Camden police chief slams Hampstead’s plans to fund their own officers

Camden Borough Commander CS Penny Banham. Picture: Polly Hancock

Camden Borough Commander CS Penny Banham. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Camden’s new top cop has criticised proposals put forward by Hampstead residents to fund their own police officers – saying it would “not set a good precedent” for the rest of London.

Det Ch Supt Penny Banham said the Met Police would “not entertain” proposals to crowdfund more than £600,000 to pay for extra officers, suggesting Hampstead didn’t need them as it is “one of the safest areas in London”.

The idea was raised last month by people in the Frognal and Fitzjohns and Hampstead Town wards, in response to what they say is a rise in violent crime and a lack of available officers.

They discussed raising the cash to pay for two PCs and a Sergeant dedicated to the neighbourhood for three years at a cost of just over £200,000 per year.

It follows the closure of the nearby Hampstead police station in January last year and a spate of subsequent violent muggings and moped-enabled robberies.

But in her first interview since taking over the role as borough commander two weeks ago, Det Ch Supt Banham suggested it was a fear of crime that was the problem.

She said: “Every ward has the same number of officers within their neighbourhood policing team. Hampstead is one of the safest wards in London so it’s unfortunate that there’s a perception of crime there.

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“I don’t think [community funded police officers] sets a good precedent. I don’t think the Met would entertain that.

“The police are here to provide a service to everybody. My role is to make sure that I and my team deliver a professional, quality service to all.”

A Met spokesman said local authorities can currently fund their own police under the MOPAC MetPatrol Plus Scheme whereby police officers are purchased by London boroughs on a buy-one-get-one-free basis.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, who chairs the Frognal and Fitzjohns Safer neighbourhood panel and who proposed the idea, had accused the Met of “pillaging” Hampstead’s safer neighbourhood teams as the force has cut £600 million from its budget and looks to slash a further £800million by 2020.

As the Met also looks at scrapping PCSOs, she warned of a “breakdown of basic contract between citizen and state” as people are no longer being protected by the police.

Det Ch Supt Banham said the cuts would be “challenging”, but added: “We’ve got to change the way we police and it’s an opportunity to streamline. I know what the challenges are and the potential options.

“PCSOs are valued and they play an integral role in policing. But with the financial cuts, it is an option.

“However, we are quite clear as an organisation that neighbourhood policing is still our bedrock and we would still commit to dedicated ward officers so there would still be a neighbourhood presence.”

The borough commander is two weeks into the job after taking over from predecessor Richard Tucker.

She had previously been stationed at Wandsworth and Heathrow, where she had success tackling gang crime.

In a wide-ranging interview that covered everything from her passion for alleviating gang crime to her love of the Wales rugby team, she described Camden as a “vibrant, busy and challenging” borough.

The first female commander in Camden’s history, she was this year given a “special recognition” award by the British Association for Women in Police, recognising her “passionate support for the retention and progression of female officers and other under-represented groups” in the police force.

Joining the police as a cadet in 1989, she described the moment as “one of my proudest” and hoped it would encourage more women to join the Met.