Lessons from the American Experience of Policing - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 1-15)


30 NOVEMBER 2010

Q1   Chair: Mr Bratton, thank you very much for coming today to give evidence to this Select Committee. We are conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into policing and the issues that are confronting the public as a result of the Government's very ambitious and challenging agenda, so some of our questions are going to be asking for comparisons between America and the United Kingdom. If you can't answer them, we perfectly understand.

We are very interested in what you have done in your distinguished career, both in New York and in Los Angeles. Perhaps I could start with a question about the "broken windows" model. Some academics have cast doubt on whether or not this is an effective way of dealing with policing. What are your views on this?

Bill Bratton: The "broken windows" theory advanced by George Kelling and Jim Wilson—actually 30 years ago this year; it's the 30th anniversary of it—has been a strategy and a concept that I have embraced throughout my policing career in 40 years, in every police organisation I have worked in. It is not an end-all in and of itself, and I think that's some of the debate among academics in which it is believed that some are asserting that the turnaround in New York City specifically was a direct result of "broken windows". "Broken windows" was one of eight strategies that were employed in New York City to make that city the safest large city in the United States.

I think it is an essential component of any set of police initiatives anywhere in the world to address what I believe are the issues of concern by members of the public anywhere in the world about public safety. There is serious crime, but there are also the crimes, the violations, that people experience every day in their neighbourhoods, on their way to work, or in their work environment. That's what "broken windows" seeks to address—those issues that are seemingly minor create fear, create disorder and, if left unaddressed, ultimately result in significantly more crime and more serious crime.

Q2   Chair: Indeed. There is a debate at the moment, obviously because of the current economic climate that will result in the numbers of police officers in a local area being reduced. Do you think there is any correlation between the numbers of officers in a particular area and the level of crime?

Bill Bratton: As a police chief for many, many years, I would always like to have more police, but the reality is it is not just numbers but, more importantly, what you do with them. More is fine, but if they're just standing around or if they're not focused on issues of concern to the public, then those numbers are not ultimately going to achieve what you would hope to achieve, which is improve public safety and reduce crime. So by way of comparison, if you will, in New York City I had 38,000 police officers to work with during the two years I served as commissioner there. That size force allowed a very rapid turnaround when that force was focused on serious crime, through use of our CompStat processes, but at the same time focusing also on the "broken windows" or, as you refer to it in your country, "antisocial behaviour". I strongly believe that you need to focus on both at the same time. One might receive more of a priority at given times than another on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis, because some neighbourhoods are fortunate not to have serious crime but are very concerned about behaviour.

So, I had 38,000 police officers in New York City. In Los Angeles I had 9,000. Los Angeles: 500 square miles, worst gang problem in America, 4 million residents. New York: 38,000 police officers, 300 square miles, 8 million residents, a drug crime problem. To have the equivalent of what I had in New York City in Los Angeles, I would need 18,000 police officers, I only had 9,000 but, over a seven-year period, every year crime went down in Los Angeles; every year the public perception of police and their effectiveness improved with that dual focus of crime and social disorder enforcement. Reinforcing the adage: it's not so much the numbers but how you use them, how you inspire them, how you direct them and what their priorities are.

Chair: Indeed. I am sure that we will have further questions on that issue, because the cutting of red tape and the focusing of police officers on core tasks is, of course, extremely important, whether it's the United States or it's in the United Kingdom.

Q3   Mr Burley: Prior to becoming an MP this year I was a councillor in a part of London called Hammersmith and Fulham, where we tried to model our policing on the "broken windows" theory through a zero tolerance approach. I was just wondering whether you thought that that was a model you could replicate anywhere in any city in this country or elsewhere in the world, or whether there are some areas—rural areas for example—where that model isn't applicable and doesn't work?

Bill Bratton: First, I would not advocate attempting zero tolerance anywhere in any city, in any country in the world. It's not achievable. Zero tolerance, which is often times attributed to me and my time in New York City, is not something we practised, engaged in, supported or endorsed, other than zero tolerance of police corruption. Zero tolerance implies that you in fact can eliminate a problem, and that's not reality. You're not going to totally eliminate crime and even social disorder. You can reduce it significantly.

So I would stay away from use of the term. It sounds great. Politically it's a great catchphrase. The term originated here in England when Jack Straw, as Shadow Home Secretary, visited me in New York in 1995, and by that time the impressive change in New York City had begun to occur. He heard the term "zero tolerance" when we were speaking about police corruption but then applied it across the eight strategies that we were engaging in in New York, including "broken windows", drugs, gangs, crime, stolen cars and police corruption. So it was a term misappropriated and misapplied. You seem to love it over here, because I have the hardest time convincing you to stay away from it.

