By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Thursday he was reforming the department's "broken windows" policy of targeting low-level crimes as a way to prevent more serious offenses from happening.

Bratton, who was one of the first big-city commissioners to implement "broken windows" when he was New York's top cop in the 1990s, defended the overall practice, which has come under fire by the City Council and community activists who say it clogs jails and unevenly affects poor, young people of color.

While Bratton opposes a push to decriminalize low-level offenses and instead treat them as civil violations, like parking tickets, he said he was working with the council on a compromise.

Bratton said he would consider issuing more warnings and taking fewer people into custody for low-level offenses.

"We need a new form of quality-of-life broken windows policing," Bratton told hundreds of NYPD executives and elected officials at a briefing at the department's police academy.

Bratton said cracking down on quality-of-life crimes like drinking alcohol or urinating in public prevents more serious crimes.

In working toward the compromise, Bratton said he will send a letter to the council on Friday to propose formal discussions about policy reforms.

The focus on New York City's "broken windows" policing comes at a time when the Baltimore Police Department's "zero tolerance" policy is under harsh criticism.

Critics said it allowed Baltimore police to unfairly target African-Americans and led to the racial tensions that erupted in rioting over the unexplained death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man injured while in police custody.

The NYPD issued almost 450,000 summonses in 2013, the most recent year studied, according to a report released this week by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

On average for the past decade, only one in five summonses resulted in a guilty verdict or plea, the study found.

The top charges for which summonses were issued were public consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, public urination and a riding bicycle on a sidewalk, the report said.

Bratton said the number of arrests for low-level offenses have already dropped under his watch. Arrests for minor marijuana offenses, for example, were cut nearly in half to 25,674 in 2014 from 50,950 in 2010, police said.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Eric Beech)