New York City’s police commissioner on Tuesday called the violence in Ferguson, Mo., “very disturbing” and said he would work with protesters to avoid similar unrest when a Staten Island grand jury returns a decision in a police-involved death.
Commissioner William Bratton, speaking a day after a grand jury declined to indict a Missouri police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, said he had sent detectives to Ferguson to “bring back lessons that might be learned from their experience to our city.”
“I think what’s happened in the streets of Ferguson is certainly very disturbing,” Mr. Bratton said. “It should not have happened, but it did.”
Mr. Bratton’s New York Police Department will face its own test when a Staten Island grand jury decides whether to indict a police officer in the July death of Eric Garner, who authorities said was put in an apparent chokehold while he was resisting arrest.
The NYPD under Mr. Bratton has had a few dry runs at mass protests, including Ferguson-focused protests on Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday, the protests shut down several large Manhattan streets and three bridge crossings, but resulted in no major violence and only two arrests.
On Tuesday evening, hundreds of marchers zigzagged across Manhattan, snarling traffic on busy roads as police mostly just looked on.
In one of the few confrontations, officers ordered a crowd in Times Square several times to stop blocking Seventh Avenue. The protesters ignored the directive, and police made several arrests.
One of the arrests Monday was for an alleged assault on Mr. Bratton, who was spattered with red paint while overseeing the protests in Times Square.
The NYPD also avoided large numbers of arrests and violence when thousands of demonstrators marched to highlight Mr. Garner’s death last August in Staten Island.
The commissioner said the police had long-term relationships with civil-rights and community leaders.
“One of the reasons that [the Staten Island] march went off so well two months back was the relationships that we had,” said Mr. Bratton who added that he and newly appointed Chief of Department James O’Neill have been talking with elected officials and community organizers.
The NYPD’s response to the Ferguson protests drew mixed reviews.
Some marchers said not much has changed from the days of Occupy Wall Street, when hundreds of protesters were arrested when they tried to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge.
“I think they handled it like they always do. It was a military formation,” said Imani Henry, one of the organizers of a protest in Manhattan on Monday. “We’re not under the illusion that they’re there to protect us.”
Asked about any incidents in particular, he described a confrontation in which he said a police officer on a motor scooter sped up in a crowd and rammed protesters.
“They don’t care about our safety,” said Mr. Henry.
Bill de Blasio
—he criticized how Occupy Wall Street protesters were treated in 2011—praised the NYPD’s response, saying the police respected the right to protest.
“We allow protests to happen the right way and generally speaking in a way that really fosters nonviolence and people participating in their society in the right manner,” he said.
One police critic, defense attorney Ron Kuby, said he saw differences in how the police handle protests now versus under former Commissioner
“Under the Kelly regime, the police model was to use any pretext possible to sweep up as many protesters as you could get and then process them through the system so they spend at least 24 hours behind bars,” Mr. Kuby said. “When the cops make it clear they aren’t looking for a reason to arrest you but are just trying to keep everyone safe, there’s a different vibe.”
Mr. Kelly didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Bratton said his strategy was to “give a little breathing room” to protesters—up to a point.
“Then we make it clear that ‘It’s time to go,’ if you will,” Mr. Bratton said. “And we are adapting to some of their changing strategies and tactics. As long as they remain nonviolent, as long as they don’t engage in issues that cause fear or create vandalism, we will work with them to allow them to demonstrate.”
—Michael Howard Saul,
and Thomas MacMillan
contributed to this article.