But on the issue that you talked about—the focus on dealing with quality of life, as we refer to it in America, antisocial behaviour as you refer to it here—I believe that any police initiative that is conducted without taking into account that issue is doomed to failure in the sense of convincing the public that we are effective in dealing with crime. Because while there is a lot of serious crime, the average citizen is often times not going to be affected by it in the sense of being personally victimised by it. Case in point: New York City. In the worst crime era in the history of New York City there was 700,000 reported major crimes in New York City, population 8 million. So you had less than a one in 10 chance of being murdered, raped, robbed, larceny, burglary, car theft. However, every day in every neighbourhood of New York you were confronted with the social disorder—the aggressive panhandling, the prostitution, the drug dealing, the abandoned cars—and, if left undeterred, if left unaddressed, it would grow. Thus, the "broken windows" theory.

  In a country that loves gardening, you fully appreciate the idea if you don't weed a garden, that garden is going to be destroyed; the weeds are going to overrun it. Similarly for social disorder: if you don't deal with those minor crimes, they're going to grow. What also grows is fear. What also grows is flight. People are going to leave those neighbourhoods because they don't feel safe. So any police strategy—Bill Bratton speaking based on the American police experience—that does not simultaneously address serious crime in what the average person experiences every day that's negative and creates fear in their life is doomed to failure in the sense of the crime stats can tell you crime is falling—well, in fact, it may be falling—but if people don't feel better about their neighbourhood they're just not going to believe it.

Q4   Mr Burley: One of the things they did in New York, which enabled people to record those things that affect their everyday quality of life that you mentioned was the implementation of 311, a very easy to remember number where you could record anything that you see on your way to work—antisocial behaviour, graffiti, broken windows. We tried to do this in this country several years ago with a 101 number as an antisocial behaviour hotline, and the tagline was, "When it's less urgent than 999 but still important". That kind of kicked into the long grass and there were some pilots and it was never rolled out nationally. Could you just give us an idea of your thoughts about the impact that that number has had in New York and the benefits that it could bring if we decided to roll it out in this country?

Bill Bratton: In New York Mayor Bloomberg would certainly argue, because he took what had begun under Mayor Giuliani and then expanded it, it has been a success. It's not just for the reporting of quality of life issues, but for any absence of city services that a citizen wants addressed. We implemented the 311 system in Los Angeles shortly after I arrived there and the newly elected mayor. It never quite achieved the same level of success as New York, in that Mayor Bloomberg invested a lot of personal capital in driving it, much the same as he has CompStatted the whole city. He also used 311 as a means of supplying information to his City CompStat system. New York probably has one of the more successful models of its use.

I can't speak to your issue in the sense of why it didn't catch on. My sense, in the short time I've been here, is that the term that you use, "antisocial behaviour", has a broader context in your country than the term "quality of life, broken windows" in my country. When we refer to "quality of life" in the United States, the average person thinks of the idea of the minor crime or violation. I think there is some bleeding in your country into more serious crime, or what we would think of as more serious crime, connected with antisocial behaviour—again, it's just a sense I have. I don't know what the actual definition of antisocial behaviour is in the law.

Chair: I call Alun Michael. I should tell you, Mr Bratton, that Mr Michael is a former Police Minister for the British Government.

Q5   Alun Michael: When I visited New York, the thing that impressed me most was the way that local commanders were being held to account for the effectiveness of their policing and their reduction of crime within their area. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about the way that was achieved, because very often the devil is in the detail. It sounds easy, but use of CompStat and things like that was a part of that, wasn't it?

Bill Bratton: The overall direction of police that we changed in New York City in 1994 began first with the vision that something could be done about crime. That was a turnaround, because in the '70s and '80s it was felt the best we could do was respond to what was occurring, attempt to address it and hopefully, by addressing it effectively, it would be reduced. In the '90s we were much more forceful. In some respects, it's very similar to what your Government appears to be engaged in with this new initiative—the idea, the belief, that police can do something much more directly about crime by focusing on it in a different way; that we can focus on preventing it rather than measuring our success on the process of responding to it. So when I talk about the process of responding: we measured response time, we measured arrest rates, we measured clearance rates—it was all a process and they were all after the fact. What changed in American policing, particularly in New York in a leadership role, was that we accepted responsibility—we, the police—that we could do something about crime, about the cause of crime, which is human behaviour.

Q6   Alun Michael: So who would be responsible at what level? This was at the precinct commander level?

