Challenges to the Metropolitan Police

MQT on 2013-05-22
Session date: 
May 22, 2013
Question By: 
Len Duvall OBE
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Are you confident that the Metropolitan Police will be able to cope with the current challenges that they face?


Answer for Challenges to the Metropolitan Police

Answer for Challenges to the Metropolitan Police

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thanks, Len. Yes, I am confident that the Metropolitan Police Service can meet the challenges that it faces. As I said just now overall crime is down 5.5% from last year. That means that we are on course to see the 20% reduction over four years in the seven neighbourhood crime types. Those are down, by the way, 6.5%, so they are doing even better than the overall rate.

Len Duvall (AM): In September 2012, you said, 'I think it is important to keep police numbers high'. A lot of people say numbers do not matter. I think they do matter. I think it is important we keep them around 32,000. Why then do you think they are important to keep those police numbers high?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): It is an incredibly important question, because there is a controversy about this and actually other Members of the Assembly have taken me to task by saying, 'Why do you have this arbitrary figure of 32,000? Surely you should listen to the police who say the numbers are not necessarily so important'. I remember when I arrived to talk to senior officers at the Metropolitan Police Service in 2008, one of the first conversations I had with Martin Tiplady, who was then Director of Human Resources, was that we did not need to be so focussed necessarily on numbers. I have thought about it deeply. I think that actually it is my job as the elected representative to make sure that we do focus, not just on reducing crime, but also on numbers. Because, as I think you were hinting at just now, it is vital that you have large numbers of police out on the street where the public can see them. So although numbers are now down from where they were and where I would like them to be they are rising, and they will rise by, as I say, another 2,600 into the neighbourhoods by 2016. They will get up to around 32,000 by that time and I think that is a good thing. It means London is actually going through one of the biggest expansions in police numbers that we have seen. We will be at around 26,000 police constables. It has never been as high as that before.

Len Duvall (AM): Mr Mayor, we can debate some of those issues, I am not sure about your expansion issues, but since May 2010 we have lost now, according to your figures, and Metropolitan Police Service figures, MOPAC figures, whatever you want to call them, whatever is there in the domain, 3,000 Police Officers and almost 2,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). Some of those are in the boroughs, some of those will come out of other specialist services and some of those will be some of our most experienced uniformed staff. We should say, yes your goal is to get to that in three years' time but we are talking about what is happening now to the police service and the pressures they are facing now, and there is a thing called police numbers and there is actual police officers recruited and operational, in that sense. Are you not concerned about the police's ability to cope?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Obviously I am always concerned that the police should have the best support possible, the best financial and political support that I can give them, and we do. That is why it is so important to make the case to Government for the funding that we need to keep numbers high. I think it is common ground basically around here that numbers are a factor and numbers objectively matter per se. That is why we are recruiting 5,000 in the current period and there will be nearly 1,000 more by August. As I said, on the 2011 figures, which are the relevant comparative figures, because I think as you said yourself just now the 2010 figures contain lots of officers on borough strength who have now been allocated elsewhere, so that was not the relevant comparator. On the 2011 figures there will be 2,600 more in the neighbourhood, so I think about 1,100 more on borough strength. London, in that respect is unlike any other metropolitan area in any other big city in Britain. We are actually recruiting more officers.

Len Duvall (AM): I think time is still out whether it is increased capacity, but it is less people delivering the same tasks. Crimes might be going down but earlier on we have already worked out that performance, with some qualification, as one of the colleagues said earlier on, can be questioned around what is going on in the Metropolitan Police Service and the pressures they face.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes.

Len Duvall (AM): Let us go to Operation Yewtree then. In terms of questions to the Police and Crime Committee the Deputy Commissioner [Craig Mackey] says, 'There's no problem about capacity, we've got access to thousands of detectives' ho, ho, ho, 'and we're OK'. On 11 May 2013, it was reported that seven agency workers from Reed Specialist Recruitment, were recruited to add to the 27 officers working on Yewtree. These are agency workers who are former Police Officers. Who knew? They might have been officers that the Metropolitan Police Service has just let go, are now being re-employed back into the Metropolitan Police Service to work on that specific operation, important investigation I think you would say, into alleged sexual crimes, Jimmy Savile and others. Despite what the police gave in terms of assurance the Police and Crime Panel, are you not concerned that that those issues are coming through? When, in your conversations with Sir Bernard Hogan Howe and his senior management team, was there any discussion with you about the move to this type of work about agency workers being introduced to an operational environment? I suppose can we question whether it is good value or not, while we are watching that, but also about accountability for mistakes and some of those issues that may come on in the future? What conversations have you had?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think those are all serious points and have I received general assurances, as we all have, that there is adequate strength and resource to cope with the incredible pressures that the Metropolitan Police Service faces to deal with issues that are of national concern.

On your specific question about the role of Reed Agency workers to supplement the Yewtree, the Savile inquiry, and whether they have been drawn from recently ex-police officers, I mean that is something we need to get to the bottom of. I cannot give you an answer now. Again, I will undertake to make sure that MOPAC looks carefully at the issue, the particular pressures that are being caused by these national investigations. The best of my information at the moment is that they are coping very well, clearly the Metropolitan Police Service is best placed to deal with this kind of thing, but it helps us in the argument to Government for funding. It is absolutely absurd that what is effectively a police force fulfilling a national function should not be properly funded. We will be making that case consistently over the next few years.

