'If it's gangs that are committing the crimes, well then, go after the gangs. And don't be afraid to go after them because they re black ■ WILLIAM BRATTON TALKS TO LINDA FRUM
William Bratton has earned a reputation as the most effective police chief in America. As chief of police in New York City from 1994 to 1996, Bratton is credited with the miraculous turnaround ofthat city’s crime spiral. Currently chief of the LAPD—the only individual to be chief of both major cities—Bratton is achieving similar miracles. A pioneer of the “Broken Windows” theory of law enforcement, Bratton works on the principle that by cracking down on petty “lifestyle” crimes—prostitution, drug use, aggressive begging—a city makes itself less susceptible to more serious crime. Crime is viewed as an “epidemic”: tolerate small offences and criminals will become emboldened to commit ever greater crimes. By the time Bratton left the NYPD, murders in New York had fallen to 984 ayearffrom a high of2,262 inl990. During his first two years in Los Angeles, overall crime has dropped 13 per cent, homicides 20 percent. In Canada, the number of homicides committed in 2004 increased in six of our nine largest cities.
ChiefBratton, have you ever been to Toronto?
Yes, quite a few times.
So you know a little bit about our city ? You know about our problems? A 27-per-cent increase in the number of homicides from 1995 to today. A Boxing Day slaying where a 15-year-old innocent bystander was gunned down during a gang shootout on a major shopping street. Can I tell you—it would be nice if you were our police chief.
Well, thank you. Tell me, the gang violence that you are experiencing, what is the racial or ethnic background of the gangs?
That’s a refreshingly blunt question. Some say it may be as high as 80 per cent Jamaican. But no one knows for sure, because people here don’t like to talk about that.
You need to talk about it. It’s all part of the issue. If it’s Jamaican gangs that are committing the crimes, well then, go after the Jamaican gangs. And don’t be afraid to go after them because they’re black. That’s the last thing you need to be concerned with.
Oh boy, I can see the complaints coming in already. You have to understand the climate here. The major local daily in Toronto, the Toronto Star, says it doesn’t believe in “gratuitously” labelling people by ethnic origin.
Well, that really helps identify who they are, doesn’t it? The next step will be to refuse to allow the police to identify people by their race or ethnic origin. That type of societal consciousness really goes to extremes.
I’m sure you heard that Toronto’s mayor and our prime minister blame the Boxing Day shooting on you Americans...
Mm-hmm, yes. They talked about the problem of guns coming in from the United States. But whose hands are the guns in? You have to look at all sources of the problem. It is a combination of lax gun laws, which certainly contributes to our problem here in the United States, but ultimately the responsibility is on the individual who pulls the trigger.
Back to my fantasy about you moving to Canada. What are the top three things you would do to rescue our cities?
AI in lice to would the position tell your what never chiefs to do. put of You’ve myself trying of pogot a very able chief of police in Toronto. I know him personally. What you should do is take a look at what is working elsewhere and then see what applies to your particular situation.
Is there any reason the Broken Windows approach cannot be applied to Canadian cities?
No two cities are alike. Each patient has his own illness. But there are a number of things that have worked generically in the United States, and, indeed, around the world. One is the idea that police can prevent crime. And the focus has to be on the prevention, as much as the response to it. And that’s a very critical distinction. In my country in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s—as a result of the societal changes in our country in the ’60s—the focus of policing went from the prevention of crime to the response to crime. And that’s because we erroneously believed that crime was caused by racism, poverty, the economy, demographics. None of those things cause crime. But they can be significant influences at given times. In the case of Toronto, you’ve got the issue that a large part of your violent crime problem seems to be influenced by race. So that’s an influence. But what the police need
to focus on is the behaviour.
But our current political class finds that a very offensive proposition. Our federal minister of justice, for example, has stressed that he wants to “combat the causes of crime as well as crime itself.”
A you’re wrong ly, Well, going you path. try that’s down to Certainimprove where the the economy and create more jobs. You can’t arrest your way out of the crime problem. But arrests may be an appropriate strategy for a period of time— particularly focused arrests where you are going after the 10 per cent of the population that traditionally commits about 50 per cent of the crime. Police exist, in a democratic society, to control the behaviour of individuals. The challenge and responsibility is to do it constitutionally, to do it consistentlymeaning you don’t police minority neighbourhoods differently from majority neighbourhoods—and compassionately-meaning, in a broader sense, that you do it respectfully, not in an uncaring, indifferent manner. You have to be concerned with the rights of people. You have to be concerned with how you interact with people.
