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LA Police Chief's (And Former NYC Police Chief) Thoughts On Canadian Crime


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I read a very interesting interview recently in Macleans; it concerned the thoughts of William Bratton, the highly respected chief of police for Los Angeles, on crime in general and Canadian crime in particular.

I found it very refreshing to see Macleans publishing a 'politically incorrect'-by Canadian media standards  ::)-article on how to best resolve the escalating crime problem in Canada.  This man speaks good common sense and he is not afraid to speak the truth in an era of sickening doublespeak from public figures who are generally afraid of offending 'special interest' groups.

The article is posted in it's entirety below.  For those who wish to read it at Macleans' website, the link is as follows:


Any thoughts on this article?

January 14, 2006

Q&A with former NYC chief of police, William Bratton

'If it's gangs that are committing the crimes, well then, go after the gangs. And don't be afraid to go after them because they're black.'


William Bratton has earned a reputation as the most effective police chief in America. As chief of police in New York City from 1994 to 1996, Bratton is credited with the miraculous turnaround of that city's crime spiral. Currently chief of the LAPD -- the only individual to be chief of both major cities -- Bratton is achieving similar miracles. A pioneer of the "Broken Windows" theory of law enforcement, Bratton works on the principle that by cracking down on petty "lifestyle" crimes -- prostitution, drug use, aggressive begging -- a city makes itself less susceptible to more serious crime. Crime is viewed as an "epidemic": tolerate small offences and criminals will become emboldened to commit ever greater crimes. By the time Bratton left the NYPD, murders in New York had fallen to 984 a year, from a high of 2,262 in 1990. During his first two years in Los Angeles, overall crime has dropped 13 per cent, homicides 20 per cent. In Canada, the number of homicides committed in 2004 increased in six of our nine largest cities.

Chief Bratton, have you ever been to Toronto?
Yes, quite a few times.

So you know a little bit about our city? You know about our problems? A 27-per-cent increase in the number of homicides from 1995 to today. A Boxing Day slaying where a 15-year-old innocent bystander was gunned down during a gang shootout on a major shopping street. Can I tell you -- it would be nice if you were our police chief.
Well, thank you. Tell me, the gang violence that you are experiencing, what is the racial or ethnic background of the gangs?

That's a refreshingly blunt question. Some say it may be as high as 80 per cent Jamaican. But no one knows for sure, because people here don't like to talk about that.
You need to talk about it. It's all part of the issue. If it's Jamaican gangs that are committing the crimes, well then, go after the Jamaican gangs. And don't be afraid to go after them because they're black. That's the last thing you need to be concerned with.

Oh boy, I can see the complaints coming in already. You have to understand the climate here. The major local daily in Toronto, the Toronto Star, says it doesn't believe in "gratuitously" labelling people by ethnic origin.
Well, that really helps identify who they are, doesn't it? The next step will be to refuse to allow the police to identify people by their race or ethnic origin. That type of societal consciousness really goes to extremes.

I'm sure you heard that Toronto's mayor and our prime minister blame the Boxing Day shooting on you Americans. . .
Mm-hmm, yes. They talked about the problem of guns coming in from the United States. But whose hands are the guns in? You have to look at all sources of the problem. It is a combination of lax gun laws, which certainly contributes to our problem here in the United States, but ultimately the responsibility is on the individual who pulls the trigger.

Back to my fantasy about you moving to Canada. What are the top three things you would do to rescue our cities?
I would never put myself in the position of trying to tell your chiefs of police what to do. You've got a very able chief of police in Toronto. I know him personally. What you should do is take a look at what is working elsewhere and then see what applies to your particular situation.

Is there any reason the Broken Windows approach cannot be applied to Canadian cities?
No two cities are alike. Each patient has his own illness. But there are a number of things that have worked generically in the United States, and, indeed, around the world. One is the idea that police can prevent crime. And the focus has to be on the prevention, as much as the response to it. And that's a very critical distinction. In my country in the '70s, '80s and '90s -- as a result of the societal changes in our country in the '60s -- the focus of policing went from the prevention of crime to the response to crime. And that's because we erroneously believed that crime was caused by racism, poverty, the economy, demographics. None of those things cause crime. But they can be significant influences at given times. In the case of Toronto, you've got the issue that a large part of your violent crime problem seems to be influenced by race. So that's an influence. But what the police need to focus on is the behaviour.

