Policing in London has been under the spotlight in recent days, and with good reason. Various concerns have been raised about the ability of the Metropolitan Police to deal with the challenges of 21st century policing, especially in light of the cuts by the current Government.
According to the Met's Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the force is expecting cuts of £1bn to be announced in George Osborne's spending review on 25th November. That will mean a loss of up to 8,000 officers over the next 4 years, reducing the size of the Met Police by around 25%.
The Met has already lost £600m over the last 4 years. The latest proposals are a cut too far which will see the capital's force having its resources diminished to a level not seen since the 1970s. Bobbies on the beat may soon become a thing of the past, and officers will stop attending scenes of non-emergency crimes such as burglaries where there have been no threats to life. The days of borough based policing are also numbered.
The Metropolitan Police is not without criticism. In the last fortnight, it has been heavy-handed in policing at protests by Tibetans during the Chinese Premier's state visit and by Sikhs outside the Indian High Commission. The Sikh protest saw the forced removal of articles of faith from protesters, including a turban, and the desecration of a Sikh flag. An unprecedented apology to the Sikh community has since been issued by the Met for the "deeply disrespectful" behaviour of officers at the protest.
British policing has historically been by way of consensus with a strong emphasis on building good community relations. Diversity training has improved such relations since the nadir of the 1980s. However, the cuts are already biting as the Police is seemingly more combative and less aware of what may aggravate an already tense situation. Basic training on cultural awareness would easily have prevented what happened during the Sikh protest.
Sadly for the Police, things are not going to get any easier. There are massive challenges ahead, as the Halloween rave-turned-riot in Lambeth over the weekend has shown. These flashpoints are unfortunately going to grow as many in Britain feel disaffected for various reasons, and the highly divisive policies being implemented by the Tory Government are doing very little to prevent widespread discontent.
The Metropolitan Police is unique as it doesn't have a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). Such responsibility vests in the Mayor of London through MOPAC (the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime). MOPAC sets the direction and the budget for policing in London, whilst the Met Commissioner (not to be confused with the PCC) has day-to-day conduct of the force. An effective MOPAC requires an effective Mayor, and the current Mayor has been ineffectual on policing budgets and strategy.
If we want a force that can tackle riots and protests in a strong yet appropriate manner, we need a Mayor who can stand up to the Government and challenge it for resources. The 2011 London Riots showed how quickly a difficult policing situation can escalate, and the Met Police needs to be prepared to deal with such a situation at all times. The proposed cuts will heavily curtail that ability, but having the right Mayor will make sure that the needs of Londoners are kept in the centre of all future policing decisions.
The next Mayor will have to address the policing concerns of London by working with the Met Commissioner during what will be the most difficult period of resourcing the capital has seen in decades. We Londoners need a properly resourced Metropolitan Police more than ever, but for that, we need strong leadership. We need a robust Mayor who can push the Government to ensure that the Met remains the police force that Londoners deserve. Given the circumstances, only Sadiq Khan would be fit for such a demanding role, and even then, he'll need support from across London's diverse communities to make sure that he remains fully aware of the concerns at ground level.
The links between the next Mayor and the diverse communities need to be strengthened if we want to have the policing that London needs and deserves. Without that rebuilding of trust and confidence, the threat is not just to the future of the Met Police, but to London itself.