Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chairman of the Board

Whether you view him as the archetype of the neoliberal marketization of security or the urban miracle worker who reduced crime while healing the reputation of police force tarnished by racism (at least in LA), Bill Bratton, who has been police chief of both New York City and Los Angeles and is now chair of Krull an international private security consulting firm, is the world's most influential police thinker (the Patrick Colquhoun of our time). Announced plans by British PM David Cameron to meet with Bratton prompted interviews with the chairman of the board of Krull in both the Guardian [read David Batty's story here](which calls Bratton the PM's new crime adviser) and the New York Times [read Al Bakers story here].

While the upper ranks of British policing are sure to bridle at yet another sign of the PMs contempt for the current leadership, Bratton's public profile is one they might, in fact, benefit from as they negotiate a budgetary modus vivendi with the real power man in White Hall, Chancellor George Osborne. For one thing, Bratton's LA profile is very much about winning the hearts and minds of frontline communities that experience the brunt of the war on crime and drugs. The PMs Dickesian rant this week in which he battered the police for not snuffing out the riot to start with and held out harsh justice as the only way to curb the feral children of the underclasses is not compatible with Bratton's public statements or profile. In both interviews he stated baldly that "“You can’t just arrest your way out of the problem,” adding in the NYT that “It’s going to require a lot of intervention and prevention strategies and techniques" and in the Guardian that:

"Arrest is certainly appropriate for the most violent, the incorrigible, but so much of it can be addressed in other ways and it's not just a police issue, it is in fact a societal issue,"

Neither statement is compatible with Cameron's Victorian celebration of the Big Society as the simple solution to most social problems. Nor is Bratton's focus on putting racial justice into practice inside the police going to sit easily with a government that thus far has regularly made vaguely Malthusian statements about immigrants and the limits of community tolerance for diversity.

Intriguingly, Bratton and the New York effort he led in the 1990s is perhaps best known for using effective policing to drive down reliance on incarceration, thus helping New York to be come the leading state thus far to have abandoned the practice of mass incarceration which is destroying government and society in California and much of the nation. Given the disappointing recent follow ups to the coalition government's once promising objectives of reducing the UK's incarceration rate, Cameron could do worst than to listen to Bratton and Ed Miliband should schedule a chat too.

Finally, police in the UK should appreciate that Bratton's strategy has not generally been a plan for community disinvestment. Like most surge strategies, it can only be viewed as cost reducing in the long run when tied to real reductions in incarceration.

There is a dark side to the Bratton rap, however, and that is the emphasis on fighting gangs with sophisticated technologies and strategies. Gang talk should always be filtered through two facts. One is that people, and young people in general, almost always act in and through social networks. So behind the term "gang" we have no problem finding something real. On the other hand police, politicians, and ironically some usually incarcerated "gang members" have a huge huge huge incentive to blow up that social network reality into something far bigger and badder than it really is. Gangs will be with us always, especially as long as we cling on to war on crime metaphors that favor a way of imagining crime as an organized army of enemies.

Bibliographic resource:

The debates that Bratton's intervention are likely to unleash will involve urban geography and race in countless and overlapping ways. Fortuitously I've just learned from Stuart Elden that the journal Society and Space--Environment and Planning D, has posted "virtual theme issue" on "urban disorder and policing" that includes some classic and more current papers from the journal on issues of race, policing, and urban disorder. The issue will be open for reading without the usual electronic subscriptions until October.

1 comment:

Laura Vivanco said...

Finally, police in the UK should appreciate that Bratton's strategy has not generally been a plan for community disinvestment.

Strathclyde Police has also been held up by David Cameron as an example of how to deal with gangs: “I want us to use the record of success against gangs in some cities like Boston in the USA and indeed Strathclyde Police in Scotland – who have done this by engaging the police, the voluntary sector and local government. I want this to be a national priority" (Herald).

Interestingly, their model "has not generally been a plan for community disinvestment" either:

Gang culture - and its associations with violence and serious organised crime - has been a blight on Glasgow's poorer neighbourhoods for decades.

In 2008, a Centre for Social Justice report found the city was home to more than 170 gangs, more than the number estimated to be operating in London at that time.

The past few years has seen concentrated efforts and financial investment by both the Scottish Government and Strathclyde Police to tackle the problem. The force set up a dedicated Gangs Task Force in March 2008, to serve as a specialist unit to identify, find and arrest gang members involved in crime.
(Evening Times)

Apparently some of those funds have gone to a charity which works with gang members to try to reduce re-offending (BBC).

However, although David Cameron has seemed keen on the idea of charities providing services, he's seemed rather less keen on providing additional funding so I'm not sure if he'd really want other police forces to adopt Strathclyde Police's model.