But our current political class finds that a very offensive proposition. Our federal minister of justice, for example, has stressed that he wants to "combat the causes of crime as well as crime itself."
Well, that's where you're going down the wrong path. Certainly, you try to improve the economy and create more jobs. You can't arrest your way out of the crime problem. But arrests may be an appropriate strategy for a period of time -- particularly focused arrests where you are going after the 10 per cent of the population that traditionally commits about 50 per cent of the crime. Police exist, in a democratic society, to control the behaviour of individuals. The challenge and responsibility is to do it constitutionally, to do it consistently -- meaning you don't police minority neighbourhoods differently from majority neighbourhoods -- and compassionately -- meaning, in a broader sense, that you do it respectfully, not in an uncaring, indifferent manner. You have to be concerned with the rights of people. You have to be concerned with how you interact with people.

On that front, in your first year as chief of the L.A. police, you managed to reduce the homicide rate by 23 per cent, but complaints against the LAPD went up 12 per cent. . .
But if you look at the totality of complaints, a 12-per-cent increase amounted to fewer than 1,000 additional complaints in a city where we have millions of interactions every day.

The Broken Windows approach to policing is assertive and increases the frequency of interaction with citizens on a daily basis. Is it a method of policing that is possible only with the right political will behind it?
Political will is absolutely critical. In other words, if your government, your society, is saying, "We don't want you focusing on the little things because we're concerned it might be seen as racially incorrect," or, "We're concerned that it's not appreciative of the ethnic backgrounds of people" -- well, that's the lame excuse that got American policing into so much trouble in the '60s, '70s and '80s. The attitude was, "We're not going to police some of these minor crimes in the minority neighbourhoods. After all, what's the harm? There are really no victims to prostitution, or gangs hanging on the corner and drinking." But what we didn't understand was that the victim was the neighbourhood. It was like a cancer eating away at that neighbourhood. And all the people who lived there were ultimately the victims as their neighbourhoods deteriorated. It's guaranteed that if you don't control those minor types of violations, you are going to create a climate in which the people perpetrating them are emboldened to try and get away with more. And that's exactly the cancer that was eating away at New York until the '90s when Giuliani and I came in. Giuliani provided the political will and leadership. And I, together with the 38,000 cops around me, provided the tactics and the strategy and the philosophy.

In a speech to the Conference of Mayors in May 2000, Giuliani put it like this: "New York City during the 1960s, '70s and into the early '90s served as a symbol of decline. I keep a national magazine cover describing New York City in 1990 as "the Rotting Apple," a city in decline. And at that time, people in the City of New York accepted it. They accepted the idea that this was our lot in life: that we were an old city that had seen our greatest days." These comments address the idea that a mayor and a police chief can decide how much crime they are prepared to tolerate. As a society we can have a lot more control over the quantity of crime than we imagine. . . .
That's going to be the great risk, I think, for you in Canada -- the danger is you are going to end up putting all the blame and fault on the police. When, actually, in a democratic society, the police are responsive to the political leadership. So if you have political leadership that's not going to empower the police to do what needs to be done -- then you are going to go down the same slippery slope the United States went down in the '70s and '80s.

NDP Leader Jack Layton has pointed to "despair" and "poverty" as the root causes of crime.
When you put too much emphasis on the idea of poverty being the cause of crime, you're as much as saying that just because you are poor or disadvantaged, you are going to resort to crime to get by. And that's a phenomenally racist and insensitive attitude. The vast majority of people who are poor do not resort to crime. A small percentage do. But he is correct that one of the influences on crime is poverty. If you make a city safer, you will create more jobs. In our case in Los Angeles, and in your case in Toronto, you'll create more tourists coming in, who will spend more money, create more jobs and create more tax revenue. But if the place is deemed to be unsafe, you are not going to have that economic benefit.

