Fears grow for Safer Neighbourhoods teams in leafy areas

FEARS are growing that relatively low-crime wards in the Ham&High area could be abandoned by police under a shake up of Safer Neighbourhoods policing.

Earlier this month the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson told the London Assembly there could be a cut back in the number of team sergeants, while Mayor Boris Johnson said supposedly safer wards should have flexibility to change the make up of their teams.

Peter Burian, vice chairman of the Hampstead Town team, warned that any move to reduce the number of sergeants would be akin to removing the conductor from an orchestra.

He said: “Without sergeants it would be like a headless football team. We have a fantastic team in Hampstead Town and the PCs have made some brilliant arrests recently.

“But there is a sharing of intelligence and there needs to be a focal point, which is the sergeant. If you lose sergeants then all of a sudden a team that had four or five members suddenly could be left with three and that’s not enough.”

Police are now carrying out a consultation about how Safer Neighbourhoods policing is done currently, and Camden’s report will be sent to Met bosses in January.

Safer Neighbourhoods panels in Camden have been sent a questionnaire which asks: “How appropriate is the management structure for SNTs in that it makes best use of the skills and knowledge of SN sergeants?”

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Another question asks: “Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) are the key service deliverers of engagement and police officers are the key providers of enforcement. Does the current standard model of two PCs and three PCSOs on every ward reflect the needs of local people on your borough?”

This week, Camden’s borough commander Chief Supt John Sutherland (pictured above) refused to rule out the possibility that his staff could eventually be moved permanently from low crime spots to areas of greater need. He also refused to rule out a reduction in the number of Safer Neighbourhoods sergeants in the future.

He said: “The non-negotiables are that Safer Neighbourhoods are here to stay and the notion of a team on every ward. There are no foregone conclusions here but what’s up for debate is the working hours of the teams, and do those best match the demands and priorities of the wards.

“The second issue is whether there should be greater flexibility in the way we deploy our teams.”

There would have to be a thoughtful debate, he said, on the pros and cons of putting the best sergeants in charge of two teams instead of just one. He said that no decisions have yet been taken, however, and that the consultation over the structure of Safer Neighbourhoods teams is genuine and meaningful.

“This will not be done solely on the basis of reported crime figures,” he added. “We don’t want to penalise low crime areas.”