Why shouldn't America's top police officer run the British Met?
Published in: Daily Mail
Once again, police behaviour is coming under question after the weekend’s disgraceful riots in Tottenham, North London.
Some 26 Metropolitan officers were injured in violent mayhem during which police cars, a bus and a building were set alight and there was widespread hooliganism and looting.
The riots, which appeared to spark copy-cat disturbances last night, followed a protest against the fatal shooting by police officers last Thursday of 29-year-old Mark Duggan.
The precise circumstances in which he was shot dead remain unclear, in the swirl of rumour and unverified claims that invariably follow such an event.
The local MP David Lammy has asked thoughtful questions about why it took the police so long to respond to the disturbances and bring them under control.
Maybe all such concerns about the behaviour of the police will be shown in time to be unfair and unfounded.
The problem, however, is that the police are no longer trusted, neither in what they do nor in what they subsequently say about what they have done.
During the past three decades and more, there have been simply far too many examples within the Met of rank incompetence, tendentious self-justification and worse.
Take their failure to investigate adequately the murder in 1993 of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence in South London — a failure not caused by ‘institutional racism’, as was later to be so damagingly claimed, but by institutional incompetence.
Or the murder in 2000 of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor, also in South London, where an elementary failure by the police to develop local contacts resulted in an abortive prosecution.
And, of course, there was the fatal shooting by counter-terrorism police on the Tube of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, who was wrongly assumed to be a suicide bomber.
But concerns about the Met go far beyond incompetence. The phone-hacking scandal featured so far unsubstantiated claims that certain Met officers had been receiving back-handers from journalists in exchange for information.
And there were many other troubling revelations, such as top officers accepting a freebie at a health farm, being wined and dined by employees of a company the Met had been investigating or hiring a former executive of that company as a PR consultant.
These and other revelations of quite astounding breaches of accepted protocol led to the resignation of the Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, and the head of counter-terrorism, John Yates.
In the Commons debate on the scandal, David Cameron encouragingly signalled his understanding that the problem with the Met went very deep indeed.
Somewhat enigmatically, and largely overlooked at the time, he suggested that someone who had been a proven success overseas might be brought in to turn round the Met.
As it happens, I had written a few days previously that there was one outstanding candidate whom the Government should hire as the new Commissioner.
He is Bill Bratton, the genius American police chief who transformed policing when he halved New York’s murder rate and cut violent crime by half in Los Angeles.
It turns out that this was precisely who the Prime Minister had in mind. According to newspaper reports, Downing Street informally sounded out Bratton to see if he would be interested — and he was.
But remarkably, it appears Home Secretary Theresa May spiked Mr Cameron’s guns when the Home Office — which appoints the Met Commissioner in consultation with the Mayor of London — issued an advertisement for the post specifying ‘applicants must be British citizens’.
In normal circumstances, it would rightly be considered essential that a British citizen should run Britain’s most important police force. But current circumstances are far from normal.
There is a profound crisis in policing that goes far beyond the Met. It is not an exaggeration to say that — with honourable exceptions — the very ethic of policing in Britain has been systematically dismantled.
As a result, though there are able officers it is difficult to have any faith that any of them would be totally free of the systematic contagion that has brought the police so low.
This is a demoralisation — in every sense of the word — that can be traced back at least to the Eighties, when a number of convictions were overturned after the police were said to have played fast and loose with the rules.
Rather than getting the police to put their own house in order, the general consensus was that the police were intrinsically corrupt and had to be reined in by new checks and balances, such as the Crown Prosecution Service.
Repeatedly accused of racism or heavy-handedness towards black communities, the deeply demoralised police reacted defensively by effectively abandoning such communities to gang warfare.
With their own professional training bamboozling them into political correctness, they seemed rather keener to feel people’s collars over ‘hate crime’ than catch the burglars who had trashed their homes.
Retreating from the streets, the police abandoned the public to the scourge of anti-social behaviour and criminality.
A devastating report last year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary revealed that the police are failing to respond to thousands of complaints about anti-social behaviour despite this blight affecting 14 million people a year.
Even when officers did investigate, it said, they were hindered because the majority of forces in England and Wales did not have systems that could adequately identify vulnerable victims.
Throughout all this calamitous decline in policing standards, more and more senior officers were being promoted not because of ‘boots on the ground’ experience, but because they had university degrees — which often merely qualified them in political correctness.
And the final coup de grace was the politicisation of the police under the Labour government, which turned an officer class that needed above all to be utterly independent into creatures of ministers upon whose preferment they came to depend and whose bidding they cravenly followed.
Given the depth and extent of this professional collapse, the idea that any British officer can be relied upon to cleanse the Augean stables of the Metropolitan Police seems distinctly unlikely.
If there is anyone who can perform this Herculean task, it is surely Bill Bratton. It was he who pioneered the ‘zero tolerance’ approach to policing, under which no crime was considered too small to be dealt with.
His approach built upon the ‘broken windows’ philosophy, which held that ignoring minor criminal damage or anti-social behaviour, such as graffiti, litter or hooliganism, led inevitably to an escalation in crime.
Maybe more important even than this, he also introduced management systems that ensured all his senior officers knew everything that was going on in their neighbourhoods.
He understood that without such detailed local intelligence, policing was impossible. And he also made sure that every week his senior officers were all held rigorously to account with the highest standards of professionalism and integrity for what they had or had not achieved.
What Bratton did in the U.S. was not rocket science. Indeed, it was all pretty obvious. But before he came on the scene, it had not been done. And it certainly isn’t being done in the Met.
For sure, there would be significant disadvantages in having someone who had not lived and worked in Britain running Britain’s most important and complex police force.
But given the scale of Britain’s policing crisis, hiring Bill Bratton is still the best idea the Prime Minister is apparently not being allowed to have.