David Cameron would clearly like to see Bill Bratton, the former Commissioner of the New York, Los Angeles and Boston Police (obviously not at the same time), appointed as the next Commissioner of Police for London. His insistence is clearly a snub both to the Home Office and to senior British police, as the Dail Mail puts it “Dave MUST get the world’s best copper…even if that means upsetting Ms May and the Met jobsworths“. It is also a swipe at Mayor Boris Johnson, who dismissed the idea and pointed out to Sky News that Bratton’s success in combatting crime in New York was mostly down to a huge ramp-up of police numbers, from 30,000 to 42,000.
Cameron’s criticisms of the police are clearly beginning to unsettle some Conservative loyalists. As Peter Bingle, Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, wrote last Thursday:
“In the House of Commons today the PM must also do something which he rarely does. He must act and sound like a Tory. When Maggie was PM she always supported the police service. She understood (instinctively) the importance of the office of constable and that the police were unlike other public servants. In the months ahead the government will rely more and more on brave young police officers to maintain order. Today the PM needs to set out how he and his government are going to support the police. As part of this more money will need to be found. The public will demand this from their prime minister. For once he needs to nod towards Tory Party opinion.”
Nevertheless, David Cameron is clearly fixated on the idea that the appointment of Bill Bratton will make everything all right.
But will it?
Jessica de Grazia, a former chief assistant District Attorney in New York, writing in The Guardian tonight points out that:
“America’s former top cop broke the first two rules of capacity-building (in this case, foreigners teaching others how to reform their law and institutions) by: first, “disrespecting” the British police; and second, showing a lack of local knowledge. … Lack of local knowledge is understandable; our shared language conceals big differences between the laws and institutions of the US, on the one hand, and Great Britain and the Commonwealth, on the other. Not least is the British civil service’s “no risk” culture and its obsession with process, which can be maddening to a proactive, outcome-oriented American.”
And she reminds us:
” London’s gang problem is minuscule compared to LA’s. In 2009, with a population about half the size of London (4 million compared to 7.75 million), LA had 157 gang murders. London had only 13! Since 2002, the Met has got homicides down from 219 to 124. In my book, that’s sterling police work.”
And on the events of the last ten days:
“Regarding the August riots, the police can’t be faulted for not planning for an entirely new situation: gangs using encrypted BlackBerry messaging to organise hit-and-run riots the length and breadth of London. Instead, measure their performance by adaptability, and the extent of injury to life and property.
In the last serious New York riot (in August 1977, which was triggered by a 25-hour city-wide blackout), the police massed in midtown Manhattan, instead of the ghettos where previous rioting had always occurred. In the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, thousands of homes and small businesses were burned out and looted; the final bill came to $155m, in 1977 dollars. In the 1992 LA riots, 54 people were killed – 10 by the police and army. Ten years later, 22 of those murders were still unsolved. There have been four deaths in the August riots, all caused by criminals retaliating against Good Samaritans. Within a week, the police and CPS had arrested or charged the suspects.”
None of this means that Bill Bratton’s advice is not worth listening to, but that is not the same as saying that he will make a good Metropolitan Police Commissioner. David Cameron’s insistence that he will – without the benefit of a proper open appointments process – suggests that the insistence is more about soundbite politics that delivering an effective police force in London.