Why is New York police chief apologizing to tennis pro James Blake?

NYPD arrested tennis pro James Blake by mistake, striking a chord with critics of the police force who say officers use overuse of excessive force with minorities. 

Molly Riley/Retuers/File
James Blake gets ready to serve to compatriot John Isner at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, August 4, 2011. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said on Thursday he was concerned over the level of force used in the arrest of Mr. Blake, who was mistakenly identified as a suspect in a fraud ring.

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton issued a rare public apology to tennis pro James Blake on Thursday after Mr. Blake was apprehended by a New York police officer.

In town for the US Open, where he reached the quarterfinals in 2005 and 2006, the formerly-ranked No. 4 tennis player in the world was checking his cellphone when he claims that a plainclothes officer charged at him and slammed him on the ground. After insisting that the officer check his identification, Blake was released, but without explanation or the officer’s name.

According to Commissioner Bratton, the Department only learned of the error when Blake went public with his story, appearing on Good Morning America Thursday morning.

“It should not have happened,” Bratton said bluntly at a press conference held later on Thursday afternoon. He has called Blake to apologize, but not yet received an answer.

A witness for New York detectives investigating a credit fraud scheme operating out of the Grand Hyatt Hotel misidentified Blake as a suspect, leading to his brief arrest.

Although Blake is biracial, he dismissed the idea that race played into the arrest, focusing instead on improper use of force.

The New York Police Department has spent a year in turmoil as leaders debate how to hold officers accountable for unjustified force, particularly against unarmed black suspects. This July marked the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death from a police chokehold, which launched the nation-wide #BlackLivesMatter movement; from Cleveland to Charleston, police departments have been under pressure to defend, or reform, aggressive practices alleged to carry racial bias.

The NYPD has taken strides to win back public confidence, revamping the city's controversial "stop and frisk" policy and encouraging officers to spend more time in the communities, as The Christian Science Monitor's Harry Bruinius reported last month.

At the national level, the White House in May announced its “Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” intended to strengthen relationships between city police and local communities.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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