Steve O’Connell, the Tory London Assembly Member from Croydon who has stood by while there has been a cut of 20 per cent in the number of uniformed policemen on the streets of London, now wants what is left of the Metropolitan Police to devote time to hanging around locations highlighted by Pokémon Go in the hope that they might deter the odd smart phone theft.
Maybe it is just the Silly Season, those summer weeks when any load of old cobblers manages to be given column inches. Or maybe O’Connell – once described by the Daily Mail as the country’s most over-paid local councillor – reckons he needs to raise his public profile from its usual subterranean level; so for an easy headline he has invoked the latest craze.
O’Connell, the chair of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee, no less, even managed to call those officers who he wants assigned to the special duties as “Pokémon plod”.
In case our loyal reader really doesn’t know what Pokémon Go is, it is a virtual monster hunt, based on the kids’ card game from Japan which was popular at the turn of the century. It is now played by twentysomethings on their smart phones, wandering the streets, tracked by GPS, hoping to trap one of these computer-generated beings. Pokestops are real places – pubs, public artworks, churches – identified by the game makers, to which players gravitate to stock up on Pokeballs and other game goodies. In America, Pokestops have seen some gamers become the victims of street crime, and sometimes violence.
“Lots of people are talking about Pokémon Go,” O’Connell, being unusually perceptive, told a reporter at the Standard.
“It would be great to see the Met taking advantage of this craze and encouraging community officers to visit popular Pokestops — you even could call them Pokémon plod,” the usually reticent-to-the-point-of-silent O’Connell said.
“The game provides a unique opportunity for neighbourhood policing teams to get involved within the community and, at the same time, tag many more phones that could be recovered if lost or stolen,” said O’Connell.
More neighbourhood policing and crime prevention. What wonderful ideas. You’d think no one had ever considered them before.
Trouble is, over the past six years, O’Connell, while working closely with the then Mayor Boris Johnson at City Hall, managed to preside over savage cuts to our police service, reducing the number of officers in London by one-fifth.
The number of uniformed police officers serving in London has fallen from 37,363 before the August 2011 riots hit the capital to just 33,311 today.
In Croydon, where we are approaching the fifth anniversary of the night of rioting, under a Tory Mayor officer numbers have been cut by nearly 200, from 924 in 2010 to 738. In Sutton, the other part of O’Connell’s London Assembly constituency, police numbers have been reduced over the last six years from 438 to 349.
The number of PCSOs, or Police Community Support Officers – probably those most suited to the “Pokémon patrols” advocated by O’Connell – have been hardest hit by the cuts under the Tories: they are down from 172 in Croydon in 2010 to just 29 today – an 83 per cent cut.
In addition to the sweeping staffing cuts, on O’Connell’s watch most of the borough’s police stations at the heart of our communities have been closed and sold off.
This week O’Connell offered no suggestions as to where the Met Commissioner is to find these officers for his “Pokémon plod” scheme. Though we cannot help thinking that O’Connell’s not-so-bright idea is in part a political response to the announcement earlier this month by the new Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, that every ward in London will be assigned a second police officer by 2017.
The announcement reverses the trend of constant cut-backs to the Metropolitan Police’s numbers implemented under Johnson and O’Connell since 2010. All of London’s 629 wards will have two dedicated ward PCs and a dedicated PCSO by the end of next year, under the plan, with 260 newly dedicated ward officers in place across all boroughs by Christmas.
It’s been a hard couple of years for O’Connell financially, as he has suffered some cut-backs of his own as a result of lost local elections. It has seen him going from trousering £118,000 a year for his various roles at City Hall and at Croydon Town Hall, to a mere… £73,147 a year in London Assembly salary plus his allowances as a Kenley councillor in Croydon.
All that, plus the perk of £2,364 O’Connell received towards the cost of his annual Travelcard, too.
Times must be tough: O’Connell daren’t even accept any “gifts” from thrusting young business figures any longer, not since that time he scored a football ticket or two from local property developer Mazher Majeed, who turned out to be the man at the centre of the Pakistani Test cricket fixing scandal, and so ended up serving a prison sentence for fraud.
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