Bill Bratton: Well, it began first with me as police commissioner and, by my accepting responsibility, I now devolved lower into the organisation that same responsibility. But also I empowered: a lot of the power I had as police commissioner, where I was directing and controlling and my predecessors were directing and controlling in a very hierarchal and bureaucratic organisation, we pushed further down into the organisation to an appropriate level where there would be adequate resources, adequate intelligence and adequate authority to effect change. In the NYPD, with 75 precincts, that was the precinct level: the captain in command of 300 officers, on average, policing a three square mile area. What we gave that captain was the authority to determine how he was going to assign his or her officers, uniform, bicycles, walking, anti-crime, narcotics—whatever the issues were in his neighbourhood.

Q7   Alun Michael: So it depended on his analysis of the problems in his area and, therefore, matching resources to problems?

Bill Bratton: That's correct. We, at the department level, had identified the eight areas of concern in the city. They were drugs, youth crime, guns—all interrelated—auto theft, domestic violence, police corruption, traffic issues, and "broken windows" quality of life offences, which were the lynchpin. At the same time, in 75 precincts, some precincts did not have a serious crime problem. Other precincts were like the 75 in East New York, called the "killing fields", which had 144 murders in one year. So to try and police this very diverse city with a monolithic set of strategies would not work. We gave our broad strategies but then the police precinct commander was free to refine them to his issues. He would then be measured through the CompStat process—I love cops, I'll give them power, but I understand that you have to control what you give away, so you hold them accountable. Precinct commanders were expected to report through the CompStat process what was happening in their area and what they were doing to address it.

A lot was said about the fact that I replaced 75% of the precinct commanders in the first year. Many thought that I was replacing people who were not achieving success. No. Many of them were being rewarded for their success and promoted up, so the turnover was as much promotion up as basically taking people who were in a round slot but were a square peg and moving them elsewhere.

The idea was transparency and inclusion and decentralisation. Those were the three things. Indeed, your Government is talking about much more transparency in the new policing plan. It's talking about inclusion and it's talking about decentralisation. Having lived that experience in New York, while what is being proposed here is personalised certainly to your country, your laws, your issues, it has many similarities to what we did in New York and later in LA with great success: the decentralisation, the pushing down from the, in your case chief constable, in my case police commissioner, to the area level commander and then him pushing down further into the precinct level, where constables and police officers could bring their ideas into the mix about what to do in their particular patch.

Transparency: in CompStat, much as we're sitting here, everybody is hearing what worked, what didn't work—"Geez, in my precinct I have the same problem; maybe I'll try what you're doing." Then, lastly, the idea of inclusion: everybody is in the game together, the sharing. Policing is a very exclusive profession. The idea of not sharing information and not telling the person next to you their coat's on fire. It basically reduces the force multiplication impact of everybody being engaged. It starts at the top with leadership—leadership that's willing to be creative but leadership that's allowing creativity further down into the organisation.

Q8   Alun Michael: Can I just ask one other question, which is about the question of public confidence and so on, because I understand the methodology of that and it depends on the proper analysis of what is going on and all the rest of it. On public confidence, we saw, for instance in my own city, and we had evidence in the Committee, of a 40% reduction in the number of victims of violent offences measured by how many people go to the accident and emergency unit; on the other hand, people don't take that too seriously and don't feel any safer in the city. You managed very effectively to get across what you were managing to achieve within the police force. Have you any lessons for us there?

Bill Bratton: This goes back to the earlier comment about dealing with quality of life, antisocial behaviour at the same time that you're dealing with the serious crime. You can report all the reductions you want—30%, 40%, 50%—in the press, but if that person, as they step out their front door is slipping on a condom from the prostitute who used the front door the night before, and the abandoned car they'd been calling about for three weeks is still sitting there and each day there are more broken windows and tyres disappearing, then what the public in general is hearing about isn't their reality. In your society, particularly here in London and probably in some of your major cities where the news is tabloid driven, they are also then reading about the most sensational case that just occurred.

  The change in New York City and then in LA was the transparency of our crime stats, because we were publishing them all the time, reporting them all the time. It wasn't a couple of times a year. Indeed, in Los Angeles we put the crime stats up on our website and eventually the Los Angeles Times asked for access to our records that fed the website. When the LA Times looked at that, they found some deficiencies and worked with us to correct the deficiencies. In Los Angeles now, the crime stats that are put out everyday, the Los Angeles Times is putting out the same crime stats, so they're validating the crime stats. But what is also changing is the focus on the quality of life issues in the neighbourhoods. So that's why I say you can have the most efficient police force in the world dealing with serious crime but if they're not, at the same time, addressing, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, what's creating fear you're not going to win. You're not going to win public sentiment and satisfaction.

  Chair: Thank you, Mr Bratton.

