By Chris Francescani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bill Bratton, a celebrity in the world of U.S. law enforcement, is once again tantalizingly close to the nation's most coveted police job - commissioner of the New York Police Department.
As a New York City mayoral campaign that has been dominated by policing issues heads into its final days, the prohibitive favorite, Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio, has named Bratton as a top candidate for the job.
De Blasio, who has 40-point lead over Republican candidate Joe Lhota in opinion polls ahead of the November 5 vote, has also named as a candidate Phillip Banks III, the NYPD Chief of Department and the highest ranking uniformed officer.
Banks, who is black, could provide a potent symbol of change for a department facing accusations of racial profiling. The NYPD's leading Hispanic chief and the female head of the department's housing bureau are also under consideration, the New York Times has reported.
Only Bratton, however, has star power, and he has led the NYPD before.
Policing experts generally see Bratton, who has also run the Los Angeles and Boston police departments, as a logical choice, though some question whether his legendary self-confidence will undermine his qualifications.
"What makes Bratton singularly effective is that's he's so good on the public side of the job," said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Eugene O'Donnell. "Still, there's a little bit of 'I'm the smartest guy in the room' with Bratton."
The NYPD commissioner oversees a $4.5 billion budget that includes a global counterterrorism and intelligence units and a sprawling urban surveillance network.
While current commissioner Ray Kelly has overseen a dramatic reduction in crime rates, he has also come under fire for the aggressive "stop and frisk" tactic that de Blasio has blasted as unfair and a federal judge has ruled unconstitutional.
The next NYPD commissioner will face new, outside scrutiny from both an independent monitor - imposed by the U.S. district judge who ruled that thousands of police stops of mostly minority young men were unconstitutional - plus an inspector general created recently by the New York City Council.
A MAN IN DEMAND
Bratton, a skilled networker who is friendly to the media, has emerged as a highly sought-after free agent.
Earlier this month, British legislators amended a law that had prevented foreign police chiefs from leading U.K. police forces, a move British media said was aimed at luring him overseas.
He has twice turned down offers to run the police department in Chicago.
At this week's annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia, fellow chiefs lined up to get their picture taken with Bratton.
Since 2009, he has morphed into a name-brand executive - serving on corporate boards, authoring management-strategy books and founding a tech start-up, Bratton Technologies.
His latest project is BlueLine, a social media network for cops.
"His name brings enormous credibility," said New Haven, Connecticut, Police Chief Dean Esserman, a longtime colleague. "There's a predisposition to trust the product and believe it will be top quality."
Bratton, 66, has tried to avoid appearances of campaigning for the job, though he admits to reporters that he wants it. Bratton has been considered for the NYPD job at least four times in the past 20 years, twice losing out to Kelly.
He was appointed NYPD commissioner in 1994 by first-term New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and oversaw a stunning drop in crime. He was forced to resign in 1996 after posing for a glowing Time magazine cover photo and signing a big book contract.
He then became commissioner of his hometown Boston Police Department, and later went on to lead the Los Angeles Police Department out from under federal oversight after a bruising late 1990s corruption scandal.
Longtime department observers say Bratton would likely empower his people and focus more on the public side of the job.
"Kelly is a Marine colonel, who supervises everything closely," said Tom Repetto, author of "American Policing: 1945-2012."
Bratton, he said, "goes in, drives crime down, and tends to pick people for jobs and give them fairly wide latitude."
Still, it remains uncertain who will get the job. Lhota has said he wants to retain Kelly, and police columnist Leonard Levitt said in a recent "NYPD Confidential" column if de Blasio was serious about Bratton or "merely tacking to the political right to burnish his law-and-order credentials."
"It remains to be seen," Levitt concluded.
(Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Philip Barbara)