Policing and Community safety

Metropolitan Police officer numbers

The impact of the Conservative- led Government and Conservative  London Mayor Boris Johnson’s   police cuts is becoming ever more serious. The Inspectorate of Constabulary has now confirmed huge numbers are to go. We already know that five sergeants from Barnet’s and four from Camden’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams are being removed; and the SNT’s remaining officers are often now taken off their local beats to fill overstretched gaps elsewhere. No wonder there has been an increase in knife crime, burglary and anti-social behaviour.

And these cuts are only the start. By 2014, there will be 1,907 fewer Metropolitan Police officers and 820 fewer PCSOs in London.  On average, each London borough like Barnet and Camden will each lose over 50 police officers, including some of the most experienced.

Yet in the last 3 years, Barnet’s Conservative London Assembly Member Brian Coleman has not written to the Metropolitan Police even once to protest at either at these or Boris Johnson’s previous police cuts.

The Conservative Mayor of London, Conservative GLA member for Barnet and Camden and local Conservative MPs have not only broken their London and General election pledges, they are playing fast and loose with the safety and security of our communities.

So I am leading a local campaign against the cuts, both on line and on the doorstep with my petition: please sign on line here.

Scotland Yard

It is clear that the Mayor has little grip on what is happening at the top in Scotland Yard. Having originally pledged to lead the Metropolitan Police Authority himself, he soon broke this promise and  devolved the responsibility to one of his deputies. The Mayor has now lost his second Commissioner of Police in 3 years: let us hope he gets third time lucky in his appointment of a replacement.

In the meantime the phone hacking scandal has revealed serious shortcomings in the Met.’s dealings with the media and especially the News of the World, leading to the resignation not just of the Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson  but also Assistant Commissioner John Yates ( who used to be borough commander in Barnet) and the wide ranging reopened investigation under DAC Sue Akers ( Yates’s successor as borough commander in Barnet). The impact on the Met.’s morale as a whole, when combined with the impact of the cuts and the coalition government’s unnecessary assault on the police pension scheme,  has been very serious.

The incoming administration at City Hall, of which I hope to be part, will have a major task in overseeing the cleanup of the mess that is now the Met. in the hands of the current Conservative Mayor of London.

Safer Neighbourhood Teams

The future for Safer Neighbourhood Teams in particular looks bleak. Backed by funding from the Labour Government and with political drive from then Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone, I remember when they were first introduced in one of the wards in my old constituency: within 6 weeks, they cut anti-social behaviour in Burnt Oak by a third. Far better than the single beat officers, just one per ward (and that post often unfilled) regularly taken off for other work, we inherited from the Conservative Government!

I also remember the successful year long campaign I fought with Scotland Yard to get bigger teams for Barnet,  to reflect the larger population and geography of our wards, compared to elsewhere, which I was able to win. I was at the launch of the Safer Transport Teams too, to bring more security to bus passengers: they were branded by the Conservative GLA member for Barnet and Camden as a “gimmick”, yet they too were very popular and effective, so he ended up having to eat his own words. Nevertheless he has not written to the met once in the last 3 years to raise their staffing levels or deployment.

I’ve already challenged our local police about the SNT cuts. The SNT officers readily concede that after the ring fencing which kept them in their wards went, they are regularly called away to other duties, from sergeants taken off to supervise custody suites, to constables staffing the area fast response cars, to PCSOs on traffic duties. They don’t like it, and neither do we!

Now with the loss of so many experienced sergeants, teams will be merged across ward boundaries and I don’t hold out much hope for the enhanced teams either. This will mean that the local knowledge of the wards and the people and businesses who inhabit them will be diluted, so the SNTs will be far less effective. They will be less well known and readily identifiable to the community and the community to them. As an MP, I knew all my SNTs officers by name, they knew me and we worked well solving local problems together. The same cannot be said for the Tories!

Policing and the right to protest

Policing is also more than just the SNTs. Take supervising and policing demonstrations and protests, for example. When I chaired the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights in Parliament. I instigated a major inquiry into the issue, made all the more relevant after the G20 protests and likely to be even more so, as we see growing opposition to the Conservative led Government’s cuts. Our extensive reports were well received and I worked closely with the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the new Chair of ACPO to take our recommendations, (with which they agreed) forward. It is a pity that momentum has been lost under the Tories. If I become the GLA member for Barnet and Camden, I will do my best to ensure that the Met implements civilised, safe and proportionate policing of peaceful protests.

Policing and trafficking

A particular policing issue of importance in London is people trafficking. Through my human rights work, I developed a special interest and expertise leading to the UK ratifying the European Convention against Trafficking, and being asked to speak overseas on a number of occasions at high powered conferences on what the UK was doing to combat this evil crime. I worked closely with the UN on the production of their handbook for Parliamentarians on combating trafficking. It is a major blow, to see that the extra funding for the Met’s anti-trafficking unit is to end and the unit merged. Trafficking, of course, is not only about the sex “trade”. It also includes domestic servitude, a problem especially affecting inner London, and child trafficking including for cannabis growing factories. Specialist unit or not, I believe as a GLA member, this is an issue on which I would keep up the pressure.

Policing and counter terrorism policy

Of course, Labour did not get everything right on these issues, especially on counter-terrorism policy. I was one of the Government’s sternest critics and “rebels”, believing the policy overall was counterproductive, especially extending pre charge detention and control orders, and the misuse of  s44 stop and search powers.. Under my chairmanship, the JCHR published series of new fewer than 14 reports on counter terrorism policy, including a comprehensive alternative human rights compliant package of measures that would have secured public safety. As the lead police service on counter terrorism, it is important that the Met. operates and develops its policies in a human rights compliant way.

The Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command also includes a small number of officers dealing with war crimes and with whom I have worked closely. That work must be allowed to continue.

Victims of crime

Last and certainly not least, we must always remember the victims of crime. When I was working as a solicitor, I was well aware of how neglected victims then were, from my speciality in claims for criminal injuries compensation: indeed my last big case as a lawyer before becoming an MP was to challenge successfully the Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard over cuts to the compensation scheme. So I very much welcome the proposal from Labour’s Mayoral Candidate Ken Livingstone, for a Victims’ Commissioner for London. This will be an extremely important position, working with the Commissioner nationally, to ensure that the victims’ voice is heard at a time when police cuts forced by a Conservative government and a Conservative Mayor will mean that the progress Labour made in halving crime will inevitably be reversed.