THE BLOG

Theresa May's Police Cuts Are Dangerous

05/06/2017 10:16 BST | Updated 05/06/2017 10:16 BST
Tommounsey via Getty Images

By all accounts the response of the Met Police and the British Transport Police to the London Bridge terrorist attack was nothing less than magnificent. They were quick to get to the scene - they were brave to tackle murderously violent men who they knew were out to kill that night.

The armed officers challenged these violent men and shot them within eight minutes of being called.

More officers came in - along with the ambulance service and others - and helped secure the scene - rescue and re-assure members of the public and to gather evidence - and it looks as though they did this with skill, speed and professionalism.

All this is admirable and necessary - but policing is about much more than just the last eight minutes of a terrorist incident.

We must not mistake the success of the police response for the whole story of how police should protect us.

Not much is known about the violent men who carried out the London attack as I write but the Manchester attacker was a local man - brought up in Manchester - he was a member of the community and yet he did what he did attacking innocent men, women and children leaving a concert.

I was involved in both response policing and community policing in the Met throughout the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s. This was a time of threats from the Provisional IRA and latterly Al-Qaeda terrorism including the London bomb attacks in 2005. The Edgware Road was an area I where I was involved in community policing when that was bombed is 2005.

Over decades the police in this country adopted a community policing style that took several forms from the community police man or women: the 'Home Beat' officer or, more recently, the neighbourhood teams.

Community policing meant that to varying degrees local people knew the name of a police officer who knew about their community and to whom they could talk about local matters.

This police man or women could also see things happening in the community - notice changes in peoples behaviour - they would hear things that other police officers would not notice. Overall this provided a massive amount of intelligence as well as support for local people.

Chief Constable Michael Barton of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said recently that policing budgets had fallen by 22% in five years - leading to a loss of 32,000 officers and staff - at a time when many crimes were changing.

These cut backs are causing massive reductions in community and neighbourhood policing - not to mention shortfalls in many other areas of policing.

There are more equally severe cuts coming to policing up to 2020.

Since leaving the Police I had a civilian community-based job helping support a poor community in southern England - I saw and experienced the damage caused by cutting back on community policing - it causes real harm and fear and means that policing changes from the officer you know and who knows you and your community being replaced by officers you don't know turning up when things go wrong.

In terms of terrorism - based on my experience of policing through IRA and Al-Qaeda style terrorism - I can only see it as harmful that there will be far fewer officers in communities who are known by local people and who know what goes on in their streets.

There will be fewer officers to whom local people can turn to with some confidence and disclose information which could include things connected with terrorism. Fewer officers who might notice, or be told about, a change in behaviour of some local person.

Hot lines and fast cars are no substitute for community policing - and yet we are losing it because of cut backs and I think that is dangerous.

It is a serious mistake to think that the police are succeeding because of a magnificent responses to the extreme violence in the final moments of a terrorist attack.

Where these attacks involve local people the policing story starts mush earlier than that - it could be about changes in someones behaviour or a bit of information that gets reported to a known police officer by someone who might not want to use a hotline.

We are losing that because of an ideological drive to save money in the public sector at almost any cost.

Setting aside community policing - the officers who respond to an attack in its last minutes with their specialist skills and experience are drawn from a now diminishing pool of officers and that is not good.

Policing a terrorist incident does not stop once the armed police have done their job it goes on for weeks and sometimes months and requires vast numbers of officers over time - and that cannot be sustained from diminishing numbers of officers.

We don't have to have these cut backs - it is not a law of nature - these are political choices being made and we may pay a heavy price form them in the end.