Tuesday, 16 August 2011


On a recent post, a friend referred to the tendency of some to use the following sequence of thoughts as a basis for action:
1.      Something must be done.
2.      This is something.
3.      Therefore, this is what must be done.
The flow has a certain logic to it, albeit badly flawed.  It came to mind again in recent days, when I listened to some of the reactions to the rioting of a week ago; it’s an approach which does rather seem to be popular with government, from Cameron down.  In their haste to be seen to be doing ‘something’, it looks at times as though they are prepared to try anything.
Or, at least, anything which looks like, or can be presented as, ‘tough action’.  The response of the official opposition hasn’t been a great deal better, although they are faced with the little difficulty of being duty-bound to disagree with the government whilst still sounding just as tough.
The result is that specific proposals don’t really seem to be receiving the sort of scrutiny and consideration which they deserve; they are measured solely against the need to be tough, or rather to be seen to be tough.
To take one specific proposal, I don’t really see the objection in principle to considering and learning from police experience elsewhere.  Provided that the assessment of what has worked elsewhere is carried out thoroughly, and the different context of policing is understood and taken into consideration, it’s always possible to learn from others.  That does not, though, appear to be the motivation behind the government’s decision to seek assistance from an American ‘supercop’.
This isn’t about considering the similarities and differences between Los Angeles or New York on the one hand, and Birmingham or London on the other, and then applying any lessons.  I rather suspect that the differences are more significant than the similarities, but will be deliberately ignored.  Worse, the consequences of ignoring the differences and then applying US style policing techniques may well be to reduce the differences and increase the similarities, even if that isn’t the intention.
The man himself, Bill Bratton, certainly seems to have a very high opinion of his own abilities, to read this report.  He can not only deliver better policing, but can do so for a great deal less money, to read his statements.  I can understand the attraction of that combination to Cameron.  There is, though, nothing new about the idea that the court’s favourites will say what the king wants to hear. 
But I’d like to hear what isn’t being said.  Rushing into the application of US-style policing in major cities is likely to have a whole host of unintended consequences which aren’t even getting a hearing.


Hendre said...

Bratton may be good on gangs but what about national security? As long as the Met Commissioner has wider duties a foreign cop can't just be parachuted in.

Pete said...

That is very disturbing news. American policing is based on policing by force. UK policing is policing by consent. There are extreme differences. I was a bus driver here in LA during the riots of '92 when the police baled. My route went from West Hollywood down into the Crenshaw/Leimert district where some of the worst action took place. I was blocks away from the scene on Normandie where Denny got his head caved in. This "Tough American policing" meant there was no one to come to the rescue.
My point is that the American police can come up with no better response than the UK force when riots happen. At least, from what the news says over here, the cops in the English cities didn't just get out of Dodge.
Getting an American cop to sort out the UK riots is reminiscent of Maggie bringing in McGregor to sort out the miners. He didn't come up with an original idea and I doubt if this guy can be any more effective.
One last point. On the third day of rioting here in Los Angeles, a man on Vernon Avenue, in the heart of the 'Hood stepped out of his house with a trash bag and started sweeping up outside his house. His neighbours followed suit and that's when things began to quiet down. Armed police and the National Guard only inflamed tempers. A simple act from an unassuming individual calmed things down. If we must learn something from American riots, let it be that.

Boncath said...


As you say the answer is always that something always unspecified must be done and lessons must be learnt so that x y and z cannot happen in the future

Unfortunately life aint like that

There is a widespread sense of disllusionment with the judicial system as a whole.

The Police for their part are stuck in the middle trying to keep the lid on a very volatile social pot that wants to boil over on times.

The political landscape controlling our Police is dotted with those who are if not acting outside the law if they can get away with it, are simply cruising in the grey waters where big money, offshore banks and slick lawyers ply their trades

Whichever way you look at it our Police could be armed overnight even here in Wales but this will not solve the gang scenario which stems essentially from inward migrating cultures not helped by
the creation of poverty ghettos and a moral decline which worships material possession to the exclusion of all else
England is in terminal decline

Anonymous said...

Well my family live in LA and 1992 was well before Bratton took charge when the LAPD was a mess. Bratton at least understands that the police have to win the trust of minority communities by keeping in touch and recruitment. One thing is for sure the McGreggor analogy just does not apply.

John Dixon said...