Len Duvall (AM): Do you not find it amazing that a senior Police Officer, I am quite supportive of that Police Officer, but can say something to an official body but actually the actions of an organisation is doing something different around that? It is assurances we have got the capacity to do this, we can do this and then find out later on --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): This is Craig [Mackey]?

Len Duvall (AM): Yes. Does that not really worry you in some ways?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Len, before I -

Len Duvall (AM): No, it is not meant to be a critical comment.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, I know what you are saying, but can we just dig into this because the truth is I do not know the answer? I do not know exactly how many Reed Agency workers have been employed on Yew Tree, it is the first I have --

Len Duvall (AM): Seven.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Let us dig into the question and see what answers we can get for you.

Len Duvall (AM): OK, let us turn very quickly then to water cannon then, Mr Mayor. It is really about the form of debate and the issues of when we stopped policing by consent and those conversations. You, in the past, Mr Mayor have said you believe it is an option for discussion to be held in reserve, and I think you have made your position clear about water cannon.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Oh, water cannon, yes.

Len Duvall (AM): Yes, so in public order in terms of those issues. We already know from Police Officers in the past saying this is not the wonder tool to control, right, so it is an option. It may not be appropriate for use on our streets if there was a public order issue. What I cannot understand in the nature of the debate is how come this has dribbled out in bits and pieces. Why have you not led the debate around the conversation about public order policing in terms of Londoner's trust and confidence in London and about the need for it, or not? Is there not, in the back of the minds, that we are really resorting to these issues because we have not got enough police officers to do riot training so you are using the resulting technology rather than increasing numbers?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, I do not think that is right, Len. I really do not think that is right. I think that there is a great deal of confidence about riot training, a great deal of confidence now about how the Metropolitan Police Service would respond in the event of any disturbances of this kind in 2011. I think huge lessons were learnt. I think possibly, if I had to explain it, and perhaps we do need a wider debate about some of these things, but what I would say, I do not think the Metropolitan Police Service wants to be in any position. I do not want to be in any position ever again where people say, 'Well why don't you have access to this or that tool?' As it happens, water cannon, I do not think it is remotely likely to deploy it. I think what Sir Bernard Hogan Howe is saying the option should at least be there and I think the public will be reassured by the idea that the option is at least there.

Len Duvall (AM): Shouldn't you be leading the debate then to get the conversation out into the open and for a proper discussion to take place about the pros and cons but also about the honesty of the effectiveness of this tool?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well, yes.

Len Duvall (AM): I think it can be effective in some places, it might not be effective in others, but do you not think that is your role as Police Commissioner?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think that is very fair. It is, and I think it is good that we are having this discussion now, because that is after all the function of this body. I do think that there is a case for the Metropolitan Police Service to have the option of using that tool. I do not myself. I know that Bernard shares his view. I do not believe that it is very likely at all that the Metropolitan Police Service will be called upon to use it, but I think what most members of the public would rather feel is that it is there in reserve in the very unlikely event that it might be of benefit in controlling certain situations. I think the chances of that happening are very remote.

Len Duvall (AM): Also held in reserve though, Mr Mayor, would you not be concerned that some of the conversations that may have taken place in terms of if there was a managed process for this, at least conversations with Londoners about policing of London that if there was a discussion, which I find amazing it did not get more coverage, but also the possible need for firearms in public order situations was discussed at a MOPAC Challenge meeting. Has this ever been discussed with you in your role as elected Police and Crime Commissioner?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): It certainly did not happen, because I do not remember that discussion from any of the MOPAC Challenge meetings that I have chaired. I think there was one that I did not chair.

Len Duvall (AM): You still believe in the model of policing by consent?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do, and I think that if you look at the way that the London police behave and the trust in which their role, their relations with the public, it is still the case that the public are the police and the police are the public and that is the most important thing. They are not different from us, they are not Carabinieri, they are a public police force who do not have a different arms status and that is very important.

Len Duvall (AM): I am told it is the Home Secretary who has sanctioned the use of water cannons on the streets of London, should that not be you?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): As you know, there is a joint approach to the police in London, for many of the national functions that we discussed earlier, and the answer is I can tell you categorically that I cannot believe for one second that any Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service would dream of using water cannon on the streets of London without having the sanction of the Mayor.

Len Duvall (AM): Currently, Mr Mayor, according to a letter that we are in possession of, you do not have a right, it is the Home Secretary that has that right. Maybe you ought to look into it, because I do believe you are the elected Mayor of London, you are the Police and Crime Commissioner and if there are checks and balances on the use of these tools to help effective policing then it is you and you need to take that up and you need to look into it.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes. I have not seen that, I do not know which letter you are talking about there.

Len Duvall (AM): It is from the Assistant Commissioner.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): To?

Len Duvall (AM): I will give you a copy. To Joanne McCartney.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): As I say, I think there is not the smallest chance of any water cannon being used on the streets of London without it being sanctioned by this place. That is completely inconceivable and I am sure Members will agree with that.