Feature

No American policing for London

Prime Minister David Cameron's suggestion of putting the American police commander Bill Bratton in charge of London's police force met with strong opposition.

The ineptitude of London’s police force has humbled the nation, said The Telegraph in an editorial. During the first two nights of the recent riots, Britons were “stunned by the spectacle of riot police standing by while mobs cleaned out and torched shops and businesses.” The police have lost the public’s respect—and that’s dangerous for all of us. To win it back, the Metropolitan force needs firm new leadership. Prime Minister David Cameron had a terrific candidate in mind: Bill Bratton, a veteran police commander who has “proved brilliantly successful at bringing down crime” in several U.S. cities. With his mixture of “zero tolerance” and emphasis on community outreach, Bratton restored order in Los Angeles after the 1992 Rodney King riots. But the proposal to appoint an American met with sneering disdain from British police. Sir Hugh Orde, head of the police chiefs’ association, insisted that he “doesn’t want to learn about gangs from an area that has 400,” adding that in any case, “the British model is probably the top.”

Such mindless jingoism is maddening, said Stephen Pollard, also in The Telegraph. And that Home Secretary Theresa May would yield to it is truly “astonishing.” May actually overruled the prime minister, her ostensible boss, and decreed that no foreigners may apply for the job of Met Police commissioner. Perhaps if the Met were overrun with homegrown candidates, her ban might make sense, but in the first weeks since the resignation of the previous commissioner, there was exactly one applicant: Orde himself. Only after intense lobbying, even pleading, by the government did three other British officers deign to consider applying, two of them longtime Met insiders—hardly the reformers the force requires.

Still, we needn’t turn to some square-jawed, swaggering Yank, said Catherine Bennett in The Observer. The “glaring cultural differences” between the U.S. and Britain would make it impossible to simply transfer Bostonian or Los Angeleno policing methods to London. Where would it end? Should we also invite U.S. experts to advise us on welfare, the economy, or education? “Have we really got it right on evolution? How about banking regulation?” The Americans are so stellar on those subjects.

Let’s not be so defensive, said Libby Purves in The Times. Bratton won’t be getting the top job, that’s for sure, but he has now been hired as an adviser. London could do worse than to hear what he has to say. His method isn’t draconian—he is fond of the maxim “You can’t arrest your way out of trouble”—or particularly foreign. It involves “combining firm tactics with a great deal of community outreach.” Get the kids back into school or into community programs. Hold youths accountable for minor infractions, such as littering and loitering. This is not “tough, intolerant lock-’em-up U.S. policing.” Bratton “talks calm good sense, and for ministers to listen is no insult to our police.”

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