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William Bratton speaks at the podium on Thursday in Baker Center Theatre

Photographer: Alex Snyder

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The Law Enforcement, Policing and Security panel discussing a topic on Friday (L-R: moderator Paul Milazzo, Heather McDonald, John Eck, Radley Balko)

Photographer: Alex Snyder

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Retired police chief William Bratton conversates with Steven Miner, director of the Contemporary History Institute

Photographer: Alex Snyder

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Former police chief says crime prevention is the goal


William Bratton, former chief of police for New York City and Los Angeles, told an audience of more than 175 people on Thursday that the ultimate goal in police work is crime prevention.

As the keynote speaker of the 2012 Baker Peace Conference, which carried the theme "Crime and Punishment: Security Domestic Tranquility in the 21st Century," Bratton walked the audience through the history of policing while pointing out significant changes in United States crime statistics and police strategies.

With more than 42 years of experience under his belt, Bratton said we (U.S. residents) live in the most successful democracy ever and public safety is the number one obligation of our government.

"All of our constitutional rights rest on the guarantee of public safety," Bratton said. "If that guarantee is not met, then all of the other promises of democracy are going to waver."

Bratton said "professional policing" in the turbulent 1960s could be described by the three R's – rapid response, random patrol and reactive investigations. He said police were asked to remain distant from the community they served.

"Officers lost their identity in the neighborhoods," Bratton said.

Bratton said this philosophy led to problem police behavior, such as brutality, corruption and civil rights abuses. He said eventually these problems led to a growing public mistrust of police departments and the three D's – deinstitutionalization (jailing less people), decriminalization (some crimes no longer considered offenses) and depolicing (fewer police officers).

Bratton said one of the things he did when he became police commissioner in Boston was encourage his officers to interact with the residents in their assigned communities.

He also said that philosophy allowed them to take care of the small crimes in a community before they lead to bigger crimes. It is a prevention tactic that Bratton said has worked in all of the police departments he has worked in.

"Community policing became popular at this time," Bratton said. "It returned us to prevention policing and partnerships with the community. It gave everyone renewed strength."

Bratton said treating crime is similar to cancer treatment because it is based on treating problems while they are small, which prevents them from becoming big problems.

He added that the role of a police officer is to control behavior constitutionally and to do it passionately, humanly and consistently.

"He said too often police departments tried to arrest their way out of problems, but that does not work," Bratton said. "We (policemen) need to continue learning, collaborating and partnering. The three D's are most important to good police work – partnerships, problem solving and prevention."

On Friday the conference conducted panel discussions on "Punishments and Penalties," "Law Enforcement, Policing and Security" and "The Drug Wars."

The conference closed on Friday evening with a screening of the documentary "Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead" in Baker University Center Theatre.

The Contemporary History Institute annually hosts the Baker Peace Conference to analyze how peace can be established and maintained throughout the world. Established in 1984, the conference is funded by the John and Elizabeth Baker Peace Studies Endowment, which was established by the late Ohio University president emeritus and his wife.