Q9   Steve McCabe: Mr Bratton, our Government is planning to adopt the American model of elected police and crime commissioners and elected city mayors. You have quite a lot of experience of elected police commissioners working alongside elected mayors and career police chiefs. What can we learn from the American experience and what should we look out for?

Bill Bratton: What I would suggest is create your own experience; don't try to learn from us—seriously. It's been referenced in the several days I've been here that part of the Government plan is modelled after the American police system of political control of the police. There are 17,000 police departments in the United States in which the police chiefs of those departments either report to a mayor, a city manager or a board of council members—17,000. There is no generic American police system, other than the police chief is usually appointed by and reports to a political person or entity. But in New York City, as the police commissioner, I was a civilian who reported directly to the mayor. As police commissioner I had total responsibility for policy development, operations in the department, discipline. In Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, I was the police chief. I was responsible for the operations and discipline of the department but I reported to a civilian board of commissioners appointed by the mayor who were responsible for the policy and oversight of the police department and had an inspector general to evaluate the performance of the police department. We both reported to the elected mayor.

There's an example of the two largest cities in America where they have totally different political reporting relationships. There is an idea that it's modelled after the American system, but what is being proposed here is a much more generic system where all 43 chief constables will report in 2012, as I understand it, to an elected police commissioner. I understand the actual language and the details of how that will work are being submitted to Parliament today. So the idea of much more intimate political influence and control in your country is new, certainly from a national Home Office direction to now a regional direction. That's where the comparison to America might be appropriate, but 43 versus 17,000? The comparison ends there. It's a much more intimate form of control and a much more standardised form of control.

Q10   Steve McCabe: How much do you think elected mayors and elected police commissioners are influenced in the decisions they take by the way the media treats them?

Bill Bratton: Quite influenced, much the same as police chiefs are also, to be quite frank with you, in terms of we all seek to get good news stories, good media. I've often times been accused too much of never meeting a camera that I didn't like. The reality is that I don't have a public relations budget, so to get my story out, I can't put up billboards, I can't put out my own advertising, I have to use the public media. So I have always been very accessible, very transparent to the media.

I've always told my cops, "I'm going to tell the story that you give me. Nobody can tell it better. I'm good at telling it. You give me corruption and I'm going to talk about corruption. You give me bad cops I'm going to talk about them. But you give me success, you give me initiatives and I'll get that story out." Fortunately that story is the more common story than the negative. So the idea that the police chief or a politician is going to play to the media, that's the way of the world because that's how you get the story out—particularly, I think, in your city where there must be 10 different papers each day. In Los Angeles I only had to play to the LA Times. The Daily News was there but that was more of a suburban paper. In New York I had a deal with the New York Post; so that's the equivalent like your Sun, I guess.

Steve McCabe: Thank you.

Chair: Mark Reckless?

Q11   Mark Reckless: Mr Bratton—

Mr Bratton: Mr Reckless, that's an interesting name.

Chair: Only by name, not by nature.

Mark Reckless: We used to have a Reckless town in New Jersey, but there was a Senator Bullock from there who was so embarrassed by the name he changed it to Crossings.

Bill Bratton: I had two officers that worked for me in Boston, one was Officer Law and the other was Officer Order. Law and Order both worked together. It was many, many years ago and they were actually partnered together—Law and Order.

Chair: Indeed. Order, I think we can take this a long way. Mark Reckless?

Q12   Mark Reckless: In the UK we have a concept of operational independence for the police. Now, we have sought to emphasise that in areas of individual investigation or individual arrest it's quite proper that the police should be entirely independent of politicians in exercising their judgment, but in the wider area of strategy and setting priorities for the police more broadly, we do think that is an area where politicians can properly be involved. Do you think that is a distinction we could sustain if we were to model our policing on that basis?

Bill Bratton: If I understand what is being proposed, it has three basic elements in terms of the world of the chief constable changing. One, you are proposing a police commissioner that in 2012 would now work with and report to and, over time, that person would also be responsible for selection and discharge of the chief constable.

Mark Reckless: Yes.

Bill Bratton: That person, as elected official, would seek to bring the priorities of the community in a more decentralised way than the Home Office into the police department that polices that area. That's a new concept for the chief constable certainly, where he was looking up; he's now going to have to be looking directly across the reporting relationship.

Secondly, over the next several years there's going to be a force reduction of approximately 20% in personnel in the chief constable agency. So he's going to have to, in any event, refocus his priorities because the resources are going to be less to work with in some respects.