Rather than focus on social and economic causes, you've said in the past that one of the most important ways to reduce crime is to go after narcotics. . .
Well, what are the Jamaican gangs up there fighting over -- who controls the drug trade?

Exactly. So to do it, they are going to do the same thing they do down in Jamaica, which is resort to violence as the first way of dealing with it. Whether it's your Asian gangs that are trying to control the gambling or your gangs coming in from Eastern Europe trying to control the credit card fraud, they all have their specialties. It comes back to core principles. The criminal justice system, if properly co-ordinated, and properly supported politically and publicly, can in fact control crime. And the way you control crime is through controlling behaviour.

So the situation in Canada is far from hopeless. . .
The good news is we know what to do about crime. You need to have political leaders, police chiefs, and the community working together, under the community policing partnership principle. You need to develop priorities and develop focus. And also go from the underlying understanding that crime is caused by individual behaviour. And that's where the police should focus most of their energy -- on controlling that behaviour. But they have to do it in ways that are minority-sensitive and are not seen as racist, brutal or corrupt. And the best way to do that is to be very transparent about what you are doing. The good news for Canada is that right next door you have a lot of successes -- and you have a lot of failures. You can learn from other communities. We're not so dissimilar. What works for dealing with the flu or cancer in the United States works in Canada too.

Out freakin STANDING!

If you want to read the "Broken Windows" theory check out the original article written by James Wilson ( ;D).  Link:

This is LONG overdue.
That link to the 'broken windows' theory was very informative.  I agree that policing should be more about personal interaction rather than a patrol car screaming up to make an arrest.  Obviously, patrol cars are very useful tools, but it is nice to see that some police forces recognize the benefits of having dedicated foot patrol cops assigned to hold the ground in their cities.

As for politicans ignoring politically incorrect topics...all I can say is: 1 more week, people, 1 more week!  ;D
Unfortunately, the powers to be will stick their noses ever higher in the air and quip "Take advice from an American?" or "How dare he speak to us in that tone."

Of course, he's right, but we didn't pay five or six million dollars to some corrupt government hack to table a six year report, and then debate it in Parliament, for two more years, till it was as useless as the day it was submitted. They would only write what the commissioners of the report wanted them to say anyway.

So no, he can't be speaking the truth. Can he?

A leading expert on the subject, a SME, if you will, will be discounted, criticised, and likely ridiculed because in one article, he's logically, and rightfully, countered the whole massive grouphug that the vote buying politicians have been playing and taxing us for, all these long years. They will lose face, and haven't got the cojones to admit it, swallow their maple syrup pride and get on with fixing the problem. So he will become the new sacrificial lamb for their ire.

Let's hope they at least pull their heads out of........the sand ::)....long enough to at least consider what he's saying.
Don't be too pessimistic.  It could be that the minority groups in question are the ones that will be yelling to clean up their neighbourhoods and demanding this type of policing.  They are the ones paying the price most directly.
UberCree said:
Don't be too pessimistic.  It could be that the minority groups in question are the ones that will be yelling to clean up their neighbourhoods and demanding this type of policing.  They are the ones paying the price most directly.

Unlikely.  The trend seems to be that the worse things get, the more they blame the police while refusing to help them.
I'm not a favour of the hysterical "our government sucks, bring back political incorrectness" tripe, but I think criticism in this case is warranted.  We can see in Calgary that the police refused to acknowledge that gang-related crime (for example) was an issue though it was obvious to all and sundry that it was.  Now that it is getting worse, they seem powerless to do anything about it.

Of course, I can only speak from the perspective of someone not actively engaged in police work, a perspective I believe I share with everyone in this thread so far?

It is incumbent on the elected officials we have empowered to start providing solutions.  The article here, whether good or bad, are proposed solutions.  We need to have our politicians explain why they aren't enacting them.
A very reasonable and rational argument. Firm yet fair. Not afraid to tell it like it is.

