American ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton has become embroiled in the political fallout from the riots that have shaken Britain in recent days, as politicians and police chiefs attempt to blame one another for everything that went wrong, while taking credit for the eventual tough response that appears to have restored order to the streets of London and other cities.
Bratton pioneered the ‘zero tolerance’ approach to policing in New York as Commissioner of the NYPD in the mid-1990s. He was appointed Chief of Police for Los Angeles in 2002, and was credited with reducing crime in the city for six years running.
Prime Minister David Cameron has now called in Bratton to advise the government on tackling gang violence and other crime in UK cities; Cameron had reportedly wanted to make Bratton the new head of London’s Metropolitan Police force, but was unable to do so because of a stipulation that the post can only be offered to a British Citizen.
Before he’s even started work, Bratton has become what we in the UK call a ‘political football’. Now that expression might not make sense to American readers right off, but bear in mind that we’re talking about a British football, or what Americans would call a soccer ball: if you’re aware that in a game of soccer the ball is kicked repeatedly from one end of the field to the other and back again, the meaning of the expression should become clear.
One senior policeman, who happens to be a candidate for the ‘Met’ post, observed sniffily: “I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them.” But the fact that LA has lots of gangs shouldn’t disqualify Bratton from helping his British colleagues; his success was in reducing crime, not reducing the number of gangs. And I would imagine that British police will be able to learn a great deal from him, not least because gang violence has been a problem in the US for a lot longer than in the UK.
And the Met could barely do any worse that is already the case. While police officers across Britain displayed great courage last week, there are serious questions over the decisions taken by senior commanders. Whoever was responsible for the decisions that ultimately brought the situation under control, the failings on the second and third days of the riots were the Met’s alone: this piece in the Telegraph lays out the operational blunders, and touches on the crisis in morale resulting from the perception of rank and file officers that they cannot count on the full support of their superiors when the manure hits the fan.
Reflexive anti-American snobbery apparently infests the upper echelons of Britain’s police, just as it does the highest levels of other political and cultural institutions (yes, BBC, I’m looking at you). It’ll be a disgrace if that snobbery hinders efforts to introduce reforms to policing that clearly are desperately needed.