Police cuts and the London Riots

With my campaign team over the last few months, I have been collecting signatures on my petition against the cuts in police numbers. Little did we then expect what was going to happen with riots on our streets!

The recent appalling events have shown just how important it is to maintain police numbers both in London and in the rest of the country. It was only with the support of officers from as far afield as Wales and Newcastle that the Met. had sufficient strength to bring the riots under control, yet the Conservative and Lib Dem Coalition Government is determined to press ahead with cuts not just to the Metropolitan Police but to all the other police forces too, even though the riots affected so many of our other major cities.

The impact of the cuts in the police budget being imposed by the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Government was becoming ever more apparent even before the riots. It was not just me and the Labour Party who were warning of consequences of these drastic cuts.

Last year, Barnet’s police borough commander Chief Superintendent Neil Basu said in the Evening Standard, that there would be a “profound” reduction in police and staff numbers across the capital as the Met. worked out the impact of cuts. Other Borough Commanders also warned of the consequences.

Before the Conservative – led government was formed, London Mayor Boris Johnson had already announced plans to cut police officers in London. His 2009 police budget planned cuts of 455 police officers in London. It said: “Over the three years to 2012-13, the number of police officers is forecast to decrease by 455.” In fact, the Mayor has already cut 900 police officers from the Met over the last year.

By 2013/4 there will be just 31,360 police officers in London, down from 33,260 in 2009/10 according to Boris Johnson’s Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA). The major cuts will particularly bite after next year’s Olympics.

Again, only a few weeks ago in July this year, the Inspectorate of Constabulary also confirmed the huge numbers to go. By 2014, In London there will be 1,907 fewer Metropolitan Police officers and 820 fewer PCSOs according to them. On average every London borough like Barnet and Camden will each lose over 50 police officers, including some of the most experienced.

Despite opposition from Labour, the cuts to Safer Neighbourhood Team sergeants were approved by a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) on 28th July 2011.  Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson is forcing 600 local beat team sergeants in London to reapply for their jobs and is cutting the number of sergeants by 300 over two years. We already know that five sergeants from Barnet’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams and four from Camden are being removed as a consequence; and the SNT’s remaining officers are now often taken off their local beats to fill gaps elsewhere.

Now, only after the riots and with London elections next year, and with public opinion clearly against police cuts, has the Mayor broken ranks with the government. It is shameful that it has taken these appalling events to force Boris Johnson to realise people are concerned about police cuts. The police, communities and campaigners have been warning that these cuts were unsustainable for many months. It should not take awful criminal violence on the scale we have seen for those warning voices to be heard.

But Conservative Home Office minister James Brokenshire is adamant that the government won’t even review the figures. The Prime Minister has confirmed that the cuts will go ahead. Of course, we need to reduce the deficit, but not at the expense of front line police officers.

And what of local representatives? In the 3 years since he was last elected the Conservative London Assembly Member Coleman has not written to the police even once, to protest at these and previous cuts. It is appalling that the police have no record of the Assembly member for Barnet and Camden having written with any concerns about the strength of our SNT and STT teams. Serious and damaging as these cuts are, it will come as a real shock to local people that their Assembly member apparently could not be bothered to put pen to paper or sit in front of his computer to compose even one letter to the Met. to raise objections or concerns

And so much for Hendon’s invisible Tory MP Offord. Unlike the hundreds of other MPs who recognise their public duties, he couldn’t even be bothered to come back from his diving holiday in Belize when Parliament was recalled to debate the riots. He just sent a message from thousands of miles away, as rioters hit Edgware and Burnt Oak. Perhaps he was embarrassed by the fact that during the General Election he made a major plank of his campaign, his promise of more police on the beat. He is now shown to be responsible for the exact opposite!

So where do we go from here?

Obviously, to my mind we must redouble our campaign against the cuts in the police. I also have my petition online so please forward this email to any friends or neighbours and ask them to sign too.

Next we must do all we can to support those who suffered at the hands of the rioters: the people who lost everything when their homes were razed to the ground, those who lost their businesses and their jobs, those whose communities were terrorised.

What we must not do is embark on knee jerk reactions as to the cause of the riots and the answers for the future, apart from the obvious of reversing the police cuts.

To me, it is clear that the riots pose complex questions.  For example the rioters were not just from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds. Was this also a case of mob hysteria? Whilst we may be able to learn from overseas, I believe the Prime Minister is wrong to place so much faith in the US experience, which is completely different to ours. There, they have heavily armed police, much greater police numbers than ours even before the cuts, and life sentences for repeat offenders of less serious crimes resulting in an enormous prison population, so any lessons may be tangential. We probably have more to learn from Northern Ireland, where the head of ACPO ( the Chief Police Officers Association) Sir Hugh Orde, was formerly the Chief Constable and  whom I got to know well when I was in Parliament. I have a lot of respect for his opinions.

Before the last election, we should also recall that the Labour Government had already put in place various measures to deal with gangs, which have either not been fully used or implemented by the Coalition Government.

But none of these thoughts really get to the bottom of the riots: we need to look at why and how they happened, who was involved and why, and what measures are needed to prevent recurrence.  These are major, profound questions. The Scarman inquiry into the Brixton riots of the 1980s produced valuable recommendations and I believe that model should again be followed. So I hope you would agree with me,  that Ed Miliband is right to call for  a Public Inquiry, so we can have evidence based answers and future policy, rather than political ideologically  based  polemics as to the way forward.