‘Tough guy’ cop appointed to head London police

The UK's most senior policeman says he wants criminals to fear the police. It's tough talk, reminiscent of the crackdowns with which 'supercop' Bill Bratton reduced crime rates in violent US cities.

He has been hailed as 'a crime busting machine', a tough Yorkshireman who calls his approach to crime-fighting 'total policing'. And as the new head of London's Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe's mettle will be tested by a raft of challenges facing the UK's largest police force.

In the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, which implicated the police in failing to investigate allegations of criminal activity by tabloid newspapers to which they had links, and August's rioting and looting in parts of the capital, 'the Met' as it is known has lost some public confidence and has low morale.

Last month, the Prime Minister wanted to call in America's famous 'supercop' Bill Bratton to help rescue the situation. British police, at the highest levels, were insulted and rejected the idea they could learn from the man under whose leadership the New York murder rate fell by between 50 and 70 per cent.

Critics say that Bratton's successes in New York, and in Boston and Los Angeles, where he also dramatically reduced the murder rates, coincided with a huge increase in police numbers – in the UK, the police are facing drastic and unpopular cuts.

But his approach was radical, and based on social science: researchers found that a general atmosphere of neglect, disorder and petty crime signalled to residents that they should fear crime, and to criminals that they would get away with it.

By combining tough enforcement with a focus on factors like broken street lights and antisocial behaviour, Bratton's forces made sure neighbourhoods were gradually brought under control.

In the new Met chief, the politicians hope they have found a home-grown 'supercop' with his own version of zero tolerance: In Liverpool, Hogan-Howe led a crusade against criminal gangs and made the streets safer by insisting on metal detectors to pick up anyone carrying a knife.

Law versus order

This opera-loving, horse-riding tough guy sounds, as some would-be wits in the media have pointed out, too good to be true – more like the hero of a television cop show than a real live policeman. The day after getting the job, it emerged that he personally chased and caught some bicycle thieves after a meeting with the London Mayor a few weeks ago.

But during the four years when he was in charge of Merseyside's police, Hogan-Howe's strategy led to the largest fall in offending and antisocial behaviour of any area in England and Wales.

Faced with falling police numbers and a more sceptical culture, can he succeed in London too?

You Decide

  1. 'Police are only the heroes of stories for older generations. Young people admire outlaws and rebels.' Do you agree?
  2. The previous, Labour government had a catchy slogan to argue there were social factors behind criminal behaviour: 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.' Do you agree, or is 'tough on crime' enough?

Activities

  1. What qualities would you look for in a police chief? Write down a top five and compare your list with other people's.
  2. Prepare and deliver a short speech arguing either for or against zero tolerance policing.

Some People Say...

“Getting tough on criminals is a waste of time.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How exactly did Bratton bring down US urban crime rates?
Two main policies, which are linked. The 'broken windows' or 'zero tolerance' approach, based on the idea that if you make sure an area is well cared-for and tackle even low-grade offending like graffiti and fare-dodging, you create a social environment in which citizens feel the police are on their side and criminality is deterred.
OK, so you create a civilised environment, then what?
Well, Bratton also pioneered the use of data to track all the details of offending within small areas, with every spike in crime or disorder followed up to prevent more incidents. This also allows intelligent links to be made between, say, drug deals and robberies in an area.

Word Watch

Social science
An umbrella term to describe academic disciplines that study society. It can be quantitative, using analysis of data, or qualitative, analysing more nebulous things like attitudes and behaviour.
Zero tolerance
This has become the popular term for policing based on the 'broken windows' theory that disorder and low-level crime in an area leads to fear of crime, ordinary citizens leaving, and an 'anything goes' signal to criminals. It advocates cracking down on even petty crime to stop this vicious circle.

Subjects

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