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Culture Change and Digital Technology: The NYPD under Commissioner William Bratton, 2014-2016

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

Susan Crawford Laura Adler

This paper can be downloaded without charge at:

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society Research Publication Series:

The Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection:


Published September 16, 2016

New Yorkers are now safer in the city than they have been in years. Yet tensions between police officers and the communities in which they work have continued to mount in New York, as in other cities across the country. Just this past summer, racial violence erupted in Milwaukee and Baton Rouge in response to the fatal shooting of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Milwaukee joined other cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., in which police killings have been seen as brutal evidence of the disrespect that many African Americans say the police show them. The challenge facing the NYPD today is to maintain safe streets while ushering in a new era of mutual respect between officers and local communities. At this early stage of digital technology adoption, the NYPD’s attempt under Commr. William Bratton (2014-2016) to change the culture of policing by enriching communications between police and neighborhoods holds lessons for public agencies across the U.S. during a period of intense volatility.

This white paper explores NYPD's adoption of Twitter and an ideation platform called IdeaScale that was aimed at allowing community members to nominate "quality of life" issues for resolution by the police. It examines the department's pivot to Facebook as an interactive communications platform following its experience with IdeaScale. It connects these initiatives to the NYPD's overall push for Neighborhood Coordination Officers throughout the city. Finally, it pulls together information about NYPD's revisions to its training and recruitment programs and the department's ongoing efforts to upgrade its basic digital assets, from precinct Internet access to smartphones.

These programs, all made possible by Commr. Bratton's strong leadership, were designed to create a virtuous cycle: The NYPD’s social media, neighborhood policing, and new recruiting and training programs aimed to increase mutual respect by helping officers understand and enhance their responsibility to serve and protect New York City communities—and help community members see police officers as human beings. Stronger community relations may, in turn, support crime prevention. Shifting from a confrontational to a collaborative approach may encourage community members to come forward when they learn about crime. And all of these steps are designed to lead policing away from an exclusive focus on crime reduction and towards a balanced strategy of crime prevention and community outreach—an effort, in Commr. Bratton’s words, to move from a “warrior” to a “guardian” policing mindset.

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