CROYDON COMMENTARY: It was Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police, who said that ‘the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval’. Assembly Member CAROLINE PIDGEON, pictured right, says that there’s a crisis of confidence in London’s policing
They say a picture paints a thousand words; well the chart below shows the ebbing of police confidence in London since 2017 with dramatic effect.
But why has there been such a drop in confidence in recent years? The truth is that there are almost certainly several primary causes.
The Mayor and Metropolitan Police’s continued support for the use of suspicion-less stop and search in London is a problem. The Met Commissioner remains convinced of its benefits, despite a College of Policing report cautioning that “extremely large increases in stop and search”, as have been seen in the Met, would at best deliver minimal reductions in crime, but at a price that would “likely be unacceptable to some communities”.
Having been a member since 2008 of the Metropolitan Police Authority and its successor body, MOPAC, the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, it is clear to me that the increasing use of suspicion-less stop and search is contributing to deteriorating relations between the police and many people in London, particularly black Londoners.
Increasingly we are seeing Section 60 orders being placed across London, including parts of Croydon, allowing police to search anyone without reason.
When a black person is more than 18 times more likely than a white person to be stopped and searched under S60, is it any wonder that confidence in our police is so low? It is hard to put this down to anything other than an institutional problem with racial profiling that requires urgent attention.
There are also long-term impacts of the increased use of suspicion-less stop and search. Experiences some young people face in their teens and twenties can lead to a lifetime of distrust in the police. And distrust that parents have about the police can often influence younger generations.
Another key issue is the way live facial recognition, or LFR, technology has been rolled out as an operational tool. The roll-out has been hasty, ill-advised and totally inappropriate, yet the Mayor continues to support its use, despite the chilling effects on civil liberties.
We all need to be comfortable with the use of this technology and an updated legal framework is necessary to ensure the deployment of such technology happens in accordance with legal and human rights standards.
That most other police forces have avoided using LFR makes the Met’s decision to roll-out the technology last January even more staggering.
This is not the way for the Met to improve confidence with Londoners or those who visit our city.
Over the last seven years the closure of many police stations and front counters has also eroded public confidence. The purge of front counters began under Boris Johnson, who got rid of 63, reducing the number in the capital from 136 in 2012 to 73 by the end of his Mayoralty. Sadiq Khan has since cut a further 35 front counters, leaving the Met with little more than one in each borough.
The need to have accessible police stations is necessary for every community in London.
They play a key role in ensuring that people can easily contact the police and that community policing is a reality. MOPAC’s own data shows the percentage of people who know how to contact their local ward police officer has fallen from 41 per cent in December 2014 to just 16 per cent in June 2020. This is deeply worrying.
Police stations and front counters bring a sense of presence alongside officers and are an important part of trust. When trust and confidence in the police fall there are consequences, especially over time.
If the public do not actively co-operate with the police, and when the sharing of information dries up, this presents huge challenges to officers and has a direct impact on tackling crime. A community with a low level of confidence in the police will rarely be a safe community.
I appreciate the financial challenges facing the Met and that these are worsened by the Government’s refusal to give police forces long-term funding settlements. But having front counters open must be a priority if confidence is to be rebuilt.
The Mayor’s recent disproportionality Action Plan is to be welcomed, particularly commitments around the recruitment of more black officers and better community oversight of policing. These are two changes I have long called for. However, one must ask why the Mayor has only now produced this plan, four and a half years into his term… At the very least the Mayor must now ensure the actions outlined begin to happen without further delay before confidence in the police drops further.
The issues facing the Met are varied and complex, but radical action is needed to tackle the drop in confidence the Met has seen. We need to re-open and replace the police front counters lost in recent years, as well as finding new ways to encourage engagement between communities and the police.
We also need to see swift and comprehensive action to challenge disproportionality in the force, not just warm words. We must see a move away from policing tools such as suspicion-less stop and search and LFR and instead see a renewed focus on an effective and robust model of British community policing in London.
Sir Robert Peel, the founder of London’s police force, said that “the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”
The current model is not working and the figures on public confidence speak volumes. The Mayor and the Commissioner need to take notice.
- Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon has been a London Assembly Member since 2008. She was previously a councillor in Southwark
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