A Yank to Run London's Fabled Scotland Yard: Will Bobbies Meet Billy?

LAPD Chief Bill Bratton says no, denies rumors that he is candidate for the job.

Oct. 4, 2008— -- 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, driving down crime in that city, 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 local police power and national anti-terror responsibility.

But according to Bill Bratton, he is not a candidate, has not been asked to consider the post and is not interested in the position -- or any position other than his current one as head of the Los Angeles Police Department at this time, well informed sources close to Bratton tell ABC News.

"I'm just completing my first year of a second term in the Los Angeles Police Department in which I'm very happy. I don't anticipate being asked to run the New Scotland Yard nor would I be interested," Bratton said.

Bratton, without any doubt, is a powerhouse of police management. And it is widely speculated in police executive circles that he is a candidate to run the unwieldy but critically important Dept. of Homeland Security following the US election in November.

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. He 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, where a group of American law enforcement officials 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. The ouster followed a meeting a week ago Friday by Bratton with both the embattled Met Commissioner--a good friend of Bratton's-- and the mayor who had lost faith in him, Boris Johnson.

Sources familiar with the private meeting described it to ABC as "a nice meeting," "formal" and said it followed a lunch between Bratton, Blair and their spouses. There is no doubt, long time Bratton advisers say, that the backdrop to the setting -- a highly regarded police executive being pushed out by a vote of no confidence by his mayor -- was familiar to Bratton. It was the way he exited New York in the spring of 1996 after Mayor Rudy Giuliani made public his displeasure with the man he had hired to drive crime down and who had succeeded in that task.

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.

Commissioner Ian Blair became a lightening rod for that criticism which stemmed from a rise in youth violence and knifings, including 11 murders of teen-agers through the spring, where in April, two youths were knifed in on day. Behind the scenes, it seems Blair's own staff may have helped set the stage for his ouster, well informed sources close to Blair tell ABC News. One key staffer, his second in command, has an inside track, sources say, at succeeding his boss at least for the year and a half before scheduled national elections.

As Blair, who ran a relatively unpolitized department, became the symbol of a mayor's will to take control of the agency, Bratton, who is well skilled at politics, became a tool to keep the battle before the public eye, well informed sources say. Now his name and reputation is being tossed back and forth between Labor and Conservative politicians.

Bratton happened to arrive in London and meet the city's mayor about a week before the ouster of embattled Met Police Chief Ian Blair; a coincidence fed upon by the British press, whose appetite appears to be fueled by leaks from the mayor's staff. The national tabloid The Sun said in Bratton was "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."

But it is hardly Bratton's first visit to England. He and other US police executives haves worked for several years now -- at least six -- to more fully engage British law enforcement in PERF.

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, and which in fact also exerts considerable control over The Met, where, as with many British police agencies, policy is then set by a Board of Commissioners. He also met 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. Johnson and his deputies also exert their own influence over the selection process.

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.'"

Bratton's office has now issued a flat denial of interest in the job. Sources close to the process of selection say that even if Bratton were interested, the national party in power is not going to risk an outsider at this time.

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. For a police professional like Bratton who has already scaled many heights, it is without a doubt an appealing job; the Met is 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, through the efforts of Bratton and current police commissioner Ray Kelly, 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. "