U.K. police upset over U.S. 'supercop' consultant

U.K. police say they're upset that their government has turned to a U.S. law enforcement expert to help tackle gang violence in Britain in the wake of recent riots in urban centres.

British police urged to address racial tensions

U.K. turns to U.S. 'supercop'

12 years ago
Duration 9:03
Bill Bratton says Britain cannot just arrest its way out of problems that contributed to the recent wave of riots

Several U.K. police organizations have blasted Prime Minister David Cameron for turning to a U.S. law enforcement expert to help tackle gang violence in Britain in the wake of recent riots in urban centres.

Former New York city police commissioner Bill Bratton was confirmed Friday as the government's anti-gang expert, offering his services for free and saying the British government cannot "arrest their way out" of systemic problems facing the country.

The criticism, led by Association of Chief Police Officers leader Sir Hugh Orde, underscored deep tensions between police and Cameron's coalition government over who was most to blame for the failure to stop the four-day rioting that raged in parts of London and other English cities until Wednesday.

British police have branded the move misguided and an insult to their professionalism.

"I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them," Orde said of Los Angeles, which Bratton, 63, oversaw until 2009.

"It seems to me, if you've got 400 gangs, then you're not being very effective. If you look at the style of policing in the States, and their levels of violence, they are fundamentally different from here," Orde, a former commander of Northern Ireland's police and deputy commander of London's Metropolitan Police, told the Independent on Sunday newspaper.

The Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents about 30,000 London officers, said on Saturday U.S.- style policing was "inappropriate" to apply to Britain.

British officers "police by consent" whereas American cops "police by force," federation spokesman Paul Deller said.

The chair of the Greater Manchester Police Force, Ian Hanson, said police officers in the U.K. had been  "given a slap in the face by the prime minister." 

Hanson said better policing required more funding and that there just weren't enough officers on the ground during the riots. 

Hanson went on to criticize plans to reduce the national police budget by 20 per cent during the next four years, with the loss of about 16,000 officers. 

'That's the message that needs to be sent to them. You commit these crimes, we're going to film you, track you and get you.'— Bill Bratton

Bratton told the CBC on Saturday that it's better to have measures in place to get ahead of the violence, rather than just react to it.

He said he'll be talking to British officials about applying what he's learned in the United States from his his work in battling gang violence in Los Angeles, New York and Boston.

"I'll be over there several times to participate in discussions, specifically around the issue of gangs and gang violence and what the American experience has been, how we turned the corner here and specifically in Los Angeles, where I was chief of police for seven years."

Saturday update

  • A total of 2,275 people so far have been arrested in connection with the rioting, with more arrests expected. More than 1,000 people have been charged with disorder and looting.
  • Police in Birmingham have charged two men, aged 26 and 17,  with the murder of three men in a hit-and-run attack with a car during the riots. 
  • Two men have been arrested in connection with the death of Trevor Ellis, who was shot to death in Croydon, south London, during Monday night's rioting.
  • Reece Donovan, 21, of east London, was remanded in custody after he was charged with robbing Malaysian student Asyraf Haziq in London on Monday.

"And it is the idea that you cannot arrest your way out of this problem. You have to have intervention activities, a broad-based approach," he said.

For six days in the Spring of 1992, Los Angeles was a battleground as demonstrations over the police beating of Rodney King spun out of control. In the aftermath, the city brought in Bratton to help clean up the mess.

Bratton said he believes British police need to focus on quelling racial tensions by collaborating more with community leaders and civil rights groups.

"Part of the issue going forward is how to make policing more attractive to a changing population," he told The Associated Press. "Los Angeles and New York have benefited from police forces that "reflect the ethnic makeup of the cities."

"Almost everything that was done in L.A. successfully can be applied in Britain," Bratton told the CBC. "When I left L.A. in 2009, almost 70 per cent of the city's Latino population were rating police performance as good or very good. Two years later, it's understood if there was a poll today, the ratings would be higher."

Hailed for jailing gang leaders

When Bratton stepped in as Boston's police commissioner in 1991, one of the steps he took to curb street violence was to deliver a list of about 400 of the city's gang and drug kingpins to Mayor Raymond Flynn.

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Flynn said Bratton wanted direct indictments for as many as possible, sweeping some of the city's most violent criminals off the street for up to a decade.

"That's what he was good at; he was able to get those ringleaders off the streets," Flynn said.

Bratton, 63, said British police are doing an "extraordinary job" in rounding up suspects and investigating them, in part because they're using the same social media technology as some of the rioters, who boasted about committing crimes on Facebook and Twitter.

"That's the message that needs to be sent to them. You commit these crimes, we're going to film you, track you and get you," he said.

British police criticized for slow response

Police have faced a lot of criticism over how they handled nearly a week of rioting and looting, coming under fire for not responding strongly enough to the initial disorder.

Cameron said there were "far too few police were deployed onto the streets, and the tactics they were using weren't working." On Saturday, Bratton agreed that police were "stretched very thin."

In a BBC interview Saturday, British Finance Minister George Osborne said police did an "amazing job," but could learn to be more effective.

"We want to use the advice of people like Bill Bratton to really tackle some of the deep-seated social issues like gang culture in our community," Osborne said.

"But this is not just about police budgets. This is about a far bigger challenge, which is dealing with people who have been ignored for too long," he added.

Bratton said while there are "undoubtedly social issues" to be looked at following the riots, and the "underlying causes and resentment and anger," he stressed that "the first order of business" is public safety.

The riots row overshadowed a day of peace on England's streets and continued progress in processing more than 2,100 riot suspects arrested so far, mostly in London, in unprecedented round-the-clock court sessions.

The nightly street violence that started a week ago is being blamed for five deaths. Rioting began in north London's Tottenham neighbourhood after a largely peaceful protest over the police shooting death of a local man, Mark Duggan.

With files from The Associated Press