Anthony Bouza, Police Commander Who Ruffled Feathers, Dies at 94
A self-confessed maverick, he was praised by some and criticized by others for ideas that upset the law-enforcement status quo.
Anthony V. Bouza, who as a police commander in New York City earned both praise and criticism for his emphasis on research and his often blunt remarks about policing, and who later introduced pioneering anti-crime tactics as the police chief of Minneapolis, died on June 26 in Bloomington, Minn. He was 94.
His death, at a care facility, was confirmed by his son Anthony S. Bouza.
The elder Mr. Bouza (pronounced BOE-zah), who was born in Spain, was the New York Police Department’s highest ranking Hispanic official when he stepped down in the mid-1970s.
In a paramilitary hierarchy where conflict is muffled, Mr. Bouza stood out by speaking his mind as a self-confessed maverick and “chronic malcontent.”
“In New York,” he once said, “the police code of silence is stronger than the Mafia’s code of omerta.”
Comments like that, as well as provocative phrases like “feral children” and “malign neglect,” made him a lightning rod. Critics pigeonholed him as an aloof logician who sometimes played fast and loose with statistics. But the backlash was partly generated by his mettle in upsetting the status quo by experimenting with innovative policing that responded to patterns of criminality.
“It is hard to find any police executive before or since who has made such giant strides forward in police research,” Lawrence Sherman, an emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Cambridge in Britain, said in 2012.
Praising Mr. Bouza’s “evidence-based policing,” Professor Sherman added, “Bouza was the first to articulate the importance of medical-style clinical trials of police practices with individual offenders and specific street locations.”
Among other things, Mr. Bouza proved, at least statistically, that “if you can train police to be less violent, less violence will be directed at the police,” as he put it in 1986 when discussing the findings of a report by the nonprofit Crime Control Institute, of which he was chairman. He insisted that two-person patrols were sometimes wasteful, as were low-level sweeps for criminal suspects.
Mr. Bouza often sounded frustrated that his role in the criminal justice system was limited to law enforcement.
“There has to be a restructuring from top to bottom, with a weeding out of psychos, criminals and the unfit,” he told the City Club of New York in 1976. (He later delivered a more charitable assessment of police officers: “Ninety-eight percent of them do, or try to do, their job, their work ranging from mediocre to heroic and brilliant.”)
Addressing the debate over whether teenagers should be tried as adults, given the staggering increase in violent crime in the 1970s, he said, “American society has given up punishment for rehabilitation, but rehabilitation hasn’t succeeded, so society stands naked and helpless before the assault.”
He could be blunt and caustic in tracing urban ills, including crime, to America’s racial divide.
On Sept. 18, 1976, a rowdy protest by 2,000 off-duty patrolmen and a robbery spree by marauding teenagers, most of them Black and Hispanic, converged to produce mayhem for officers assigned to maintain order outside Yankee Stadium, where Muhammad Ali was fighting Ken Norton for the heavyweight championship. The off-duty officers were protesting the city’s latest contract offer; the teenagers were robbing and harassing fightgoers. The officers on patrol allowed their off-duty colleagues plenty of leeway.
At the time, Mr. Bouza was an assistant chief inspector, commanding 3,000 uniformed officers in 11 precincts in the Bronx.
“The kids impinged on the consciousness of more prominent Americans,” Mr. Bouza said in response to the mostly wealthy white ticketholders’ wrath at the teenagers who ran amok that night. “If I failed, it’s because I didn’t continue to make these feral children invisible to middle- and upper-class Americans who aren’t used to seeing them.”
He continued that theme in one of the many books he wrote, “How to Stop Crime” (1993).
“The crime and violence that result,” he wrote, “are the consequences of the racist policies and the poverty that the white overclass has visited on the Black underclass. “The Bronx,” he continued, was “emblematic of America’s contemporary frontier, where the nation was battling for its soul — and losing.”
Anthony Vila Bouza was born on Oct. 4, 1928, in El Ferrol, in northwest Spain (which is also, as it happens, the birthplace of the dictator Francisco Franco). His father, Jose Antonio Bouza, was a merchant mariner who stoked coal-fired boilers; his mother, Encarnación Vila, was a seamstress. His father jumped ship and entered the United States illegally, but he became a citizen before returning to Spain and marrying.
When Anthony was 10, with his father often at sea, he, his 17-year-old sister and their mother moved to Brooklyn Heights, where he attended Manual Training High School.
In addition to his son Anthony, Mr. Bouza is survived by his wife, Vivien (known as Erica); another son, Dominick; and four grandchildren.
While working in the garment center after a stint in the Army, Mr. Bouza enrolled in the Delehanty Institute, a civil service school, to study for the police exam. He became a probationary patrolman on New Year’s Day 1953.
He quickly rose through the ranks while studying at Baruch College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and at the City College of New York, where he received a master’s in public administration.
In addition to “How to Stop Crime,” Mr. Bouza’s books include “The Police Mystique: An Insider’s Look at Cops, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System” (1990) and “Expert Witness: Breaking the Policemen’s Blue Code of Silence” (2013), in which he discussed his testimony as a civilian for plaintiffs in suits against the police for abuse and false arrest.
Mr. Bouza received widespread attention after the 1976 Yankee Stadium incident. “Feral children,” the term he used to characterize the marauding teenagers, became a catch phrase.
“What I’m doing is discussing publicly what we’re all discussing privately,” he said at the time. “I’ve been saying this for 10 years. The world, for once, was listening.”
Twenty-eight youths were arrested by some of the 400 police officers whom Mr. Bouza had deployed. He was a prospective scapegoat, but he was cleared of charges that he had mishandled the off-duty officers’ demonstration. (“We have not found any reason for the initiation of disciplinary action in this case,” Police Commissioner Michael J. Codd said.)
But by that time Mr. Bouza had already announced that he was leaving the Police Department after 24 years to join his former boss, Sanford D. Garelik, as second in command of the Transit Authority police force. He remained with that force until 1979.
“The department has made me everything I am today,” he said of the police force in 1976. “It has been my Harvard and Yale.”
Mr. Bouza was named police chief in Minneapolis in 1980 and there put some of his policing ideas into practice. Among other things, he ordered that the police arrest the perpetrators of domestic violence rather than mediate those disputes, and he shifted patrols to the sites that produced the most crime.
He served in Minneapolis for nine years, often provoking the ire of the police union with his emphasis on substantial changes — although he did come to acknowledge that he had underestimated the city’s gang problem.
In 1983, Mr. Bouza presided over the arrest of his wife, at a demonstration against a weapons manufacturer. “I’m sure,” he said at the time, “she will come out spouting all kinds of comments about prison reform.”
After his retirement, Mr. Bouza was a frequent witness for the defense in lawsuits against police officers across the country.
“With all due respect to Minneapolis, he should have ended up heading the police departments of one of the giant cities — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — to show what he could do,” Thomas Repetto, the former president of the Citizens Crime Commission in New York City, told The Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2013. “I like to say he is the greatest police commissioner New York City never had.”