Bratton – the return of the Chosen One?

This blog was originally posted in December 2013

I read today that former Commissioner of the New York Police, Bill Bratton,  is to return and take up his old role once again.  Bratton is associated with a highly politicised term in office, often falling out with Mayor Guiliani during a period where there was a significant drop in crime.  The reason for the drop in crime will depend upon who you talk to; some say it is because of increased police numbers, some say it’s because of an aggressive zero tolerance style of policing and others say that the CompStat system of interrogating District Commanders ‘encouraged’ them to focus on the crimes being measured.

Politically speaking this made Bratton a prime candidate for the role of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London.  The British Government took a long hard look at Bratton, who also had academic support in some quarters, before deciding to give the job to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. 

In the years that Bratton has been away the landscape of policing, in the UK especially, has changed.  We are seeing a move away from the culture of chasing targets and an increase in front line discretion, both of which were key elements of his previous regime.  So it will be interesting to see whether he adopts a different tack, especially as the outgoing Commissioner seems to have done an equally good job of reducing crime and preventing terror attacks. 

On being appointed, Bratton is reported to have said that his first duty will be “to bring police and community together. … It must be done fairly, compassionately and consistently.”  This is one the back of concerns relating to the use of stop-and-frisk tactics. 

The newly elected Mayor has stressed he will try to continue the city’s record public safety gains while improving police-community relations, which he said he believes have been strained by the police tactic known as stop-and-frisk. The tactic allows police to stop anyone believed to be acting suspiciously. Its supporters say it has driven down crime while its critics say it unfairly targets black and Latino men.  A similar tactic that was introduced in the UK post McPherson inquiry.  On each occasion that a person was asked to account for their themselves   a ‘stop and account’ form had to be completed.  This was found to be very time consuming and bureaucratic and for this reason the requirement to complete a requisite form was withdrawn in 2011.  

However, Bratton, a Boston native, has said he supports the proper use of the tactic. According to a study by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government police stops surged 49% during his time in Los Angeles, A federal judge ruled over the summer that the NYPD sometimes carried out its stops unconstitutionally by unfairly targeting minorities. Her ruling is on hold pending an appeal by the city.

This poses an interesting problem for Bratton who supports a tactic that appears to unfairly target minority communities.  UK policing is moving towards a programme of ‘using’ communities as social capital and enabling them to take some level of responsibility for policing their issues themselves.  The importance of engaging communities and building relationships rather than disaffecting them is becoming a key aspect of UK policing and I wonder whether Bratton will recognise the value of this and follow suit?

Time will tell whether Bratton has learned new ideas since his time in New York, or whether he will revert to type and use targets, public CompStat meetings and a lack of front line discretion.

I am indebted to information provided by in the preparation of this blog.

Published by thebluelocust

Former police superintendent. Current university lecturer, police trainer and Director of Blue Locust Network Ltd

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