by Jean Damu
Hundreds of Oakland residents turned out on Jan. 15 and 22 to voice their opinions about the City Council hiring William Bratton as a $250,000 a year consultant to help bring down an escalating crime rate. They accuse him of instituting “stop and frisk,” a program that they say is the blue print for racial profiling. But digging just slightly into Bratton’s background suggests there may be a lot more to be concerned about than stop and frisk.
Bratton’s adult life has been spent in law enforcement. After serving in Viet Nam as an army officer, he returned to the U.S. and joined the Boston Police Department. Later in his career he served as head of the New Transit Agency police, then was hired in 1992 by Mayor Rudy Giuliani as police commissioner. He was fired by Giuliani in 1996.
Undaunted, Bratton became a private contractor, set up the Bratton Group to promote his theories of computer oriented police intelligence gathering called CompStat (computer statistics), worked closely with his contacts in the State Deparment and won two local contracts, one in Brazil and one in Venezuela. We will return to CompStat below.
Oakland’s $250,000 contract amounts to little more than a part-time job for Bratton. As a true believer in CompStat, though, it’s understandable he wants to upgrade the war on terrorists in Oakland.
Bratton’s Venezuela contract was initiated and conducted through the person of Ivan Simonovis, who in 2002 was the police commissioner of Caracas and with whom Bratton worked closely. Simonivis has had an interesting career.
Previously Simonovis was a Venezuelan law enforcement agent who developed numerous international contacts. He served internships with the NYPD, the German Federal Police and the National Police of France, specializing in terrorism. He attended State Department training sessions as well as the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va.
In 2000 Simonovis was named police commissioner by Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña. As commissioner, Simonovis was responsible for the coordination of the Metropolitan Police and other law enforcement agencies, including Civil Defense and the Fire Department.
It was in this capacity that Simonovis contracted with Bratton to set up his CompStat system, which would allow Caracas police to identify and respond to trouble spots quickly.
In April of 2002 Bratton was in Caracas busily setting up his computer systems when the U.S.-backed coup took place on the 11th of that month.
Reactionary political forces took President Hugo Chavez into custody for 48 hours. Massive public demonstrations of 200,000 and more rolled from the barrios down the streets of Caracas. And Simonovis, with Bratton at his side, ordered the Metropolitan Police to open fire.
Nineteen demonstrators were killed. And when Chavez was released by the army and the constitutional government restored, Simonovis was immediately arrested and today is housed in a Venezuelan prison.
We don’t know what ensued for Bratton just then, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine state security gave him 15 minutes to pack and had a taxi waiting to take him to the airport. It would have caused more headaches than it would have been worth to arrest him, as well.
Massive public demonstrations of 200,000 and more rolled from the barrios down the streets of Caracas. And Simonovis, with Bratton at his side, ordered the Metropolitan Police to open fire. Nineteen demonstrators were killed.
Mayor Peña fled to Miami. And next we heard of Bratton, he was the chief of police in Los Angeles implementing CompStat.
The importance of acknowledging Bratton’s presence and likely participation in the Caracas police response to the protesters is to recognize his policing policies are as much about suppressing dissent and social change as any other stated objective.
The website of Alegrity Risk International, a diversified investment company that specializes in intelligence gathering for global corporations and for whom Bratton went to work after his LA gig ended, describes CompStat thus: “CompStat revolutionized policing by employing accurate, real time and relentless follow-up to focus the work of police on preventing crimes before they happen.”
Though Bratton doesn’t claim to be the originator of CompStat, its apparent design and function of transmitting real time intelligence to police is a progeny of the distant CIA Phoenix assassination program in Viet Nam.
In Viet Nam, CIA officers would go to CDEC, the Combined Documentation Exploitation Center, with offices just outside the gates of the massive Ton Son Nhut airbase.
There, two elephant sized, now ancient, IBM computers ran 24 hours a day processing queries from combat units and the CIA. The CIA was requesting that thousands upon thousands of captured documents be scanned, as they searched for the names and locations of suspected Viet Cong members. Anyone unlucky enough to have their name appear on a CIA query immediately was a possible assassination target or at the least arrested.
Without a doubt CompStat has military origins, just as SWAT teams reflect the search and destroy policies of the Viet Nam era army.
But unlike then, CompStat is computerized to the degree it can easily interface with drone programs whenever they are adopted by domestic police departments. It is not an exaggeration to imagine that at some point Oakland would begin to look like Pakistan with an occasional wedding party “accidentally” droned.
Unlike Phoenix, SWAT, and search and destroy, which were pure policing policies, CompStat is plugged directly into the war on terror and contains a profit motive that, in another forum, we would discuss as the commodification of terror.
Bratton and his business partners at Altegrity Risk International make no bones about it. They are in it for the money. They look forward to winning numerous policing contracts in Haiti, Afghanistan, Burma and elsewhere in countries referred to as post-conflict areas.
It would seem Oakland’s $250,000 contract amounts to little more than a part-time job for Bratton. As a true believer in CompStat, though, it’s understandable he wants to upgrade the war on terrorists in Oakland.
At the Jan. 22 City Council meeting that ultimately approved the Bratton contract, only District 6 representative Desley Brooks had the political integrity and foresight to vote against it.
Desley Brooks asked, “Who is going to do the work” of actually tackling the need for housing, education, healthcare and above all jobs – the real causes of escalating crime?
Apparently sensing Bratton, stop and frisk and CompStat are merely desperate gimmicks designed to hide the elephant of economic inequality that confronts society, Brooks asked, “Who is going to do the work” of actually tackling the need for housing, education, healthcare and above all jobs – the real causes of escalating crime?
Jean Damu is the former western regional representative for N’COBRA, National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, and a former member of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, taught Black Studies at the University of New Mexico, has traveled and written extensively in Cuba and Africa and currently serves as a member of the Steering Committee of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.