Boris’s failure on police numbers has left a gaping hole at the heart of the Met

Despite his election pledges, Boris Johnson has dismantled neighbourhood policing.

Despite his election pledges, Boris Johnson has dismantled neighbourhood policing

‘1,000 new police officers on the beat.’

That was the pledge by Boris Johnson when he last put himself before the electorate. Yet as he prepares to face a different selectorate this week in his bid to become the Conservative candidate for Uxbridge and Ruislip South, that pledge lies in tatters.

Despite making this commitment, since the current Government came to power in May 2010 London has lost almost five thousand police officers. The Mayor, elected to stand up for the people of London, has unashamedly administered these cuts instead of fighting them.

On top of this, new figures I’ve obtained show that in May this year (the latest period available) there were 1,209 vacancies for police sergeants and constables across the capital’s borough forces.

In total, fourteen boroughs had vacancy rates of over 6 per cent, with five facing double digit deficits. Harrow is shown to have the highest percentage of vacancies, with 15 per cent of its sergeant and constable posts unfilled. Waltham Forest had the highest overall number, with 72 vacancies from a force of 664.

The impact this will be having on already dented police numbers is severe. On a day-to-day basis, operating with this level of vacant posts means less officers on the beat, less officers following up and investigating crimes and less chance of catching the criminals the police force is there to protect us from.

And while a small churn in the number of officers is to be expected, these are deeply concerning figures. When a force has up to 15 per cent of its positions unfilled we need to ask not only what impact that has on policing, but why it was allowed to happen in the first place.

There could be a number of reasons behind the vacancy rates, and I’m sure the Mayor will argue that more officers are currently in training; but that squarely misses the point. Whether the depth of officer morale is so low that the Met is haemorrhaging officers, or whether these posts are being kept open to keep costs down, people deserve to know why vacancy rates are so high.

Either way, the Mayor needs to take immediate action to ensure our police force is up to strength and vacancies are filled as quickly as possible, as they are leaving a gaping hole at the heart of the Met.

Unfortunately for Londoners, this isn’t the only case in which the Mayor is shooting himself in the foot on policing. Another concerning trend in Boris Johnson’s oversight of the force is his approach to neighbourhood policing. Safer Neighbourhood Teams, introduced under the previous Government, vastly improved the Met’s relationship with communities and saw great success  in areas which previously faced significant policing challenges.

That approach – one of genuine local policing – helped to improve safety, build confidence and give people a proper local link to the police force.

Despite his various election pledges on policing, however, Boris Johnson’s flagship policing policy has been to dismantle neighbourhood policing, cutting the teams from six officers to just two (a constable and a PCSO). In the Mayor’s language, this is a simple ‘reorganisation’; in reality it has been a devastating reversal of a popular and successful policy. Even the Met Commissioner has now agreed that this was ‘a step too far’.

Individual policy missteps can be expected from time to time under an administration, and if implemented in good nature and then remedied quickly, can be excusable. But take some of the worst of Boris Johnson’s record on policing in full – 4,694 police officers and PCSOs cut from our streets, vacancy rates of up to 15 per cent and neighbourhood policing cut to the bone.

In this light, it comes as no surprise that last year an independent report found that the proportion of the Met’s officers deemed ‘visible’ was the third lowest in England and Wales.

London’s police force should be setting an example to the rest of the country, not bringing up the rear in terms of standards. Boris Johnson is a large part of this problem. Londoners deserve better.

Joanne McCartney AM is London Assembly Labour Group policing and crime spokesperson

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