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Police numbers: how cuts have made officers ‘less visible’ on the streets of Camden

Politicians have slammed cuts to policing, while protesters on an anti-knife crime march last month called for more officers on the streets. Here, the New Journal reviews the figures.

13 April, 2018 — By William McLennan

POLICE funding has come under intense scrutiny as levels of street violence soar in Camden and across London.

The government has, however, maintained that funding cuts have played no part in escalating violence.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pointed the finger of blame at austerity, while serving officers have questioned the impacts of a reduced police presence.

Officer numbers

The Metropolitan police budget has been cut by £600million in the past four years. Police chiefs say that many of these “savings” have been made through “efficiencies” and modernising their approach with the help of new technology.

However, despite attempts to protect the number of officers, there are around 3,000 fewer across London compared to 2010.

In Camden, the number of officers has fallen from 887 in 2010 to 631 in 2017.  In the past five years, the number has dropped by 105.

Since 2013, there has been a reduction of 23 constables, 30 detective constables, 28 sergeants, 10 detective sergeants, five detective inspectors, seven inspectors and two chief inspectors.

Camden’s police force was merged with Islington’s in January 2017, making it more difficult to track numbers. Comparing the two boroughs’ combined figures for 2017, the number of officers working in Camden and Islington reduced by a further 32 this year.

John Sutherland, Camden borough commander between 2010 and 2012, believes the reduced police presence is one of the causes of rising youth violence.

Protestors called for an end to street violence after a spate of killings

He said the “root causes” were “many and complex”, but added: “Police numbers have fallen very significantly and we just can’t pretend that that’s not the case.”

Mr Sutherland, who retired last month after 25 years’ service, said: “At the same time there have been huge reductions in the number of PCSOs that have an impact on street presence.”

He identified the reduced police presence on the streets as one of the key drivers of youth violence, along with a reduction in the use of stop and search, cuts to youth services and the wider normalisation of violence in society.  

Bobbies on the beat

Neighbourhood policing in London has changed considerably in the past decade. London boroughs are divided into wards, each with a “safer neighbourhood team”.  In Camden there are 18 teams.

These are the “local officers” or “bobbies on the beat”. They are expected to get to know their patch, patrolling the area and attending meetings with residents.

In 2006, each team had one sergeant, two police constables and two police community support officers (PCSOs), providing a deterrent presence on the streets and focusing on anti-social behaviour, as opposed to investigating crimes and making arrests.

Today, most wards in Camden have two PCs and one PCSO.

One sergeant is now expected to manage between two and four wards.

A former neighbourhood policing sergeant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “You have basically halved your numbers and halved your supervision levels overnight.”

He said that at the same time officers’ workload had increased, reducing the time they had to patrol.

“The more load you put on them workwise, the less they are out on the street,” he said. “The higher the chance of seeing Old Bill, the lower the chance of you wanting to commit crime in that area. You cannot get away from that fact.”

Police stations

In an attempt to meet funding cuts, police have closed two stations and several neighbourhood bases in Camden.

The Met has pointed towards the drop in crimes reported at stations and says it is prioritising keeping officers on duty, over clinging onto property.

Hampstead police station was closed and sold off in 2014

However, the closure of neighbourhood bases is thought by some to have led to a further reduction in visible police presence.

Hampstead police station closed in 2013 and was sold to the Department for Education for £14million in 2014. Albany Street station closed at the same time, but has not been sold. Kentish Town and Holborn remain, with the majority of officers now reporting to Lamb’s Conduit Street.

Neighbour- hood bases have been closed in Queen’s Crescent, West End Lane, Kentish Town Road and Highgate Road. Mr Sutherland said the bases provided “symbolism” of police presence.

He said: “Alongside the symbolism, there is an unavoidable and undeniable presence. You have police officers coming and going.”

A former neighbourhood sergeant told the New Journal: “Taking away neighbourhood bases reduces the number of officers you are going to regularly see. That just in- creases the chance of people thinking they can get away with it.”

Government response

Home secretary Amber Rudd has denied there is a connection between falling police numbers and rising youth violence. Launching the government’s response on Monday, she said: “One of the contentions is that there are not enough officers on the streets. The evidence however does not support this.

“In the early 2000s, when serious violent crimes were at their highest, police numbers were rising. In 2008, when knife crime was far greater than the lows we saw in 2013 to 2014, police numbers were close to the highest we’d seen in decades.”

Ms Rudd said there was no connection between violence and officer numbers

She instead said there was a “strong link between drugs and violent crime”, pledging extra resources to tackle “county line” drug deal- ing, whereby London gangs control supply to distant towns and cities. She also pledged to make it harder to buy knives online.

A £11million fund will “help communities run early intervention and prevention pro- grammes for young people at risk of getting involved in violence”. She urged social media companies to do more to remove content posted by gangs that “document, encourage and glamourise violence”.


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