Safer Neighbourhood Teams

PCC on 2012-05-31
Session date: 
May 31, 2012
Question By: 
Navin Shah
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
Boris Johnson (MOPC) & Bernard Hogan-Howe (Commissioner, MPS)


Navin Shah (AM): Mr Mayor, do you agree that, in all boroughs, the Safer Neighbourhood Teams are seriously depleted, and therefore the question I have for you is, what plans do you have to restore those Safer Neighbourhood Teams to their full capacity?


Answer for Safer Neighbourhood Teams

Answer for Safer Neighbourhood Teams

Answered By: 
Boris Johnson (MOPC) & Bernard Hogan-Howe (Commissioner, MPS)

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thank you, Navin, and obviously I do not accept that the Safer Neighbourhood Teams have suffered, because we went to great lengths to make sure that we kept a Safer Neighbourhood Team in each one of the 624 wards in London, and that was a pledge that I made and that we stuck to. I think you are right that we have seen wastage of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), but we are now actively recruiting, and to get back to the point that the Commissioner was making, there is now scope to beef up neighbourhood policing in London with another up to 2,000 officers. So that is one of the answers to your question.

The second answer is, of course, that we will be recruiting a great many more Specials over the next four years. There has been a big expansion in the number of Special Constables and we are adding the extra incentive, the recognition of the work of Special Constables, by giving them a council tax discount. I think it is only right that people who give up a lot of time and do great things for the City, like Steve O'Connell's son, should be properly recognised. It is not a large amount of money, but it is something that we can do to recognise the contribution that Specials make.

Navin Shah (AM): Mr Mayor, yes, one cannot argue that you have not kept Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT), but the problem is that they are so depleted in many of the wards. I can give you the example of my constituency where, for example, in one worst scenario you have a sergeant retiring and the new one will be serving four wards.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Is this in Harrow?

Navin Shah (AM): This one is in Harrow. But, again, when you look at it, it is not uncommon, and I believe that is the picture commonly throughout London. It is not uncommon to see that sergeants are sharing, sergeants who are team leaders of SNTs, they are sharing wards. There are some wards where you have only got one PCSO and issues like that. So very clearly I am getting regular complaints, and so are the other Assembly Members, our colleagues. The local policing is suffering seriously. Also, the crime figures, local burglaries, etc, are going up. So the question is, this obviously cannot go on. What is your clear programme to restore the full capacity of those neighbourhood teams?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I understand. Can I just say, I mean obviously I fully respect the problem that you have articulated, and I in no way minimise people's anxieties that their Safer Neighbourhood Teams should be properly protected, and it is something that I am deeply committed to doing. When you say that, as though it was always and everywhere the wrong thing that a sergeant is in charge of more than one Safer Neighbourhood Team, I am not certain that is the wrong thing. I think that can be in many cases a sensible way forward, or at least that is the advice that I have been given over a long period of time.

What I do want to see, and where I really do agree with you, Navin, I do want to see Safer Neighbourhood Teams up to strength, and particularly in areas where people have apprehension I want to see those people out on the street. I share what you are saying and I hope that you will take onboard what I have said about the numbers that we think we can get into Safer Neighbourhood Teams and the increase in Special Constables as well, and the extra programme now of recruitment of PCSOs.

Navin Shah (AM): People in my constituency and others want to know how long they have to wait until they can have their Safer Neighbourhood Teams fully operational. I want you to answer one more question. Are there any plans to change the current composition of SNTs, because that is also quite an issue? If there is any operational change I would rather like to know sooner than later, and so would the people of London.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I understand. I have huge regard, by the way, for the work that is done in Harrow and I think they have a great record in fighting crime and in bringing crime down. That by the way is the other point I failed to make just now, the proof of the pudding of this whole operation is in the eating. Crime continues, in spite of tough times, to fall, and that is a great tribute to neighbourhood policing and the work of the Metropolitan Police Service overall. If there are particular examples of SNTs in particular wards that your constituents are alarmed about then please give me the detailed information and I will do what I can to satisfy you on that. But, Bernard, do you want to elaborate?

Joanne McCartney (Chair): Yes, Commissioner, perhaps you could. But I think I also have Steve [O'Connell] and Dick [Tracey] who want to come in on this. I think all of us are getting complaints about the depletion of our Safer Neighbourhood Teams. So, Commissioner, perhaps you could talk about those questions and then I have to move to Steve and Dick.

Bernard Hogan-Howe (Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis): I think, Chair, actually both statements are true; that the same commitment is there for the neighbourhood teams, and in the improved commitment for the future, but there is a problem at the moment. The problem is based really I think on the fact that, until, probably within the last 12 weeks, we did not know we were going to get the extra £90 million we received from the Government. So therefore the recruiting of police officers and police staff broadly stopped. Of course the Police Community Support Officer within the police staff grew, so we could not recruit people who we could not pay. So by the time we got to the point, which was relatively recently, we then got a lower number of police officers and we had to fill that gap, and we have done very quickly, but the biggest recruiting pool we took from were the group that had already been depleted was the PCSO pool. So there are two principal ways of getting into the Metropolitan Police Service at the moment: the PCSOs and the Special, which is great because mainly they are Londoners, which is a great pool of people to pick from.

So the first thing is, in terms of the numbers at the moment - I am hesitating to get back into numbers again - as of 20 May we had 31,935 police officers. We have another group of new recruits joining us on 29 June, there is another 110, and there are 50 transferees coming. So we are very nearly up to that budgeted total. Frankly, the only way that we've managed to do that is to take from the PCSO pool. In previous years, when the Metropolitan Police Service has wanted to grow or replace the officers who have left it has taken all year because you have to have a recruitment process. We got a large group of people who were PCSOs who had been selected for being a police officer and were waiting for the opportunity to join, and that many arriving was a great opportunity.

Now the dilemma then, of course, is, if we leave them in the PCSO pool somebody says you do not have your police officer numbers up, if we take them out of the PCSO pool someone says, as has been expressed, we are losing PCSOs. I think the hope in the future is first of all, by autumn of this year, the PCSO recruitment will have kicked in and we will see those posts that you already have filled. We already have the police officer numbers in. The third thing is that, on top of the extra officers we said we'd get out, the nearly 2,000, we are looking at the neighbourhood model to see how we get the extra officers, that 2,000, how we are going to spread them out across London. Because there will be quite a bun fight because everybody wants them and we will have to decide where they go. I am sure everybody around this table at least will be interested where they go. But I think the hope is there, (1) the present PCSO vacancies will be filled by autumn, and (2) the new model will put more people into it, not less. But I acknowledge today, there are significant gaps around the organisation, but I think chronologically that is why it has happened. I do not think it is necessarily anybody's fault. I think it is the fault of the fact that the money was not certain and then as soon as we have hit the 'recruit' button, we have dragged them from the PCSO pool.