He was widely credited with driving down crime in America's biggest city, and now he's being considered as a candidate to run the police department of Britain's largest metropolis. But could Bill Bratton bring the techniques that revolutionized New York Police Department to Scotland Yard?
At a time when neighborhoods throughout London are roiled by rioting, the city's Metropolitan Police Service is without top leadership. The two top leaders resigned after the department's reputation was tarnished by the News Corp. cell phone hacking scandal. British Prime Minister David Cameron and other policy makers are looking for a new commissioner who might help lift the dark cloud from over the agency's name.
In ABC News conversations during the past two weeks with officials involved in the decision-making process, some fingered Bratton, now the chairman of powerhouse investigative firm Kroll Associates, as a dark-horse candidate. Those officials and other former officials said the British government had been weighing an outsider, even a military leader or an American, to bring a fresh perspective and firm leadership to the organization.
As commissioner of the NYPD under Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s, Bratton instituted a zero-tolerance policing approach that targeted quality-of-life violations that had long been tolerated in New York. The management techniques he pioneered are now widely used across the U.S.
In deciding who runs the more than 30,000-officer Metropolitan Police, at stake is not only the policing of London, but the setting of national police policies, the security for the 2012 London Olympics and significant aspects of the control and direction of the nation's counter-terrorism program, which has been effective in curbing fundamentalist threats inside the country.
Bratton, 63, has acknowledged he would welcome the challenge of running the agency. Bratton told The Daily Beast that he was "interested in looking at that position," adding, "It's one of the most prestigious positions in democratic policing in the world."
But he has also acknowledged he has not been in contact with the officials in London. A spokesman confirmed to ABC News today that officials had not interviewed him.
"Mr. Bratton, the current Chairman of Kroll, and the former New York City Police Commissioner and Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, can confirm that he was never contacted by any member of the British government relative to his interest in the position of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, one of the most significant, complex and important police leadership positions in the world," said the spokesman. "He would certainly have considered it an honor to have been given the opportunity to apply."
Home Secretary: 'Applicants Must Be British Citizens'
Speculation about Bratton took life after Prime Minister David Cameron suggested in Parliament on July 20 that non-British candidates be considered for the post. A favorite of Cameron, Bratton also has a good relationship with London mayor Boris Johnson. While the Home Office sets the national agenda for the Met, Johnson's administration has local authority over the agency.
"Why should not someone who has been a proven success overseas be able to help us turn around a force here at home?" the Telegraph quoted the prime minister as asking. Cameron also called the police system in Britain "too closed."
Bratton in September 2009 was named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. Last November, he testified before the House of Commons committee with jurisdiction over law enforcement. "I'm very familiar with their issues because I track them very closely," Bratton said. "I've participated in any number of meetings over there, as well as meeting with their people over here. Those issues are quite clear."
The only problem with the Bratton scenario -- and it's a big one -- is the opposition of Home Secretary Theresa May, a Cameron appointee who will choose the next top cop after consulting with London Mayor Boris Johnson.
With a Friday deadline for applications, and public tensions furthering the need for leadership at the Metropolitan Police Home Secretary, May has cut short a vacation and returned to her office. According to persons familiar with the process, May appears determined to appoint a British citizen, very likely a police insider.
May has decreed that "applicants must be British citizens." This requirement is not a matter of British law.
"Within Whitehall, this is seen as a clear snub by Mrs. May to Mr. Cameron, and a neat piece of bureaucratic maneuvering," Bratton supporter Charles Moore wrote in Saturday's Telegraph. "There is not much the Prime Minister can do. As is often the case in British government, the establishment is trying to frustrate the wishes of Downing Street."
Members of Mrs. May's team say that she would not create upheaval by interrupting the centuries-old practice of English citizens serving in the police. Her decision effectively eliminates Bratton as a candidate as well as going against the grain of the thinking of other members of her government.
"The notion you can ship someone in from another country to run a police force in a different environment and culture is stupid," president of the Association of Chief Police Officers Sir Hugh Orde said, according to the London Telegraph.
There are a number of candidates within the English police hierarchy who are under consideration for the job, law enforcement sources said.
Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, the highest ranking woman at the Met and widely regarded as one of the smartest police executives in England, is considered by some former officials as unlikely to be the new commissioner due to her role in overseeing an anti-terrorist operation after the 2005 London transit bombing that resulted in the fatal shooting of an innocent man.
An outside candidate who could become the first woman to oversee the Met is Sara Thornton, the Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police. Senior National Coordinator for Terrorist Investigations Stuart Osborne is also seen as a possible strong candidate for the post.