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Oakland Hires Proponent of ‘Broken Windows Theory’ as Police Consultant; Dept. to Return to Neighborhood Policing

| December 27, 2012
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Oakland has hired policing superstar William Bratton as a consultant.

From AP:

Oakland city officials have hired former New York City police commissioner and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton as a consultant. City Council President Larry Reid confirmed Bratton’s hiring to The Associated Press on Thursday. A formal announcement was expected at a 3 p.m. news conference.

Bratton was New York’s police commissioner from 1994 to 1996 and police chief in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2009 and is widely credited with significantly reducing crime in both cities. In Los Angeles, he focused on community policing and worked to resolve tensions between officers and minority communities.

Bratton is currently a senior advisor of Kroll, an international consulting company.

The Oakland Tribune writes:

During his seven years in Los Angeles, Bratton oversaw a 45 percent drop in major crimes and a 41 percent drop in homicides. Crime in that city continued to drop after his departure in 2009. His tenure in New York City from 1994-96 also coincided with double-digit crime drops…

[Bratton] is teaming up with police consultant Robert Wasserman, who already had a $100,000 contract to access the department and review violence and crime prevention strategies.

[Mayor Jean] Quan will be asking the City Council next month to approve an additional $250,000 to Wasserman’s firm, Strategic Policy Partnership, LLC, for both short-term and long-term crime reduction studies undertaken by Bratton.

The funds would not come out of the police department budget, and the contract would not have a specific end date, officials said.

Andrew Stelzer, our reporter at the OPD press conference on Thursday, said that Chief Howard Jordan maintained there will be little interaction between Bratton and the new court-approved overseer, who has yet to be hired. Oakland agreed to make that hire earlier this month as part of a deal to avoid federal receivership. The overseer will answer to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson and will have the power to fire the police chief.

A year go, Bratton commented to the Wall Street Journal about the recent struggles of the OPD, which has undergone a substantial reduction in officers in recent years and has been engaged in an ongoing battle with Judge Henderson over the city’s failure to complete reforms mandated by a 10-year-old consent decree. There have also been 130 homicides in the city this year, the most since 2006. From the Journal article:

“I don’t see anything positive at all happening in Oakland,” says William Bratton, former police chief of New York City and Los Angeles and now chairman of Kroll Inc, a global risk assessment firm. He isn’t advising either the police union or the city of Oakland. “It’s a perfect storm of bad: too much oversight, not enough support from city leaders, too few officers,” Mr. Bratton says.

Andrew Stelzer reports that Chief Jordan said yesterday the department will return to neighborhood policing:

Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said the effort is a response to community feedback.

“They’re upset and disappointed in the crime that’s taking place in Oakland,” Jordan said. “And we have a responsibility to respond to that and in doing so, looking at some of the best practices that are out there; calling on the experts in the country. To find a way to help us reduce violent crime in Oakland.”

Jordan also said the department will return to a neighborhood policing model. Jordan acknowledged that neighborhood policing has been tried before in Oakland and failed, but he said that was due to a lack of resources. This time, five police districts will be created, starting with two in East Oakland, and each will have a captain in charge of that area. Implementation will begin sometime in February.

“By returning to neighborhood policing,” Jordan said, “we strengthen our relations with the community, we build trust, and we hold the captains and his command officers responsible for knowing about crime, addressing crime and dealing with them in a very, very timely manner.”

Jordan said there will be more changes announced next week.

Bratton is a high-profile proponent of the “broken windows” theory of crime fighting, first proposed by two academics in this 1982 Atlantic Monthly article. The basis of that theory, which Bratton applied in New York City and Los Angeles, is that relatively small violations like vandalism can lead to more serious crime.

From that article:

We suggest that “untended” behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers.

At this point it is not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur. But many residents will think that crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise, and they will modify their behavior accordingly. They will use the streets less often, and when on the streets will stay apart from their fellows, moving with averted eyes, silent lips, and hurried steps. “Don’t get involved.” For some residents, this growing atomization will matter little, because the neighborhood is not their “home” but “the place where they live.” Their interests are elsewhere; they are cosmopolitans. But it will matter greatly to other people, whose lives derive meaning and satisfaction from local attachments rather than worldly involvement; for them, the neighborhood will cease to exist except for a few reliable friends whom they arrange to meet.

Such an area is vulnerable to criminal invasion. Though it is not inevitable, it is more likely that here, rather than in places where people are confident they can regulate public behavior by informal controls, drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped. That the drunks will be robbed by boys who do it as a lark, and the prostitutes’ customers will be robbed by men who do it purposefully and perhaps violently. That muggings will occur. Full article here

Yesterday, appropriately enough, the Tribune reported that vandals had broken the windows of an entire block of businesses in the city.

 

Update Friday: NBC Bay Area spoke to Bratton by phone. From that interview:

Bratton did tell NBC Bay Area that Compstat – a crime tracking system he helped pioneer  – is an integral key to success. Compstat stands for Computer Statistics, or Comparative Statistics, and is a management philosophy and tool for police departments, which includes crime reduction, quality of life improvement and resource management. It also helps map crime and identify problems in cities.

“Being able to know where and when a crime has been committed” gives police “predictive” powers in being able to tell where a future crime may occur, he said.

Bratton also wasn’t shy about saying that Oakland needs more police officers on the street. “The biggest challenge is the number of officers,” Bratton said. “When you add them and use them appropriately, you get results.”

The story goes onto cite Oakland civil rights attorney James B. Chanin as saying he is skeptical of Bratton’s support for “stop and frisk,” in which police officers are empowered to detain individuals they deem suspicious. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee earlier this year abandoned consideration of a stop and frisk program for San Francisco.

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Category: Law

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=77001270 Rich Wang

    The broken window theory is intriguing and appears to have merit, but the best of luck to Bill trying to convince the “no snitches” community to see the light on this…

  • http://www.facebook.com/dccouper David C. Couper

    Be careful. Changing/reforming police comes from the inside out and takes both time and persistence. For more, follow my blog at http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com.