On that front, in your first year as chief of the L.A. police, you managed to reduce the homicide rate by 23 per cent, but complaints against the LAPD went up 12 per cent...
But if you look at the totality of complaints, a 12-per-cent increase amounted to fewer than 1,000 additional complaints in a city where we have millions of interactions every day.
The Broken Windows approach to policing is assertive and increases the frequency of interaction with citizens on a daily basis. Is it a method of policing that is possible only with the right political will behind it?
Political will is absolutely critical. In other words, if your government, your society, is saying, “We don’t want you focusing on the little things because we’re concerned it might be seen as racially incorrect,” or, “We’re concerned that it’s not appreciative of the ethnic backgrounds of people”—well, that’s the lame excuse that got American policing into so much trouble in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The attitude was, “We’re not going to police some of these minor crimes in the minority neighbourhoods. After all, what’s the harm? There are really no victims to prostitution, or gangs hanging on the corner and drinking.” But what we didn’t understand was that the victim was the neighbourhood. It was like a cancer eating away at that neighbourhood. And all the people who lived there were ultimately the victims as their neighbourhoods deteriorated. It’s guaranteed that if you don’t control those minor types of violations, you are going to create a climate in which the people perpetrating them are emboldened to try and get away with more. And that’s exactly the cancer that was eating away at New York until the ’90s when Giuliani and I came in. Giuliani provided the political will and leadership. And I, together with the 38,000 cops around me, provided the tactics and the strategy and the philosophy.
In a speech to the Conference of Mayors in May 2000, Giuliani put it like this: “New York City during the 1960s, ’70s and into the early ’90s served as a symbol of decline. I keep a national magazine cover describing New York City in 1990 as “the Rotting Apple,” a city in decline. And at that time, people in the City of New York accepted it. They accepted the idea that this was our lot in life: that we were an old city that had seen our greatest days. ” These comments address the idea that a mayor and a police chief can decide how much crime they are prepared to tolerate. As a society we can have a lot more control over the quantity of crime than we imagine....
That’s going to be the great risk, I think, for you in Canada—the danger is you are going to end up putting all the blame and fault on the police. When, actually, in a democratic society, the police are responsive to the political leadership. So if you have political leadership that’s not going to empower the police to do what needs to be done—then you are going to go down the same slippery slope the United States went down in the ’70s and ’80s.
NDP LeaderJack Layton has pointed to “despair” and “poverty” as the root causes of crime.
When you put too much emphasis on the idea of poverty being the cause of crime, you’re as much as saying that just because you are poor or disadvantaged, you are going to resort to crime to get by. And that’s a phenomenally racist and insensitive attitude. The vast majority of people who are poor do not resort to crime. A small percentage do. But he is correct that one of the influences on crime is poverty. If you make a city safer, you will create more jobs. In our case in Los Angeles, and in your case in Toronto, you’ll create more tourists coming in, who will spend more money, create more jobs and create more tax revenue. But if the place is deemed to be unsafe, you are not going to have that economic benefit.
Q social Rather and causes, you’ve the past than economic that one focus said of the on in most importara ways to reduce crime is to go after narcotics...
Well, what are the Jamaican gangs up there fighting over—who controls the drug trade? Yes.
Exactly. So to do it, they are going to do the same thing they do down in Jamaica, which is resort to violence as the first way of dealing with it. Whether it’s your Asian gangs that are trying to control the gambling or your gangs coming in from Eastern Europe trying to control the credit card fraud, they all have their specialties. It comes back to core principles. The criminal justice system, if properly coordinated, and properly supported politically and publicly, can in fact control crime. And the way you control crime is through controlling behaviour.
So the situation in Canada is far from hopeless...
What we didn't understand about 'victimless' crimes was 'the victim was the neighbourhood'
The good news is we know what to do about crime. You need to have political leaders, police chiefs, and the community working together, under the community policing partnership principle. You need to develop priorities and develop focus. And also go from the underlying understanding that crime is caused by individual behaviour. And that’s where the police should focus most of their energy-on controlling that behaviour. But they have to do it in ways that are minoritysensitive and are not seen as racist, brutal or corrupt. And the best way to do that is to be very transparent about what you are doing. The good news for Canada is that right next door you have a lot of successes—and you have a lot of failures. You can learn from other communities. We’re not so dissimilar. What works for dealing with the flu or cancer in the United States works in Canada too. M.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.