Camden’s frontline police staying put for now

CAMDEN’S top police chief has revealed there are no plans to reduce the number of frontline police in the borough between now and 2012.

Borough Commander John Sutherland said he was “optimistic” that staffing levels across his crime units and Safer Neighbourhood Teams would remain the same next year.

But he conceded that, while unlikely, it was “entirely possible” for the control over Camden’s police numbers to be taken out of his hands if a Met-wide decision is made.

He also revealed that in the long term there will be a reduction in PCSOs due to the current drive to recruit members of this group to the rank of police constable.

“We’re not making PCSOs redundant, but we’re not recruiting or replacing PCSOs,” he said. “But this is not a worry at the minute.”

Borough Commander Sutherland’s comments come amid a warning last week from chief inspector of constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor about the future of frontline policing.

With 85 per cent of police budgets spent on staffing costs, he said that forces face a “big challenge” in making 20 per cent cuts over the next four years and retaining frontline staff.

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The scale of the savings the Met needs to make will have an impact on Camden’s staffing levels, Borough Commander Sutherland admitted.

He has already been told that his overall budget, which for 2011 was �4.6million, will be slashed by up to 10 per cent next year.

But he says that even with the cuts he is confident the Met’s frontline services are more likely to be protected because of the unique tasks the force performs.

“I think there are three things that make the Met different from the county forces,” he said.

“For one we carry a number of national responsibilities, the most obvious of which is counter-terrorism. Secondly there are the responsibilities that go with policing a capital city like last week’s demonstrations. And thirdly there are the Olympics.

“Because of the combination of those three things the picture is a little bit different.”

At the same time he said he is well aware of the undeniable realities of the present economic climate and says there’s no sense in trying to ignore them.

“I take very seriously the responsibility of taxpayers’ money,” he stresses. “We need to be completely intolerant of waste and make the best of what we have.”

But in an effort to avoid losing frontline police, Borough Commander Sutherland said Scotland Yard is looking first to its saleable assets to make savings.

He said the planned austerity measures include putting Met buildings on the market and selling off police vehicles.

However, with fears that police stations in the borough – including Hampstead – might be sold off, he assured residents that there were no proposals at the moment to get rid of any stations in Camden.

Backroom staff will be the other area facing imminent cutbacks and in particular in telephone crime reporting units.

“The 32 London boroughs have their own telephone crime reporting units,” said Borough Commander Sutherland.

“This is not sensible or sustainable. So there’s a project to centralise these capabilities.”

With such major efficiencies ahead of them, tough decisions about where to concentrate their decreasing resources are inevitable for Camden Police bosses.

In anticipation of this, the Borough Commander is clear that some issues such as low level crime where the victim is not hurt or harmed will now have to “take their place in the queue”.

The main focus will fall on serious youth crime or gang activity, burglary and robbery and alcohol-related violence. Another priority, which may be less obvious to residents, will be domestic violence.

“I believe that domestic violence is the single greatest cause of harm in society,” said Borough Commander Sutherland.

“I’m not just speaking as a Londoner, but also as a dad – it’s right that the police focus on what causes the greatest harm and what causes the greatest risk.”