US supercop Bill Bratton blames riots on 'vacuum of public safety'

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Media captionWatch Bill Bratton's Newsnight interview

A "vacuum of public safety" in Britain allowed August's riots to escalate out of control, US "supercop" Bill Bratton has said.

He told BBC Newsnight: "In certain areas it was perceived that the police were not there and anything goes."

The former police chief - who cut gang violence in some of America's toughest inner cities - is in the UK to advise the government on police strategy.

On Monday he was briefed by the new Met Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe.

In an exclusive interview with Newsnight immediately after their meeting, Mr Bratton said: "So many people got involved so quickly in so many places that they took advantage of a vacuum of public safety."

Mr Hogan-Howe told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that police tactics had been wrong: "We need to review our tactics to make sure we are far more flexible than we appeared on those three days."

He added: "We have to respond very rigorously at the beginning to stop it getting out of control."

Mr Bratton cracked down hard on crime as police chief in New York and Los Angeles.

He is in the UK to speak about the police tactic he adopted in New York known as the broken windows approach. The idea is straightforward - adopting a zero tolerance to minor offences such as vandalism and anti-social behaviour helps prevent inner cities from slipping into the hands of criminals and restores public confidence.

He said there was strong evidence that the approach had worked and that New York was in its 20th year of crime reductions.

"If you have a criminal element which is not fearful of the police, not fearful of detection... if you don't fix the broken windows, you're going to have a lot of them," Mr Bratton said.

"We got it wrong for so many years. We felt crime was caused by the economy, racism, poverty, demographics - these are influences and sometimes significant influences - but what causes crime is human behaviour."

Several months ago it was widely reported that Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to see Mr Bratton apply for the then vacant position of commissioner of police for the Metropolitan Police.

The home secretary pointed out that the position must be filled by a British citizen.

Mr Bratton told Newsnight he had no regrets about expressing an interest in the top job at the Met. He denied that he had been requested to apply for the job by the prime minister's office or any of his advisers, saying that there was "no harm done" and it was all "water under the bridge".

He also confirmed to the BBC that he was here in the UK on a fact-finding mission and to speak at Thursday's conference on police tactics. He pointed out that the Home Office was not paying him as an adviser but was covering his expenses.

Watch Newsnight's full interview with Bill Bratton on Tuesday 11 October 2011 at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

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