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Golden age, but plenty of challenges for NYPD's Bratton

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton speaks to the Newsday

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton speaks to the Newsday editorial board in Melville on Monday, Oct. 05, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Sam Guzik

This was part of The Point, the editorial board's inside look at politics and policy in New York. The newsletter is sent out each afternoon, Monday through Friday. To subscribe, click here.

When NYPD Commissioner William Bratton considers the heroin flooding our region and the seriously organized methods of distributing it, he sees heartbreak, but also hope. So far, Bratton says, heroin trafficking hasn't yielded the level of violence associated with the sale of other illegal drugs. That's particularly true in New York City and on Long Island, where the opiate can be delivered to drug users as easily as pizza.

He bemoans the too-loose prescribing by both dishonest doctors and misguided ones who flooded society with opiate pills and addicts.

But when you're working in places as complex as modern New York City and Long Island, every decision is a question of balance and every solution can beget another problem.

"The unintended consequence of the crackdown on legitimate dispensing of prescription drugs was the creation of this heroin demand," Bratton said Mondayin a meeting with the Newsday editorial board. "Certainly it's something you've seen on Long Island."

He applauds the city's renewed prosperity, but sees blocks where single-room-occupancy residences are being transformed into luxury high-rises, making affordable housing harder to find.

Reducing the prison population addresses a real problem, but it also adds to one. Homelessness is on the rise in New York City and emptying out jails cells is part of the cause, one that's similar to the way New York emptied out mental health facilities decades ago.

To Bratton, the city is in a golden age: Violent crime is at an all-time low, prosperity abounds, the population is up and tourism is booming. Yet he knows the problems we do have, we will always have.

Terrorism prevention is a constant concern, and the nature of the battle is changing. The Islamic State group is now more of a threat than al-Qaida, and tomorrow, who knows? Bratton is held responsible for keeping up with this changing landscape. He's tasked with preventing violent attacks, and with respecting civil rights as he does.

Beat the crack epidemic and along come opiate pills -- which lead to heroin and K2 synthetic marijuana. And Long Island is always fighting the same battles, arm in arm with the city, with some troubles a bit more extreme and some less serious here.

Homeless and mentally ill people we will always have with us. Poor people, too. The conflict between police officers being kind enough to us while still being tough enough to protect us will never go away, but the NYPD is updating "use of force" rules to make officer-citizen relationships smoother. "The department is seriously engaged in trying to reduce use of force to the absolute minimum," Bratton said.

Making our society the best it can be is a complex and constantly changing challenge. But Bratton makes a great point that isn't highlighted often enough. Much of that challenge is going quite well, in New York City and on Long Island.