LOS ANGELES -- ``Progressives'' will flinch from the thought, but, judging by the standards they favor, perhaps the most successful public official of the last decade wears a dark blue uniform and carries a gun. He is this city's police chief, William Bratton.
No aspect of contemporary governance -- in the delivery of education, medical care, housing, or even welfare services -- has achieved progressive successes as dramatic as has policing. These have been progressive in that their benefits have accrued disproportionately to persons particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable to injury, including deprivation of liberty, property and life by crime.
Between 1991 and 1999 more professional policing, with an assist from demography (fewer young males), reduced violent crime nationally more than 25 percent. In New York City between 1993 and 2001, thanks largely to measures instituted while Bratton was Mayor Rudy Giuliani's police commissioner between 1994 and 1996, crime was reduced 64 percent -- including a 75 percent decrease in gun homicides.
This change, of a magnitude that social science rarely records, primarily benefited low-income minorities living in neighborhoods infested with predators -- mostly minority predators preying on minorities. The facts of crime refute the ``progressive'' myth of the equal susceptibility, at any time, of all social groups to antisocial behavior.
But successful policing, which led to ``disparate'' arrest patterns, produced complaints about police. Complainers cited the disparities as prima facie proof of racial profiling. But the racial profile of the beneficiaries of better policing is: mostly minorities, released from imprisonment in their homes, free to venture into the streets of revitalized neighborhoods.
For a trenchant appraisal of Bratton's achievement, and more, read Heather Mac Donald's book ``Are Cops Racist? How the War Against the Police Harms Black Americans,'' in which she demolishes the myth of pervasive racial profiling. She warns: ``If the police are now to be accused of racism every time they go where the crime is, that's the end of public safety.'' And of the urban renaissance that owes much to more intelligent policing.
New York was not large enough for two personalities as assertive as Bratton's and Giuliani's. The mayor's decision to fire Bratton probably had something to do with Bratton's appearance, by himself, on a Time magazine cover celebrating progress against crime.