David Cameron has reached out to former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton for help with the UK’s growing gang problem. But who is Bratton and what will he do?Bratton actually began his policing career in the the Military Police Corps during Vietnam.
After the war ended, he returned to his native Boston and began working his way up the police ladder there. He had a stint in New York’s Transit Police, returned to Boston as Police Chief, and eventually took on a bigger role as the NYPD’s commissioner.
It’s in New York that his tactics really began to get noticed. Under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Bratton began using what was known as a “broken windows” theory — the idea that if small crimes are left unpunished, they will eventually lead to larger crimes.
The theory was first put forward in a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article by criminologists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson. Here’s an explanation from the Boston Globe:
The crux of Wilson and Kelling’s argument was that perceptions affect reality-that the appearance of disorder begets actual disorder-and that any visual cues that a neighbourhood lacks social control can make a neighbourhood a breeding ground for serious crime.
The tactic seemed to be a success. During Giuliani’s time as mayor, Bratton was able to get the murder rate in New York City down an incredible 70 per cent. Bratton later moved to LA where he helped tackle the city’s widespread gang problem with similar success.
While Bratton may be thought of as an advocate of tough policing, Bratton himself has also placed a significant amount of importance on the value of “community policing”, which stressed the need for a good relationship between police and the communities they serve. During his time in LA, complaints from communities went down significantly. Bratton argues that despite his reputation, he is a progressive:
I’m an advocate of gay and human rights, and of illegal immigrants being treated in humane ways. I’m issues focused. I believe the role of the police is critical to the protection and advocacy of human rights.
After leaving the LAPD in 2009, Bratton became CEO of Kroll, a risk assessment agency.
Before the riots had broken out, David Cameron had already attempted to offer Bratton the top position in London’s police force, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The police force had been demoralized after Sir Paul Stephenson quit during the phone hacking scandal and Cameron felt it could be a moral booster, but the move was blocked by other politicians who felt the position should be filled by a Brit as was customary.
However, after the last weeks riots, Bratton took a call from the British PM and agreed to take work consulting the metropolitan police force.
Bratton’s tough yet progressive method of policing seems to tie in with Cameron’s current thinking. The idea of a “broken Britain” that cracks down on gangs and then forces them to work in a “National Citizenship Scheme” seems in line with Bratton’s thinking. Bratton has written an article in the Daily Mail that outlines some of his ideas on policing gang culture, a growing issue in British society. He talks about the “broken windows” theory and the use statistical analysis, but downplays the use of “zero tolerance”.
British police are giving Bratton’s advice mixed reviews.
“I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them,” Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told the Independent on Sunday newspaper.
And some argue that Bratton and his tactics were not the real reason behind the huge drops in crime in New York and LA. Instead, many argue that the end of the crack epidemic, a natural drop in crime, and even the relaxing of abortion laws in the 1970s ultimately led to the drop.