He has been police commissioner of New York where he helped drive crime to historic lows, re-inventing the management of American policing in the process. Now he is a powerhouse chief revamping L.A.'s once troubled force, and according to sources close to the process, as well as London newspapers, he may be on a short list for head of Britain's fabled Scotland Yard, the London based force with national anti-terror responsibility.
Bill Bratton, without any doubt, is a powerhouse of police management. He picks sharp aides, motivates them well, drives his deputies to invention and perfection, while at the same time facing down pressure groups and swaying politicians to his cause. And many of the key figures around him today have served time in England's law enforcement community -- or even come from there.
In short: he slings police theory like Wyatt Earp wielded a gun, writes Op-Eds and academic papers on crime and terrorism, and is a behind-the-scenes powerhouse in the selection process for American police chiefs, who also happens to be a transatlantic darling of the conservatives in London.
No wonder that in the days following a Police Executive Research Forum trip to London a week ago, for a group of American law enforcement officials who joined a panel of about 40 officers for a discussion of what could be done to curb some of London's crime problems, rumors began to spread in the British press that Bratton could be a candidate for the job of running the Metropolitan Police. Those days coincided with the ouster Wednesday of Sir Ian Blair -- the Commissioner of The Met -- by London's Mayor.
Popularly known as Scotland Yard, The Met is a 50,000 plus police organization with a budget of about six billion dollars, and the patina that only the brand name Scotland Yard could offer to an already stellar career. It is also an agency that has come under siege by politicians in recent months.
In the Saturday, Oct. 4th edition of the flashy tabloid The Sun, the paper takes credit for introducing Bratton to London's mayor and says he is "in the frame" for the top cop job at the Met:
"They met thanks to The Sun ? who brought Mr. Bratton to the UK to attend our summit on Broken Britain," the paper touted. "At the summit Mr. Bratton set out his vision for cleaning up the gun and knife crime plaguing our streets. He slashed crime while New York police chief and then tackled L.A.'s gang culture."
Bratton happened to arrive in London this trip on the eve of the ouster of embattled Met Police Chief Ian Blair, who was soon after pushed from power by London mayor Boris Johnson.
During his visit, Bratton met with England's Home Secretary, whose office bears considerable responsibility in the war on terror, as well as with Johnson -- in the company of Blair on at least one occasion. And Johnson's staff has done little to dissuade reporters of rumors that Bratton is under consideration as a future commissioner.
On Friday, London papers began mentioning their meeting, and soon after in the tightly-knit community of local, regional and federal law enforcement officials in the U.S., rumors of the interest in Bratton for the job and speculation on the interest by Bratton in the job had made their way through the grapevine, where they were met sometimes with informed skepticism, and sometimes by equally informed suggestions, that there may be some reciprocal interest -- a mating dance, according to multiple ABC sources.
The London Telegraph interviewed Bratton and he gave them this characteristically short-of-a-no answer: "As to speculation about my being possibly considered for the Met position let me offer the following Abraham Lincoln quote: 'I am flattered to be considered for a position that I have not been offered.'"
And a change in the law in London about two years ago makes it possible for Bratton or any foreigner to be selected "under exceptional circumstances" to run the Met: a force that faces perhaps the greatest challenge of the moment -- a massive effort to prevent an attack by home-grown, al-Qaeda inspired or affiliated terror groups. It is an effort that London's Metropolitan Police have faced down together with British intelligence, and which ABC News sources say faces 30 threats well along in the plotting stage each quarter -- and although it manages to take down about 20 of those, at the start of the next quarter, it still faces 30.
In a sense, London today resembles the city with crime run rampant that Bratton took over when he came to New York to head the nearly 40,000-officer force. Back then fueled by crack, a poor economy and enabled by what Bratton's aides came to view as sloppy or lazy police work, the city had more than 2,200 murders. Today, it has a crime rate that resembles a small city in Idaho, with a murder rate hovering around 500, a number it had not seen since 1963.
In London, Bratton's reputation as chief with a "zero tolerance" for crime, is known, if not fully understood, his stature as an innovator is embraced, and his potential as an agent for shaking up the force is large even when it is in the rumor stage.
Whether the force needs shaking up is another question: it has managed to keep terror in check by running its special units ragged, revamping its command structure and re-inventing its relationships with outlying departments. It can be argued it has done less well on staving off London's street crime problems. But the statistical verdict is far from complete.
One key question after discussing the situation with multiple sources: how long will the mating dance last? Another: Are both partners dancing or is one just holding on to the other's image: in that case, which is which?
If Bratton was asked what some of his life's ambitions were they might include the hope of leaving a legacy as America's most significant lawman. If he was asked whether satisfied in Los Angeles he would say he has become rooted there, his wife Rikki Kleinman is happy there, he is extremely well-paid and for the first time in his career, he has finally earned his way to a pension.
But the Met is arguably the most complex police agency in the world, and it faces one of the most complex challenges of the day -- and those are a prescription for interest by Bratton. If he were to earn the post he might be able to earn a reputation as great as that of Sir Robert Peele, the conservative prime minister who in the mid-Victorian era helped invent the modern concept of policing. The calling of British officers "bobbies" is no small part of his lasting monument. One thing seems certain: by December 1st, London ought to have a new police chief. ####
Excerpts from Blair's resignation address:
"It is the duty of the Commissioner to lead the Met through good times and bad: to accept the burdens and pressures of office and, above all, to be a steward of the Service he commands. However, I have today offered my resignation as Commissioner to the Home Secretary, which she has reluctantly but graciously accepted.
"I am resigning not because of any failures by my Service and not because the pressures of the office and the many stories that surround it are too much. I am resigning in the best interests of the people of London and the Metropolitan Police Service. I would have wished to continue to serve Londoners until my term of office expired in February 2010. However, at a meeting yesterday, the new Mayor made clear, in a very pleasant but determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership at the Met. I understand that to serve effectively the Commissioner must have the confidence of both the Mayor and the Home Secretary. Without the Mayor's backing, I do not consider that I can continue in the job. Personally I see no bar to working effectively with the new Mayor, but it is there that we differ and hence I am unable to continue.
"The Home Secretary has asked that I should stay for enough time for the process of appointing my successor to be got underway. I will therefore leave office on 1st December 2008, giving the Home Secretary and the MPA time to make plans for the appointment of my successor. "