Thirdly, there will be the issue of promised operational independence. A lot of the earmarking and restrictions that came from the Home Office over the last number of years—that burden in some respects, that restriction or limitation on how resources could be assigned—would be lifted. So the chief constable with fewer resources would have more flexibility to assign those fewer resources to changing priorities, some of which would be identified by the PC.

It seems to me to be a very workable situation. The challenge is going to be that 20% force reduction. However, in some respects, I've been there—I've already referenced that in New York I had 38,000 and in Los Angeles I had 9,000 officers. In some respects, it's not so much the number of police that you have—we'd love to have a ton of them—but what you do with them, how they are used. The public is quite clearly indicating in your country, as they did in mine, that while they are very concerned with serious crime they also want something to be done about the social disorder and quality of life. I think the challenge is going to be, with this reduced workforce, to broaden the policing field from focus on and measurement of the serious crime to more focus on and activity in dealing with the so-called minor crime. Over time, it will be very interesting to see how that works out. It is going to require creativity, that visibility, but visibility where the officers are seen to be doing something.

I saw a clear example, being quite frank with you, on Sunday, when my wife and I first arrived. We were walking in Oxford Street, which was packed to the rafters—you wouldn't know there was an economic crisis in this country based on the people out shopping on Sunday—but walking the length of about a mile I passed three constables, bobbies with the bobby hats, and after I passed the first one, when I encountered the second one further down the line, I found myself thinking, "What's wrong here?" And it dawned on me, why were they by themselves? Then as we came closer to Marble Arch where we're staying, I saw a third one and it dawned on me what was different was you always used to see them in pairs. In the 15 years I've been coming to London—I first came here when Paul Condon was the head of the Met—bobbies have always been two together. I've never seen a bobby by himself or herself. Yesterday, at tea with Sir Paul Stephenson, talking about these issues we're discussing, he was talking about one of the things he had recently effected as a force multiplication effort was requiring that, in a lot of areas of the city, bobbies walk by themselves instead of in pairs, so that he doubled his visibility, if you will.

What also occurs, in my experience in American policing in a similar way, is that officers by themselves tend to be much more attentive to their surroundings because they're not talking with each other. The idea there is that you get more visibility, but you also get more activity because they're effectively more engaged. It's a decision that has to be made post-by-post because some locations do require two bobbies; in the United States, there are two officers in a car. But it's that type of management discretion that you want your chief superintendents to have in determining how can they maximise, with their more limited resources, the effectiveness and the visibility of their officers.

Chair: Mr Reckless, you can have one final question if you want one, and a brief answer if that's possible.

Q13   Mark Reckless: We've had various attempts in the UK on the policing of some serious organised crime going across force boundaries and the national arrangements for that, which I think most people agree are proving disappointing to date. What lessons could we draw from the US in terms of how the FBI and potentially other agencies work across the 17,000 boundaries?

Bill Bratton: I have a very limited understanding of some of what is being proposed. I just left the Home Office meetings with a number of the people who are being charged with creating this national FBI type of entity. Again, our two countries are very different in that we also have in our country states, which you don't have. So we have federal, state, county and local. Our national police are indeed the FBI, DEA, ATF, and that system works for us. I'm not informed enough about what you're proposing to do and your structure as a country is so different from mine that I would not want to advance an opinion on that at this stage. I'm just not informed enough.

Mark Reckless: I understand. Thank you.

Chair: Mr Burley has one very quick question and we'd like a quick reply.

Q14   Mr Burley: Mr Bratton, you have spent a lifetime working in crime. A huge amount of what you have had to deal with has been around drugs and you will be aware that there is a movement now in America, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition—which is a group of criminal justice professionals, police chiefs and so on—who say that prohibition is no longer remedying the drug problem and that, in fact, prohibition is just making it worse in terms of drug abuse and gang violence and so on. Do you have a view of this growing body of professionals who now think it's time to look seriously at drug prohibition in the same way that we looked to alcohol prohibition 70 years ago?

Bill Bratton: My viewpoint is that movement is nearly invisible. It's the first I'm hearing of it. I'm being quite frank with you. I was the president of the Major City Chiefs of the United States and I can assure you that that organisation and the IACP, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, are not supportive at all of legalisation of drugs at this time. There may be those who, out of frustration, are advancing that idea but I certainly do not and I don't believe that my colleagues who are still in the business are supportive or advocating of it.

Q15   Chair: Mr Bratton, I don't say this of many witnesses but it is a great pleasure to have had you here giving evidence to this Committee. We are most grateful. If there is any other information you think would be helpful to us in our deliberations please do keep in touch with us.

Bill Bratton: Thank you for the courtesy of inviting me to appear before you.

Chair: Order order, this Committee stands adjourned until next Tuesday.

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