Police chief questioned over cuts

London’s top policeman has said the time is right for a review of how Safer Neighbourhoods policing is carried out.

Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson faced questioning at the London Assembly today following an announcement in the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review last month that police will face cuts of four per cent year on year for at least three years. This was not as bad as the 25 to 40 per cent figure some had anticipated.

The commissioner began his address by telling the Assembly of the Met’s successes over the last year including reductions in overall number of offences, and specifically in areas like murders, road deaths and serious acquisitive crimes.

He said that knife crime is up, however, and so is the number of reported rapes in the capital. He said the Met is taking steps to make it easier for victims to report rapes.

One of the key themes of the questions posed to Sir Paul centred on the future of the hugely popular Safer Neighbourhoods police teams, which have become a pillar of policing in Camden.

Sir Paul said: “After seven years it’s right that we look at this model to make sure what we’ve got fits the needs and desires of London. I have yet to be convinced any changes should be made to the model. Safer Neighbourhoods has brought us huge benefits and increased confidence.”

Although he has promised a commitment to Safer Neighbourhoods policing, at the end of the debate the commissioner hinted there could be a cut back in the number of SNT sergeants.

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When Lib Dem AM Caroline Pidgeon told him she had heard that half of the existing SNT sergeants would be removed, he said: “We do need to look at supervisory ratios. It has to be considered as part of this review.”

Sir Paul categorically ruled out the possibility that the Met would follow the lead of police in Manchester when for a whole day the force posted details of its actions on the social networking website Twitter.

He also said he did not wish to use retirement plans whereby senior officers can be forced to stand down after 30 years’ service – a strategy he described as a “blunt tool”.

Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Conservative Assembly Member Kit Malthouse, said: “Things are challenging but not as challenging as we had thought. We are increasingly confident we will be able to weather the storm in good shape.

“We are facing significant structural change. Under the Policing and Social Responsibility Bill on November 29 the authority as we know it will disappear.”

He said the scrutiny element would be dealt with in the future by the London Assembly and that the executive functions would be dealt with by whatever residual body remains after the authority is dissolved.