Last week, under the cover of year-end distraction, Oakland’s Mayor, Chief of Police, and City Manager announced their intentions to contract with William Bratton as a consultant to the Oakland Police Department (OPD). While Oakland’s City Council will have the final say on whether or not the financially devastated city should squeeze $250,000 from the already dry coffers of the general fund to pay for the expertise of Bratton and his cohort, Robert Wasserman, the announcement of these intentions is chilling.
William Bratton has been called a “supercop” by some. And while this is likely meant as a compliment, it is also a completely accurate way to describe the unparalleled devastation his influence on policing has had on communities of color and poor communities across the globe. He is not only one of the architects of what has become known as zero tolerance policing, but until last month was also an consultant on private security investigation, surveillance, and mercenary policing internationally
Bratton’s approach to policing is based on James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s ‘broken windows’
theory which proposes that minor social and physical disorder – broken windows, overgrown weeds, public urination, loitering – left unchecked, will inevitably lead to an increase in ‘serious’ crime. Through his ‘quality of life initiative,’ Bratton aimed at restoring public order by aggressively enforcing, through sweeps, ticketing, and arrest, minor quality of life infractions such as public drunkenness, littering, or begging. No crime, no matter how insignificant would go unnoticed and unpunished – zero tolerance. Bratton can also be credited with popularizing stop and frisk
tactics including surveilling persons suspected of being involved in higher level offenses – drug-dealing, gang involvement – and using minor infractions as a pretext for fishing for additional incriminating evidence to use against them.
Under zero tolerance, use of policing sweeps has become commonplace as police forces remove entire elements of communities from the streets
– the homeless, queer and gender non-conforming people, sex workers, day laborers, youth – explaining that their very presence causes disorder. Stop-and-search tactics have deeply engrained the logic of racial profiling in the practice of policing, as individual cops are given discretion to assess who is suspicious and worthy of stopping. The rise in the use of zero tolerance policing has coincided with the increased militarization of law enforcement, creation of specialized policing units, longer sentences, a tripling of the US prison population, and the increased use of solitary confinement within prisons.
Bratton’s methods are controversial. Under the guise of community policing, they break up neighborhoods into militarized police zones, often alienating and angering community members rather than engendering hope or safety, let alone the direct violence used by police on these same community members. Two of CR’s home bases, New York
and Los Angeles
, are still bearing the scars of Bratton’s reign as police chief in each city. The sneaky timing of the announcement his impending arrival in Oakland mirrors other attempts to implement of a number of Bratton-style, zero-tolerance policing practices such as gang injunctions and curfews, without public input or support. These attempts have also summarily been rejected by Oakland residents as have their proponents, including Bratton-trained former police chief Anthony Batts, and former City Attorney, John Russo, both of whom were pressured out of town in response to their repressive approaches.
As we enter this New Year, we hope to engender fresh thinking, nurture creativity, bolster care and compassion, and dream boldly about how to create the world we want to live in. Bratton-style policing has proven over and over to cause more long-term damage than not, to atomize and antagonize poor people and people of color, and to ignore creative, community-led solutions. From Boston, to New York, to Los Angeles, to Oakland, we hope Critical Resistance members, allies, and supporters will choose to break free from the Bratton legacy, keep an eye out for his handiwork, and resist it at every turn.