We owe a continuing debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Metropolitan Police. They are in general superb public servants, doing a very difficult and very important job extremely well. The Met were rightly praised for their work during the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee last year but it is the less high profile work they do – the bread and butter of policing work; their contribution to keeping our communities safe, pursuing criminals and supporting victims which remains fundamental and which the overwhelming majority do with considerable skill and dedication.
Nevertheless the future of policing in London is under scrutiny and with good reason. Under the stewardship of the Mayor of London and the Conservative Party the Metropolitan Police has already seen a drop of over 4,000 police officers; PCs and PCSOs, on London’s streets since the General Election, a period when the capital saw major riots take place and growing concern about gang violence.
A cut of almost 20% in the Government’s grant to the Metropolitan Police, supported by the Mayor and the Government is the driving factor behind the cuts to police funding that are now being debated across London.
Using a choice of statistics, which the characters of the Thick of It would have been proud of, the Mayor’s Plan promises more police recruitment. The truth however is that there will be dramatically fewer police officers by 2015 and that those police officers will be significantly less experienced than now.
On the figures the Mayor of London has published two-thirds of boroughs will still have fewer police officers by the end of 2015 then they had at the time of the last General Election. Indeed there will be at least 1,133 fewer police officers according to the Mayor’s Office. As estimates for the number of PCSOs per borough have not been published but with further substantial cuts to PCSO recruitment likely; 1,100 by 2015/16 according to the Greater London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, every borough will by the next election have significantly fewer uniformed police officers in total patrolling their streets than they did in 2010.
Whilst the Mayor’s plan is at pains to appear committed to Safer Neighbourhood policing – it certainly retains the language, in practice it’s clear in Boris’s plans that model is over. Local police teams are being squashed. Instead of each community in Harrow for example having at least 1 sergeant, 3 PCs and 3 PCSOs only 1 PC and 1 PCSO will be left dedicated just to that community. In my constituency the areas of West Harrow, Rayners Lane and North Harrow will go from having 28 uniformed police officers dedicated to these communities to just 8.
This drop in police numbers is noteworthy of itself but comparing the number and percentage of crimes solved reveals that a sharp drop in the number and crucially the percentage of crimes being solved. 22,600 fewer crimes were solved in London in 2011/12 compared to 2009/10 and the percentage of crimes solved dropped to 21.6%. These figures are perhaps not surprising either when cuts to number of prosecutors available to the Crown Prosecution Service in London are taken into account.
The Met is set to lose vital experienced police officers. By 2015 there will be considerably fewer sergeants (some estimates suggest 1,300 will be axed). Inspectors and chief inspectors are also being axed and superintendents’ numbers are also being cut. The Mayor’s plan describes these positions as “supervisory grades” In truth these roles, and crucially the experience and skill mix of the senior staff in these positions are fundamental to the effective pursuit of the criminal, the passage of the accused through the legal process and the sensitive support of the victim.
There still remains a huge need for more black and ethnic minority officers be to be recruited into the senior ranks of the Metropolitan Police. It is good news that the Commissioner wants to see new measures to address this problem but there is little evidence that Home Office Ministers are driving this agenda.
The Metropolitan Police Service is one of the great assets London has. It deserves inspired political leadership. Instead it is being asset stripped by the Mayor of London and ordinary Londoners will be the ones who lose out.
Gareth Thomas is Shadow Minister for Civil Society and Deputy Shadow Minister for London