Response to Police & Crime Plan

Given the concerns many residents have expressed about aspects of Boris’s plans to cut police numbers and close police stations front counters, I’ve responded to the consultation on the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime’s Crime and Police Plan 2013-17.

(Health warning: it’s long, but there was a lot to respond to!)

Don’t forget that there’s a meeting to discuss the future of West Hampstead police station this coming Thursday (7th) at 6:30pm at West Hampstead Library, with Camden’s cabinet member for Community Safety and the Borough Commander.

 

Response to MOPAC’s consultation on the Police and Crime Plan 2013-17

1.       I am responding to this consultation as a councillor for Kilburn ward in the London Borough of Camden, and a resident in West Hampstead.

2.       Kilburn faces some of the biggest crime and policing challenges in the Borough. We have an unhappy history of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and youth violence in and around our estates in the ward, which has manifested itself in a range of activity, from low-level nuisance, through persistent drug-dealing to fatal stabbings.

3.       Fortunately, through ongoing engagement between our Safer Neighbourhood police team (SNT), residents (through the Safer Neighbourhood Panel) and council officers, many of the issues have received focused police attention, which has led to some effective resolution.  For instance, after many years of continually having to make ASB on the Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate (commonly known as Rowley Way) a SNT priority, success in driving this down has enabled us to shift focus away and deprioritise that estate.  This would have been unthinkable as little as eighteen months ago, and demonstrates the effectiveness of the SNT model of community policing.

4.       It is for this reason that I am very concerned about the dilution of the link at ward level between a strong officer team and local residents.  We have an excellent Panel, which meets quarterly or bi-monthly and which is effectively an open meeting.  This encourages active reporting of ASB and other issues and is an essential tool in helping the police team, along with Camden’s community safety officers, prioritise what matters to local residents.

5.       Our neighbouring wards have quite different demographics, types and levels of crime activity and thus different crime priorities. Under the ‘cluster’ model proposed for community policing in the Plan, I share the concerns of residents and the Chair of our SNP that Kilburn’s voice and needs will be marginalised.  This is in no way a criticism of neighbouring wards’ SNPs and SNTs; merely a reflection that others wards in the proposed north Camden cluster have much more in common with each other than they have with Kilburn.

6.       Ultimately, this will serve to marginalise some of the most disadvantaged residents in Camden, whose estates and homes have been at prey from some of the most persistent gang-related violence and ASB in the borough.

7.       Furthermore, these proposals risk a return to the pre-SNT “sector based” policing model which has been largely discredited since the introduction of the superior, ward based, safer neighbourhood approach.  The SNT model has been widely praised across the political spectrum and has strong support in my ward, and across Kilburn.

8.       Linked to this is, of course, huge concern over the proposal to dedicate just one PC and PCSO to each ward; as part of wider concern over the wider reduction in numbers of officers in Camden, and the manner in which those figures have been presented.  It is worth noting that the effect of this reduction would be even more marked in Kilburn, which has a slightly larger establishment than a standard SNT (one additional PC) than a standard SNT, in recognition of the challenges the ward faces.

9.       Taking the presentational point first, I note that Joanne McCartney AM has written to the UK Statistics Authority seeking clarification about the accuracy of the figures used by the Mayor and MOPAC in this consultation.  Currently, information on the number of police officers is made publicly available through the Mayor’s London Datastore but this information differs from that being used by the Mayor in his public consultation.

10.   Given this seriousness of the matters under review, and the long-term nature of the plan, any attempt to manipulate or distort the data being used for public consultation is a matter of deep regret.  It requires speedy clarification and, if proven at fault by the Statistics Authority, for the consultation to be re-run using accurate data about current and future police numbers.

11.   Whilst the Plan’s forecast for more police officers is strictly accurate, this claim is heavily dependent on the year chosen as the comparator base year: 2011. At this point, there was a police recruitment freeze and numbers had dropped dramatically. (Nevertheless, the Mayor’s claim for extra officers based on an end date of 2015, is slight – just an extra two officers, across the whole Met.)

