During his tenure as “America’s Top Cop,” Boston State College alumnus William J. Bratton ‘75 is credited with cutting the violent crime rate in Los Angeles by 53 percent, the homicide rate in New York City by 50 percent, and felony crime on New York City’s transit system by 35 percent.
Yet the accomplishment this Dorchester native is most proud of is his work to improve relationships between the police department and the communities where he served.
Bratton, who was the Boston Police Department’s first liaison to the gay community and later served as the city’s police commissioner, is credited with significantly improving the Los Angeles Police Department’s relationships with the city’s many diverse communities as chief of police.
“I was always a strong believer that if the police department got it right, it could be on the cutting-edge of cutting racial tension,” Bratton says. “If you reduced crime, you could reduce that tension and that fear. When I left LA in 2009, there was not a significant black leader criticizing the LAPD for racial insensitivity and intolerance--not the widespread anger, fear, and hatred that had been the hallmark of LAPD police relations. I had the satisfaction of [working with the police department] to bring about this coming together. If the police had not done this, they’d still be battling in the streets of LA.”
Through a grant from the federal government, Bratton attended classes at Boston State College, now part of UMass Boston, while working as a police officer for the city of Boston.
“I received a very good public education,” Bratton says.
The early 1970s were marked with students joining protests against the Vietnam War. A war veteran himself, Bratton speaks of sitting in the cafeteria at Boston State with students during the day and then, at night, standing, in riot gear, across from those same students protesting outside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
Bratton says that many of his colleagues on the force only talked to fellow police officers and the only thing they’d talk about were police issues.
“Unlike many of my contemporaries who did not go to college, I did not get into the ‘blue cocoon,’” Bratton says. “I had an appreciation for the other side carrying picket signs.”
Bratton says he would encourage students considering a career in criminal justice to take advantage of a liberal arts based-education like the one he got at Boston State.
“While I had some police-specific courses, I had a lot of other courses that I thought were even more beneficial,” Bratton says.
“My education at Boston State was simultaneous to my education as an officer on the streets of Boston. It was primarily one of acquisition of appreciation of differences and causes,” he adds. “The lifestyle in black neighborhoods was different than the white neighborhoods that I grew up in. It would have been more difficult had it not been for the education I received at Boston State and an appreciation for differences. I learned you can’t make a judgment based on only what you’re seeing.”
Bratton adds that his course work at Boston State College was “phenomenally shaped by life.”
“It solidified some things that had already been shaped--an appreciation of cities, appreciation of the importance of police. Going to Boston State College allowed me to be a better policeman and a better police chief.”
At UMass Boston
After UMass Boston
- Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World
- The Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic