MQT on 2016-09-14
Session date: 
September 14, 2016
Question By: 
Len Duvall
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Do you believe the Met got its marketing PR right for the launch of Operation Hercules? Were you or MOPAC consulted over the messaging, values, and ethos that the Met Police wanted to convey?


Answer for Policing

Answer for Policing

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London): Thank you, Chairman. Nothing is more important to me than keeping Londoners safe. This is my first and most pressing priority as Mayor. That is why one of the first things I did on becoming Mayor was support an increase in the MPS’s armed capability and I asked Lord Harris [Baron Harris of Haringey] to undertake a review into London’s preparedness. This includes looking at the MPS’s armed response capability to ensure our city and emergency services have the resources and expertise they need to respond in the event of an attack. The Commissioner [of Police of the Metropolis] informed me of his intention to deploy more visible policing tactics over the summer, but I was not consulted specifically about the public relations (PR) and messaging that accompanied the launch of Operation Hercules.


The launch took place less than a month after the tragic events in Nice and it was an opportunity for the MPS to send a message of reassurance about London’s preparedness. However, I do appreciate that some members of the public may have found the images of heavily-armed police officers wearing balaclavas a bit disconcerting. It can be difficult, but we do need to strike the right balance to ensure we are able to deter hostile acts and reassure the public of our capability to respond decisively in the event of an attack without unduly alarming Londoners. I know this is something the MPS always considers and I am sure it is something it will continue to reflect on as we go forward.


Our armed response teams do a very difficult job. They put their own lives at risk every day. They are at the front line, protecting Londoners across our city. We cannot shy away from the reality we are faced with. The threat level here in London has not changed; it remains at "severe". Especially in light of recent deadly attacks in Europe, it is important that we are prepared and show that we are prepared in an appropriate way. Through Operation Hercules, we will see more armed officers on our streets but, as Mayor, I want to be clear that there is no reason for Londoners to be alarmed. It is important to remember that armed policing in London is used less frequently than in most comparable cities and the MPS seeks to use this capability judiciously and only to protect the public from the most serious threats.


Len Duvall AM: Thank you, Mr Mayor. I welcome the upgrade and the changing of tactics to meet the new and emerging threats and I, like you, have utmost admiration for those volunteers within the police service who go for this type of work and volunteer. They do it with no extra resources and money. It was important that we add that capability. It was a cut that should never have been made. I am glad to see that you have reinstated it.


In the imagery and the issues, there were some important messages that were lost. I do not believe that senior police officers should speak with balaclavas and give interviews with a mask and think that is what policing should be. They should have removed that. In some cases, there were interviews conducted on that basis. In the following day’s media, it was more about the type of kit and the issues rather than the emerging threat we face. Sadly, some tactics were in the public domain that I do not believe should have been put into the public domain. Why do you want to give your opponents a heads-up about what you are going to do in certain circumstances? Those issues around that imagery detracted from the message.


Clearly, there is still a lot of work the MPS needs to do. Can you give some assurance that it will engage with young people who have a different image of the MPS’s firearm capacity and its work in our communities as well as certain communities? There was a bit of an own goal. I understand the issues around the deterrent but it could have been done in a slightly different way. As a supporter of this work, I thought it lost points. The more important thing is how we regain and work with those who misunderstand or perpetuate myths about the work that you have tried to answer earlier on: the role of our firearms officers and their interactions with London’s communities.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London): Chairman, I am not sure if I agree with all the points raised by the Assembly Member. I am not suggesting that he said this, but we have to accept that armed officers have to be anonymous most of the time for very good operational reasons that I can discuss with him offline if he wants me to. There are good reasons why that happens.


He raises a separate point about whether we are inadvertently letting the bad guys know what we would do. Again, there are very good operational reasons why we want the bad guys to know what would happen in relation to them trying to do bad things to the citizens of London. There is an issue on which he has a very good point in relation to not inadvertently scaring off people whose co-operation we need to keep our city safe, particularly young people. It is very important that we take on board the points that he has made.


It is important with all the messaging on security and operational issues that we do not unduly alarm Londoners. We need to instead reassure the public about the work that is taking place to encourage Londoners to be vigilant and work with the police to report any suspicions they have. To be fair to the Commissioner and his senior team, they are always learning and evolving in relation to these issues. Just like the bad guys evolve in relation to what they want to do to us, we have to evolve in relation to lessons we can learn. I take the comments he makes in the spirit in which they were intended, as I am sure the Commissioner and his team will do as well.