Never been to LA, so won't comment on the difference between the two perspectives expressed in comments. But I think Pete's comment about the difference between policing by force and policing by consent goes to the heart of my concern about a knee-jerk adoption of tactics from elsewhere without proper consideration of the underlying principles.

There has been a - wholly understandable - reaction to events which sees them largely in terms of policing; but it is, at least in part, a way of avoiding facing up to some of the underlying issues. It's generally been expressed in terms of 'regaining control of the streets' or 'restoring order', and I can see why people might see that as a place to start. The danger is that action stops there as well as starts there, and does so in a way which changes the nature of policing - probably permanently.

The 'forces of law and order' have, and always have had, a remit which includes the preservation of current structures of government. And they probably always will have, under any system of government. But underlying some of the reaction seems to be a belief that they are also about enforcing compliance in a way which goes beyond mere enforcement of the law. The difference between those two types of enforcement is something which should worry us more than seems to be the case at present.

Pete said...

I agree totally with you John. "Gaining control of the streets" or "Restoring order" are reactions not solutions. recent events throughout the world show that no matter how tough the cops or how ruthless the regime, unless the underlying social issues are addressed there can be no public order. Supercops from societies that have not solved the issues of violence have nothing to teach the police force of the UK. Policing in the UK has always been based on the integrity of the constable, I fear the notion that a "Kiss the concrete" mentality will replace that.
The LAPD was not a "Mess" the problems in the department occurred because Chief Gates and Mayor Bradley refused to speak to each other for over a year before the riots began. They were behaving like kids. That is another huge difference, American police are employed by the cities, they are not servants of the State as UK police are servants of the Crown. So they are far more vulnerable to local political pressure.
@Anonymous; If John would allow an aside. I will be telling tales from Welsh myth and legend at the West Coast Eisteddfod in Hollywood this September. It would be cool if your family came and said Shw mae.

Unknown said...

What worries me is that all the rhetoric being exuded by the Tory politicians suggests that they will lavish ever greater, more oppressive powers upon the police in response to what is essentially an inner-city English problem. But the powers will affect us! And as we have seen in the past (take the abuse of the terrorism laws), the police will use them to the full in the most inappropriate circumstances. I can see riot police being deployed against the next Cymdeithas rally outside the assembly, or the Llywelyn ein llyw olaf meeting in cilmeri being over-policed. That is why it has become urgent for us to gain control (by devolving it) of Police and Criminal Justice.

Spirit of BME said...

I think your comments are valid, but I would defend an outsider in certain circumstances. (I am not saying that this appointment is the perfect one)
The problem every one of HMG has with the Old Bill that any insider has a position to defend OR is so servile they will only say what they think you want to hear. Little Billy Bratton does not have that baggage as it’s a term contract , furthermore I do not believe that our Billy is a Free Mason and that is significant factor especially when dealing with the Met.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry But I just cannot let Pete get away with his ill informed comments that the LAPD was not in a mess before Bratton took it over, John If you do not know much about Bratton's turning around of one of the most well known and corrupt police department's in the US, by consent


Unknown said...

Anon - I would respectfully suggest that the Christian Science Monitor is not regarded as a reliable journal of record over here. Have you got a more authoritative source?

Pete said...

I don't know why the anonymous guy wants to disagree with me here. The whole point of my participating in the discussion was to reflect my view that American style policing and the hiring of an American supercop would be counter productive. My son, as you are aware John,is an officer in the Dyfed Powys force and an official in the police federation and he agrees with me.
The problems of the LAPD were lack of leadership. The mayor and the police chief were acting like kids. Bratton provided leadership and increased recruitment with the assistance of Mayor Hahn and his successor, Villaragosa. Though the numbers fell far short of the projected 1,000. This is very different to the situation in the UK where there is leadership and leadership potential and a government intent on reducing the police force and other essential services as part of their budget cuts.
I do not quote the "Christian Science Monitor" I would rather point out that I am an employee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Currently I am a supervisor, a federally certified instructor and a radio dispatcher. n that latter capacity I work closely with the LAPD and the Sheriff's department. I was a member of the Employee advisory group and served on a committee that liaisoned with the police regarding bus and train safety. (Cops and Ops) I have many colleagues and a few friends in the police department. My information comes from direct involvement, not via a religious newspaper.
To say that the LAPD was a mess is hyperbole, to say it was corrupt is irresponsible and untrue.

John Dixon said...

Anon and Pete,

Apologies for not having moderated these comments earlier - I've been away, and didn't see them until now.