be compliance and support and embrace of these national standards.

I think now is the time to do it. It's been for some reason resisted for almost 50 years, maybe for the fact that the Kerner Report set the country on the wrong course for almost 50 years, so there's maybe a fear of that. But that would be my encouragement of a national commission that ensures that we still have law, that we still have order, but that we have justice in conformity with the criminal-justice reform that so many of the groups out there have been marching and demonstrating for.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You mentioned Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. A couple of weeks ago, she came out in support of creating a national registry of police officers with records of misconduct. She also called for creating national standards on the use of force. I imagine that's not going to go over too well with some of the police unions, but do you think that something like that is necessary?

BILL BRATTON: Well, a management perspective, I think something like that is needed. We have seen too many instances where officers who are fired for oftentimes egregious actions are able to, because their records effectively are sealed, are able to be rehired by other police agencies. So they just move from department to department.

Another issue is that-- and this is one that unions would fight certainly because their obligation is to protect their members, less so the needs of the public-- is the issue of arbitration. In my 50-year career, almost 20-- half of that leading police departments, I've seen time and again where discipline that we felt was appropriate for an officer based on our exhaustive examination was overturned by an arbitrator. So an officer is returned into a department from which he's been discharged or a penalty has been reduced significantly.

Unions fought hard for that arbitration capability feeling that their members were being abused, and rightfully so. They were being abused by some chiefs, some departments. But we need to find more common ground where we can weed out those who shouldn't be police officers under any circumstances and have the systems of discipline that are fairer, that we don't want to fire everybody for every infraction.

And the problem is we really have-- we've got, 1,700, 1,800. We can't even decide on how many police departments we have. So that gives you an example of the problem. Each one of them has their own set of use-of-force policies. You know, it's some national guidelines, which are usually the constitutional guidelines-- Miranda, Escobedo, Terry versus Ohio. But absent that, there are very few actual national guidelines that are enforceable. So that needs to be part of the debate going forward. How do we effectively bring more standardization of best practices across the board?

And this is something where the public is very deficient in their knowledge and awareness, not understanding that you can really go across a town line between two towns and the two departments have two totally different sets of policies. So while something looks awful in city A, in city B, it's not unlawful or it's not against policy. And that becomes very problematic because the public just has no ability to discern the difference between this behavior over in this city got the officer fired. This behavior over in the other city, nothing seemed to happen to them.

And a lot of that has to do with the different labor agreements, the different laws in different states, different policies, and different departments.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Those are all valid points that you make. With the 30 seconds that we have left, I know that you've dealt with President-elect Biden over the years. I know that you both actually spoke at the funeral of police officers in New York years ago.


ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: If you were to tell him one thing you'd like to see him do in his first 100 days in office, what would that one thing be?

BILL BRATTON: Oh, I think you're going to see that he's going to look to very quickly address this issue because it's going to have to be addressed. It was so much a part of the demonstrations over the past year. So it will be certainly one of those first-hundred-day initiatives, how to effectively start bringing about collaboration that we can all get on common ground to have this discussion.