The independent London newspaper

Safer Neighbourhoods policing works – even on a reduced strength

12 April, 2018

• TIME for some clear thinking on police cuts and crime. Many will remember the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson gleefully announcing cuts of 20 per cent in numbers of London police officers.

We were told that as crimes were reducing in numbers we could start reducing the number of officers in the Met. The original 32,000 officers covering the 33 boroughs and 649 wards of Greater London were to be reduced to 24,000 over a period and substantial numbers of police stations would be closed.

This would be fine, Johnson told us, because (a) crime was going down and (b) police would be spending time out on the street rather than sitting in police stations. But then we’ve got used to Johnson saying whatever’s convenient for him at the time and flitting off to cause chaos elsewhere.

But here’s the bad news: violent crime is now going up. The drug trade has a grip on London (and especially in Camden) and young people are dying because of turf wars among drug gangs.

Home secretary Amber Rudd, defending the Tories’ own turf, points out that knife crime was just as bad in London under Labour before the cuts. Other Tories jeer that police under Labour were afraid to stop and search lest they be accused of racial profiling.

Bought-and-paid-for Tory columnists laugh at the police for having to focus reduced resources elsewhere than, for example, burglary (currently only 2 per 1,000 residents nationally). All fun and games for the Tories, but what is actually to be done?

The Tory approach is typically authoritarian and punitive: more stop and search, more knife arches, heavier sentences… hand the problem over to the police, courts and prison services.

Yet the one provenly effective, community-rooted, policing remedy is being left out of the discussion. The UK Safer Neighbourhoods policing initiative began in 2005, intending to give each ward a dedicated team of a sergeant, two constables and two PCSOs liaising with representative citizen panels from the community and in close partnership with local council services.

Today, more than a dozen years later, most Greater London wards are reduced to two police constables and one PCSO (albeit with a damaging lack of sergeants) but, on the other hand, up-to-date communications, body-worn video and other technical improvements have made local police teams more flexible, more contactable and transparent, than ever before.

The fact is that, even on a reduced strength, Safer Neighbourhoods policing works. The community-policing model has more than a dozen years of experience involving thousands of officers nationwide. And that’s where refocused resources need to go.

Beefing up local teams in challenging wards, with extra PCs and sergeants, building on local knowledge and experience, working with council services, will start addressing problems from the ground up and in the longer term, with a better chance of early intervention and a stronger sense of social involvement and support.

Met Commissioner Cressida Dick has stated that “we can’t police our way out of the current problems.” She’s right in one way at least: with 66,000 London streets in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross alone, the dream of a police presence on every corner is just that, a pipe dream from a Victorian past.

She’s right, too, that violent crime arising from the drugs trade isn’t simply a policing problem, but society’s problem. Isn’t it time that, in the 190th anniversary year of Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act, society should demand a widely community-based, practical policing, based on what works rather than top-down enforcement?

Chair, Gospel Oak Safer Neighbourhood Panel


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