And he has more than enough credentials.  ;)

I was very impressed by the article in 'McLean's', and I just read the Broken Windows article. I realized then that both have something in common: common sense. And I also recognized that the style of policing they advocate (up close and personal) is how "we" (CF soldiers) conduct patrols overseas. The squad car (or APC/tank) mentality seems to be one that the US military uses (not all the time), to the same effect that is mentioned in the Broken Windows article: it creates a barrier to interpersonal relations with the "community". Granted when people walk up to you (when you are on foot) and then blow themselves up (along with you), I can see why the US has adopted a more defensive posture. But it can't be denied, that it seems that in the past (before suicide bombers) they were less willing to become familiar with the populace. If someone can provide anecdotes otherwise, please do, as I am basing a lot of this on my observations (books, news, and yes, I'm sad to say, movies).

I would like to see the Chief's recommendations adopted, as, well gosh, they work. But I was (and still am) in doubt if something as so radical as acknowledging the fact, for example, that Haitian gangs are black, and then targetting them, would be adopted here. Racial profiling, and all. I have always felt that is like trying to avoid the elephant in the living room.

Any police officers (or members of groups sometimes "targetted" by police: Natives, blacks, skater-kids, etc) who think this is the way to do business?? Or is this something that has been called for for a long time (by both sides), but just ignored?

48Highlander said:
Unlikely.  The trend seems to be that the worse things get, the more they blame the police while refusing to help them.

You forgot also standing with hand out at the trough to pick up a few more of the taxpayers dollars to "further study the problem using their unique insight into it." ::)
The Chief's comments are bang on.  The critical part of his solutions, though, is the political backing of the police services efforts.  That is where it will fail, because some self appointed "leader" of whatever community, who sees too many of his buddies starting to get rounded up, will start crying "racism" and all that white guilt will come pouring back in and the leaders will recoil in numb horror. 
The "get out of your cruiser and hug a citizen" is a nice idea, but unless people want to double the standing numbers of their individual services, and the cost it will incur, don't expect us to have much more opportunity than show up, deal with whatever the issue is, then peal off to the next donkey show. 
Who decided that "profiling" is an evil word?  Maybe "racial profiling" is wrong, but the concept on it's own is what we do every day.  Think more in terms of "criminal profiling".  Street level criminals act and look a certain way.  They belong to a certain social subculture and there is a pressure to behave to conform.  The really smart professional criminals ie) white collar, business crime (read Liberals) you don't usually notice right away. 
If you have to police an area that is 90% non-white, take a stab at who your criminals are going to be. 
Nothing will work until the communties are willing to play ball, and the various levels of government are willing to start thinking in terms of "lets just get this job done".
I've always said to any cop-bashing hippy who'll listen "Everybody hate's the cops until your teeth are getting kicked in or your (fill in the blank) was stolen" The difficulty with policing is the fact that your going into ALL situations expecting the worst with minimal information and expected to to be professional and courteous with everyone. And rightfully so, but it just makes the job that much more difficult.

Re: broken windows theory, studied it a bit in college and it seems to be working well in many areas. The only problem with profiling is it works in reverse as well, as zipperhead_cop alluded to. It can cloud your judgement into labelling someone wrong just because of the way they dress. Not that it doesn't work, but you just have to be careful to not let it become your sole source of judgement on someone.
zipperhead_cop said:
Street level criminals act and look a certain way.  They belong to a certain social subculture and there is a pressure to behave to conform. 

Not only that, but many gang members will be displaying some kind of marker or insignia that indicates their affiliation. Street-wise cops know these indicators.
midgetcop said:
Not only that, but many gang members will be displaying some kind of marker or insignia that indicates their affiliation. Street-wise cops know these indicators.
True enough, but I was referring to the little things, like walking with your head down, sneaking through alleys, turning your car abruptly down a side street when a cruiser is behind.  Little things.  Or other subtle clues, like smoking a joint walking down the street, or trying to kick in your ex-girlfriends door.  Takes years of TI to pick those ones off ;)