CROYDON COMMENTARY: Closing police stations would be fine if London Mayor Boris Johnson really did put the money saved and raised into officers on the streets, says DAVID CALLAM
It’s a fair cop, Mr Mayor: time to come clean about Greater London’s police numbers and why Croydon has fewer officers on the beat now than it did before the riots.
Boris, how dare you attempt to deceive us by trying to disguise replacing natural wastage as recruitment? That’s the action of a con merchant, not a responsible elected official.
I’m delighted to see that your shady use of statistics is being closely observed. Long may it continue.
Honestly. The idea that the nation’s capital can make do with the same number of police officers in a period when the population is growing is ludicrous and should be exposed on every possible occasion.
Even with the present budgetary constraints, we could increase the police presence on the streets of Greater London merely by replacing retiring warranted officers with PCSOs, thereby getting more bang-ups for our buck.
Such a move would be vociferously condemned by the Police Federation: well they would say that, wouldn’t they?
A PCSO is just as capable of using a radio to summon assistance. Granted, there are things that can only be done by a warranted officer at present, but regulations could be changed if politicians would stop genuflecting to the Federation.
Like unions representing teachers and train drivers, there is no pleasing the Fed – and like the National Union of Mineworkers, it will be the architect of its own downfall.
Boris reduced the Greater London Authority precept this year – maybe to support his circuitous campaign to become Tory party leader. It might have been more statesmanlike to leave the precept where it was and to spend the extra money on a real increase in police numbers.
We need more bobbies on the beat. There are aspects of Dixon of Dock Green that should never have been discarded. As a child I watched the show avidly. I can still remember scenes of foggy London, with dear old George remorselessly pounding a beat he knew well enough to sense if anything was out of place.
We abandoned all that for the Z Cars approach, Fancy Smith and Jock Weir in flashy Ford Zephyrs or Zodiacs trying to emulate their American cousins. Fast response, supposedly, but more remote from the public.
And that led us to The Bill: you’ve seen them in central Croydon; PC Tony Stamp lookalikes, pot-bellied coppers who couldn’t run after a fleeing mugger if their life – or yours – depended on it.
Many of us have been saying for years that we need a more visible uniformed presence on the street. We have been told our ideas are quaint, that we are just being nostalgic.
But we, the public, can see the true value of a copper who knows an area intimately – a trusted figure with good contacts who can often anticipate problems. Even after a crime has been committed, a dedicated neighbourhood beat bobby who understands the importance of good intelligence is often able to point his detective colleagues in the right direction.
But I do not understand the clamour to retain police stations.
I remember when an ordinary copper’s only two means of communication were his whistle and his key to a police box (for the benefit of younger readers, a police box is a structure now used solely by “The Doctor”).
In those bygone days, most of the population had no direct access to a telephone. Now we have more phones than people.
Police stations are an anachronism. I’ve heard it suggested that they only survive because they give police officers a place to hide.
I have had the misfortune to be burgled three times in the past three decades. I have reported each instance promptly – by telephone.
If I happen to witness an accident or a crime being committed, I will follow what is now common practice and summon the police – by telephone.
I have no need of a police station unless I am asked to assist with enquiries or to produce documents. In either case, it’s not an emergency.
The riots of August 2011 frightened me as much as anyone else. I watched the destruction of House of Reeves live on national television. I saw the blitz-like pictures of a blazing London Road.
On the morning after, I looked aghast at the looted off-licence just around the corner from my home and at the sacked shops along South End. I have read the reports that followed this dreadful breakdown in law and order. None of the problems relates to the proximity or otherwise of a police station.
Reeves is only a few minutes’ drive from central Croydon’s station, but the response time was so poor that the building was left to burn because no police were available to provide the necessary security for the fire service.
London Road, West Croydon, is equally close to the station, but I’m told a valiant few British Transport Police were left to hold the thin blue line there.
Meanwhile, police reinforcements from all over the country – warranted officers every one – were cooling their heels in mini-buses in car parks across Greater London because their radios were incompatible with those of Gold Command.
When it really mattered, the closeness of a police station made no discernible difference. The absence of a substantial mobile force most certainly did.
I can see an argument for a “cop shop” in central Croydon. Site it close to rail and bus stations, and multi-storey car parks. Open it every day – 24 hours, if necessary. Locate it with other services – like a walk-in accident and emergency clinic.
But separate the cop shop from motorised units. Let CID, crime cars and others share premises with ambulance and fire services in a lesser number of locations specifically chosen to allow them all to improve their response times.
The Metropolitan Police Service is about to dispose of a large amount of real estate in the form of police stations and other buildings. Mr Mayor: would you commit to putting that money into additional officers on the beat? And most of it to increasing the number of PCSOs rather than their more expensive PC colleagues?
