New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged video showing the death of Eric Garner during a controversial chokehold arrest was "certainly disturbing," but he cautioned that the investigation was still ongoing on whether the NYPD officer restraining Garner committed a criminal act.
"Policing unfortunately, when force is used, is never good to look at," Bratton said Friday on "CBS This Morning" in his first network interview since the incident. "This particular scene, which has been repeated thousands upon thousands of times, really has struck a chord in the public," he said.
Garner was being arrested for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island. The viral video of the arrest showed him struggling and saying, "I can't breathe!" while an NYPD officer kept Garner in an apparent chokehold and pulled him to the ground.
The medical examiner ruled that he died of neck compressions from the chokehold with "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." His death prompted outraged family and community members to rally with Rev. Al Sharpton and protest the NYPD's method of arrest.
Bratton said the video showing Garner succumbing to the apparent chokehold is just a "snippet" of the eight-minute clip and said the unrecorded activities before and after will be taken into account in the investigation by the District Attorney's office.
Garner's death raised questions about New York's "broken windows" policing method, where officers target low-level crimes, with the logic that it helps prevent more serious crime. It was implemented during Bratton's first stint as NYPD commissioner from 1994 to 1996.
While some around the world have hailed its success, others question whether the practice unfairly targets minorities.
"We are not targeting communities of color, we are targeting behavior," Bratton said. "And the behavior is things that are prohibited by law, breaking the law."
The NYPD has made almost 400,000 arrests in the past year, which is up from 268,000 arrests in 1995, when there were three times as many murders in the city. Bratton defended the increased arrest rate, however, citing a dramatic decrease in state prison populations.
"Why? Because the serious crime that would get people sentenced to those facilities is down dramatically. Why? Because we're stopping the behavior before it becomes more serious," Bratton said.
He said he would rather crack down on summonable offenses where people don't go to jail.
"Do you want to fill up the prisons again or do you want to stop the behavior while it's still in the minor stage? Critics are going to have to decide what they want," Bratton said.
Bratton also addressed the question of race in drug arrests. Blacks and Latinos make up 85 percent of drug arrests in New York City when half of the drug users are actually white.
"We look at that very carefully. Once again, for example, in minority neighborhoods, unfortunately the number of neighborhoods in the city that still have the highest crime rates, that's been the case unfortunately for 20 or 30 years," Bratton said. "Even though crime in those neighborhoods is down 70 or 80 percent, the shootings that we're still seeing, the murders that we're still seeing, are primarily in those neighborhoods."
In turn, he said he has put thousands of extra police in those neighborhoods this summer to help keep the crime down, but while the officers are there, they also catch other offenses that they have to act on.
"So many streams here that have to be looked at. This is not a simple matter to look at," he said.