Bill Bratton, the former police chief credited with bringing crime under control in New York City, has urged British leaders to get a grip on knife crime with a return to “bobbies on the beat”.
The American, who served as Police Commissioner for a New York City which had become synonymous with violence and disorder but has now seen “28 straight years of overall crime decline”, wrote in British newspaper The Telegraph that no-one had taught him as much about policing as Sir Robert Peel, the late British prime minister who laid down the original principle of policing in 1829.
While “the economy, racism, poverty and even the weather can influence crime, the ultimate cause is quite simple: criminals,” explained the veteran police officer.
“Sir Robert Peel understood that the police must prevent crime, as well as respond to it. The mistake we made in the U.S. in the Seventies and Eighties, and which Britain seems to be making now, was to move the focus away from prevention,” he suggested, referring to the tendency of Britain’s dwindling number of frontline “response officers” to race to the scene of a crime after it has happened — or not, as is increasingly the case — instead of focusing on deterrence.
“[A]n important part of crime prevention is a strong visible police presence,” Bratton insisted.
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Bratton explained how, “with murder and violent crime spiralling out of control” in the 1990s, his force implemented an American take on Britain’s now largely abandoned tradition of “bobbies on the beat”, deploying “an additional 6,000 officers to patrol the streets” — a move which would be anathema to British police leaders, who now scoff at beat patrols as “deploying resources in big hats or high visibility jackets to make the public feel safe”.
Bratton also described how, during his second term as New York City’s Police Commissioner in 2014, he concentrated resources against “5,000‑7,000 significant criminals” in a tactic described as “precision policing” — but this would also run into difficulty in Britain, as it would possibly involve focusing on individuals from particular ethnic groups which commit crime disproportionately and be deemed “racist”.
Finally, he emphasised the importance of tackling so-called “low-level” crime and disorder — the “broken windows” theory of policing — in order to deter more serious criminality, in what would be yet another inversion of what has become standard practice in Britain, where senior officers are no longer investigating or sometimes even recording a wide range of supposedly minor offences.
“The knife-crime epidemic sweeping Britain can be reversed and its cities made safer and fairer,” the American concluded.
“The 200-year-old principles of Sir Robert Peel are a good place to start.”
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- “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”
- “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”
- “Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.”
- “The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”
- “Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.”
- “Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.”
- “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
- “Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.”
- “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”