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National politics Policing

Thin blue line – How thin?

A lot of nonsense is being talked by Labour figures on police cuts, led by Labour’s chief police nonsense spokesman, Yvette Cooper, and retweeted by Ealing council leader Julian Bell. Unfortunately London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has also strayed on to the wrong side of the argument.

We are all grateful to the police for their protection but we should also remember that we pick up the bills and most of us accept that savings have to be made. I am wary of being critical of the police at a time when officers are actively engaged in a difficult job but Cooper, Bell et al started it, so here we go …

In London we broadly have 32,000 warranted police officers. We heard from the news yesterday that on an average night the Met deploys 2,500 of them, a mere 8% or one in thirteen. So typically 12 coppers sleep soundly in their beds for every officer on the streets at night. That is why when you call at night someone far away takes a long time to answer and often no-one comes. Too many of our coppers work office hours in spite of having anti-social hours built into their pay structure.

We were told that there were only 6,000 officers on the streets on Monday. So less than 20% of London’s police were out leaving four officers in bed for every officer on the streets.

Finally, last night the Met got serious. Police leave was cancelled and officers were put on 12 hour shifts. This put 16,000 officers on the streets. London went quiet. It is not hard maths to work out that if you put people on 12 hours shifts and you have 32,000 then you can deploy 16,000. Sure this will be extremely costly in terms of overtime payments and is unsustainable for more than a day or two. I am sorry for policemen who have had their summer holidays disrupted but let me continue my argument. The numbers show us that our problem isn’t primarily police numbers and modest cuts in budgets that are a necessary consequence of years of Labour profligacy.

The largest part of our problems with policing is police work practices and terms and conditions. The Met’s last commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, added a million police patrols in London by making single patrolling the default position. Ordinary citizens have to walk alone and it has made a huge impact to London’s safety to simply ask the same of very expensive, well-trained, warranted officers who carry radios to call for back up and weapons such as telescopic batons and pepper spray. Look at the Winsor Report to understand how many £100 millions could be saved by putting the police Ts and Cs onto a 21st century footing. They currently date back to the 1970s. To give you one example the police have to give staff six months notice of a change in shift patterns. I am sorry, but this is an emergency service and this is not acceptable.

I am not citisicing police officers, I am criticising the system. We can have a cheaper and better police service. Sure the police unions will scream and Labour will equate less cash with less output but their confusion of inputs with outputs and spending with performance is the reason they failed in government. This government should not make the same mistake and Boris needs to get back on the right page.