Bill Bratton: The gang-buster cop who still hankers after Scotland Yard

Why does the American former police chief, who last year was linked with the Met's top job, still manage to raise hackles in the UK? He talks to Kunal Dutta

William J Bratton is, by all professional accounts, one of the most accomplished police officers in the world. His record for taming gangs in New York and Los Angeles is beyond doubt.

But in the UK, we find it hard to like him. That's not to say nobody does. He is a CBE and had the ear of David Blunkett as far back as 2004. David Cameron considered installing him as the Met Commissioner. Then Theresa May, the Home Secretary, stepped in, saying the job had to go to a British national. So Dave made him a special adviser. And now that has come to a halt.

So what is it that jars with Bill Bratton? You don't have to talk to him for very long to find out.

"The firearm problem in England is almost laughable in the sense of how small it is," he has said. Not as laughable, perhaps, as his advice that Scotland Yard should distribute "Most Wanted" posters of British gang members.

That's just the start. He is derisive about a study by the London School of Economics that cited community hostility to the police as central to last autumn's riots. "I remember reading it and shaking my head," he bellows down the phone from his office in Manhattan – he has been based there since 2009. "That's the sort of attitude we had in the US in the 1960s and 1970s. It's symptomatic of the entitlement society, where we excuse away all types of behaviour because of social problems."

Such certitude from the chairman of Kroll, a global security company, smacks of the US of yesteryear, trading on its days as a superpower, but out of touch with how the world has changed.

Isn't the Stephen Lawrence case the perfect example of how a community's relationship with the police should not be inflexible, how the police should be able to admit mistakes and culpability?

Again, in a tone disturbingly reminiscent of his now-deceased lookalike, Dennis Hopper, Bratton is curt, dismissive: "I'm sorry, but crime takes a conscious act to commit. It may sound difficult to hear but, unfortunately, a lot of people are criminals, and if they don't like the punishments that such things deliver, then too bad."

On stop and search – disproportionately used to target black and Asian young men – he says: "Welcome to the club. New York and LA are embroiled in it, as are many places around the world.

"And call it what it is: it's stop, question and frisk. You don't get to frisk until the officer feels there is a potential threat. Britain is certainly not unique."

This is Bratton's world: black and white, good and bad, simple. Law and order comes first; social responsibility and community cohesion as the result of that. And it is on this "thesis" that he made his name.

The so-called Broken Windows theory he used to turn New York around as police commissioner is based on one principle – that an uncompromising crackdown on crime keeps law and order by deterring would-be criminals. "Police have to apply more resources – the challenge is to do it in a way that engenders respect rather than hostility."

It is clear that his success at home has instilled in him an unshakable sense of being right, so how does he feel about not getting the top job in Britain? On this there is a, momentary, wobble. He struggles to hide his disappointment.

"Scotland Yard is unique in that it not only has responsibility for the policing of one of the world's largest cities, it also has a national responsibility for terrorism and counter-terrorism. In my country, we have nothing that has that duality of responsibility," he says. "It's also a highly fabled organisation and the subject of great tradition. I certainly would have entertained applying for it. But that's moot: it didn't happen and it's not likely to happen now."

Trying to find something positive to say, he applauds the setting up of the new Office for Police and Crime by the London Mayor to replace the Metropolitan Police Authority, and says the idea of Boris Johnson presiding over police budgets and allowing Scotland Yard full control of operational matters is the perfect example of "valuable collaboration" – the theme of a book out this week.

Despite his personal disappointment in failing to get the job of his dreams, Mr Bratton says British law and order is in safe hands. "You have sanity in your gun laws. What took us 60 to 80 years to get a handle on, you're on course to solve in one generation."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power