That might result in real improvement in the crime clear-up rate and genuinely safer streets, rather than a mere fiddling of the figures.
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I understand the logic of having fewer police stations and much of it is very compelling. In many county forces the number of police patrol sites has been slashed, and response teams have been moved to more centralised hubs, which has had a disastrous effect on response times because officers frequently have tens of miles extra to travel to get to the scene. However, in London this would be less of an issue as everything’s geographically comparatively close, so I agree with you that we could probably do with fewer police stations, and it would be lovely to see the money saved spent on extra officers.
I have to take issue with the other point though. PCSOs are cheaper for a reason: they aren’t as effective. In terms of salary, they aren’t noticeably cheaper (in fact, under Part 2 of the Winsor Plan, a newly-recruited PCSO will be paid MORE than a newly-recruited PC in many areas of the country). Where the money is saved is on the training and equipment. PCSO training last six weeks and is all done in the classroom, with a heavy emphasis on how to fill in forms. The remit is poorly-defined, and the quality of recruits is often shockingly low. PCSOs may be as capable of calling for help as the next person, but that help will generally need to come from one or more warranted officers, making the PCSO an expensive middle man. Being incapable of effecting an arrest, stopping and searching a person, searching premises, seizing criminal evidence, or taking a crime report disq
…disqualifies PCSOs from such a huge amount of genuine crime prevention and detection activity that they really are an expensive false economy and, in my opinion, a cynical attempt by government to police on the cheap by hoodwinking the public.
Aside from that (reasonably minor) point, I would fervently hope that Boris does as you suggest. I won’t be holding my breath though.
An interesting piece. Although I don’t agree with some points it’s from listening to people like yourself that the police could benefit, eg if no one talks to us it’s an impossible job.
I have no knowledge of Croydon but it must have been awful seeing the riots begin and the police standing back. I have paid my federation subs for many years and they are still a mystery to me – not a union, no powers, I’d have been better off joining the FBU !
But one important point about PCSO’s- I have lots of experience of them – some good people, some not, but yes, they are just as capable of summoning assistance via radio. But if you cut warranted officers and send those left to central ‘hubs’ who is going to come? We could give them more powers but apart from saving a few quid PCSO’S are employees unlike constables who hold public office.
The coalition are busy making lots of police staff redundant – they can’t sack constables to save money ( its written in law so govt of the day cannot take unlawful control of the country) but if PCSO’s were the majority then they would be ‘sackable’ which worries me greatly.
In relation to pounding the beat- uniformed officers are split into two worlds – the response officer and the beat officer- the latter who does something akin to the Dixon of dock green job. The rest answer the 999 calls. Ive done both and
Loved walking the beat. Can’t be done on response- since the widespread use of the mobile phone the demand has gone through the roof, and due to a lack of respect / understanding lots of them complain when they don’t get a fast response.
That leaves me in a quandary- do I listen to you and walk everywhere, or listen to them and try to get there very fast ?
One things for sure, it didn’t save poor Dixon who was shot dead in the end !
George Dixon was shot in a film, The Blue Lamp (by a rather callow-looking Dirk Bogarde, if I recall correctly) outside a cinema. His character, played by George Warner, was “resurrected” for the television series, Dixon of Dock Green, where the only sticky end that he met was in the little homily that he had to deliver at the end of each episode.
It is really interesting to have two respondents with an insider’s perspective of the problems.
I take the point about needing to prevent politicians pressurising police officers by threatening to dismiss them (Boris Johnson merely persuaded Sir Iain Blair to resign), but I’m not convinced about the need for the warrant. It seems quaint to me.
I’m concerned about the different degrees of PCSO training in different areas and the different levels of responsibility they’re given.
Part of the problem is having 42 different police authorities in England. To me, as an outsider, that’s antediluvian. Nine regional police services would be quite sufficient.
That aside, a police officer – PC or PCSO – should be trained to a similar standard in London, Birmingham, Manchester or any other major city.
I can see an argument for different levels of training for officers in less populated areas, where the nature of crime and its prevention may be different.
But how can we justify putting a PCSO on a city street with a lesser level of training or less equipment than a PC? That is dangerously irresponsible.
Here’s a job for the overpaid bureaucrats at ACPO – the Association of Chief Police Officers. Develop a suite of training courses to reflect an officer’s place of duty rather than the colour of his or her epaulettes.
I have the strong impression that Luddites in the Police Federation have persuaded chief constables to exaggerate the differences in responsibilities between PCs and PCSOs in order to bolster the Fed’s own argument that the latter represent policing ‘on the cheap’: give a dog a bad name and hang it.
Come on chaps: 21st century policing requires, among many other things, that you are all on the same wavelength – literally.