12.   I would contend that a fairer period of comparison would be from May 2010, when the Coalition Government came to power and inherited the police service from the previous Government, to the Mayor’s chosen end point of 2015, when Government’s term of office expires and the next general election is due.

13.   For Camden, the total number of police officers in post in May 2010 was 884; the projected number of officers for 2015 is 751 – a net loss of 133 officers, or an 11 percent reduction over the five-year period.

14.   Turning to the SNT teams, the total number of officers in Camden falls by an even greater proportion.  In May 2010 there were 122 SNT officers in post.  The projected number of officers for 2015 is 103 – a net loss of 17 SNT officers or 14 percent.  It is also worth noting that the current numbers also reflect the substantial subsidy from Camden Council to pay for extra SNT PCs for Camden Town. It is not clear if the Met will continue this arrangement.

15.   Kilburn also benefits from the presence of the Kilburn tasking team, which deals exclusively with commercial and non-residential crime on and around the Kilburn High Road.  As this road is a local authority boundary (between Camden and Brent) the team operates very effectively as a cross-border force. It has had numerous successes in dealing with a wide variety of crime on the High Road (including illegal pavement sellers and shops being used as a front for stolen goods).  It has also had the not insignificant additional benefit of freeing up ward SNTs to focus solely on residential crime.  Prior to the introduction of the tasking team in 2010, ward SNTs were tasked with dealing with crime priorities linked to the High Road economy, as well as ‘residential’ crime like anti-social behaviour.  I would urge the retention of the special team, given its successful track record and benefits it brings to SNT policing.

16.   Turning lastly to the issue of contact points and police properties, the proposal to close West Hampstead, Hampstead and Albany police stations to the public is to be deeply regretted. It means there will be no police station open to public access in the north and west of the borough at all, with Kentish Town being open for just 40 hours per week.

17.   It leaves Holborn, in the far south of Camden, as the only station open round the clock – not readily accessible to residents in NW2, NW6, NW3 and NW8.  Whilst more reporting of crime by phone is to be welcomed, it cannot be the only answer for victims of crimes of a sensitive or personal nature, like rape or domestic violence.  Also, it will make it far more difficult, time-consuming and potentially expensive for those required to answer bail at a police station.  This could lead to high levels of bail default, which of course would take up more police time and thus prove a false economy.

18.   Far greater clarity about the location and function is required for the proposed replacement “contact points”.  Comments made by the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Stephen Greenhalgh, during the consultation event in the Camden Centre on 22 January 2013, that contact points would not be used for crime reporting, directly conflicts with statements in the draft Policing Plan.  Now it seems that plans for using coffee shops and post offices have been abandoned, restricting contact points to Met-owned property.  These proposals have been so confused and unclear that any consultation on them ought to be rerun, following much greater clarification of what services would be available where – listing putative locations and having undertaken some proper feasibility studies of non-Met sites (if these are to be used) including discussion with current owners/occupants about the way the building would be used by the police.

19.   For residents in Kilburn, West Hampstead and Fortune Green, I would urge the retention of counter services at West Hampstead police station.  The Plan stresses that the “most deprived communities in London need face-to-face access, particularly where there are language barriers”.  Some of my constituents in Kilburn fit this description; it is unclear how face-to-face contact will be guaranteed for them.

20.   Finally, I would add that it is extremely unfortunate that the Mayor and his Deputy have risked politicising our professional, non-partisan police force by asking them to take so much of the lead in presenting the Crime and Police Plan.  Aspects of this plan are highly political and contentious; it is neither right nor fair that the Mayor and Mr Greenhalgh have failed to take a clear lead in explaining and justifying the funding cuts which are at the heart of this plan and are driven by the Mayor’s political objective of managing down the GLA precept on council tax.  We all value the professionalism of our police personnel; the Mayor’s approach to presenting and advocating this plan has put this at risk and is deeply regrettable.

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