Johnson needs to accept that policing cuts have consequences

Shortages of officers and resources prevent necessary improvements in the Met

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Yesterday’s report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that eighteen police forces in England and Wales require improvement, including London’s Metropolitan Police. This is something we should all take incredibly seriously.

At the heart of the problems identified in the Met is a shortage of both police officers and resources. HMIC found that the Met have 15 per cent fewer detectives than they need as well as a lack of basic equipment, for instance digital cameras to take photos of crime scene or injuries. This, along with failings in their missing persons teams and a shortage of staff to manage offenders is ‘undermining the force’s overall investigation performance’ and increases the risk that ‘avoidable re-offending will occur’.

The report undermines the counter-intuitive message pumped out of government that cuts don’t have consequences. For years, Boris Johnson has maintained that cuts to police budgets and neighbourhood teams will not impact on efficacy, but much of his artificial defence is based on cherry-picked statistics or redefinitions of officers as ‘neighbourhood’. There is little doubt that with more resources the Met would be better placed to deal with the challenges HMIC identified.

In 2011 when the Mayor ‘re-organised’ neighbourhood policing the number of uniformed officers in safer neighbourhood teams were cut from six to just two per ward. Yet even this dramatic reduction wasn’t enough to meet Boris and the Government’s stringent cost cutting measures.

Earlier this week I received new figures from the Met which showed borough police officers are being routinely ‘abstracted’ from their local beats to plug gaps in London-wide public order operations.

In 2014, officers were removed from their local beat for 111,684 shifts, over 2,000 a month. In the first nine months of 2015, the latest period for which data is available, 78,640 neighbourhood policing shifts were lost to abstractions with some boroughs losing an average of over 100 shifts a week.

The Metropolitan police say the abstractions are to “support London wide Public Order operations” but with resources stretched, it looks more like this is what is needed to make ends meet.

The Mayor, however, wants to have it both ways; abstracting officers from boroughs to cover duties elsewhere, yet calling them neighbourhood officers and claiming he has protected local police teams. When officers are being removed from boroughs 2,000 times a month it’s incredibly misleading to claim they are local bobbies.

Londoners want neighbourhood police to be visible in their communities not pulled off the beat to plug gaps in other parts of London.

It’s double-counting and dubious arguments like this which Johnson will no doubt wheel out when confronted by the realities of the latest HMIC report. HMIC lays that myth to rest, showing that people are being left less safe and avoidable re-offending is not being prevented as a result of staff shortages.

Most astounding is that until a last minute u-turn, in the wake of the Paris attacks, the Chancellor was set to axe another £1bn from the Met’s budget through a combination of direct cuts and changes to the funding formula. That would have meant the Met losing about 40 per cent of budget between 2010 and 2020. It’s hard to see how that could have had anything other than devastating results.

Whilst the climb-down by the Chancellor was welcome, the Met are still facing further cuts to their budget, and under this government the future of police funding remains uncertain.

HMIC is right, there are many organisational and operational changes the Met can, and undoubtedly will, make to improve. But until politicians like Johnson and accept the reality that cuts have consequences, the underlying problems caused by a squeeze on resources will remain.

Joanne McCartney AM is Labour’s London Assembly policing spokesperson

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