The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, says British policing is at a crossroads.
Its leaders have to choose, he says at an event at the RSA, between despairing at shrinking budgets and fewer police officers, and transforming to meet new threats and challenges.
He made it clear that he is positive about the future and believes a smaller Met can still make London safer. 'No-one follows a pessimist', says Sir Bernard.
The Commissioner delivered a keynote speech at the launch of a project commissioned by the MPS to engage with partners to develop a collaborative approach to enhancing public safety.
Over the coming months, the Metropolitan Police has asked the public services team at the RSA to help it work with partners from other emergency services, criminal justice, and local government in a project to shape the future of policing in London.
The MPS has already committed to save £600 million by next year, and is expecting to have to save up to a further £800 million by 2020.
His speech, "2020 Vision - Public Safety in a Global City", to an audience at the RSA, highlighted his belief that the police service, partners in the public service, politicians and most importantly the public must work together to deliver the kind of policing they want, and are prepared to pay for.
Sir Bernard said: "If you had any doubt, if my officers had any doubt, then let’s be clear - the Met is a ‘can-do’ organisation, and I am a ‘can-do’ leader. A smaller Met can make London safer."
"But we need to spell out, like the military has, that we can’t promise to tackle everything the world throws up within a shrinking budget. If we try to fight on all fronts, we’ll fail on some. If we’re not clear what’s beyond our reach, how can others take responsibility?"
"Perhaps we - the leaders in policing - have been guilty too often of saying ‘yes we can’. We never say ‘no we can’t’. It’s anathema to police officers. But now we must be clear. Every time we’re given a new priority, we have to ask the public, what do you want us to do less of, to de-prioritise?"
The Commissioner called for a new focus on crime prevention - to embed it in Government and policing policy in a similar way the focus in healthcare on preventing disease as well as treating it.
He will say: "Crime prevention has worked over the last 50 years but I would argue that this is despite rather than because of a government or police strategy to embed it.
"I believe that keeping the public safe should be just as high a priority as keeping them healthy.
"So much of the focus in health has shifted away from acute care towards the individual’s ability to keep healthy. How do we achieve something similar in public safety?
The Commissioner sets out a vision for collaborating with universities to create a faculty of policing that would build a stronger-evidence base for law enforcement.
‘I want to place the police service on a sounder intellectual and professional foundation… that would give the UK a world lead in this vital area’
Despite the Commissioner’s tough message, he is clear that he believes the Met will succeed to meet the challenges it faces.
"No-one follows a pessimist. I firmly believe the Met will be better in 2020: transformed, yes, smaller, yes, doing all the same things in the same way, no. Reducing budgets can make life harder. But they can also focus your mind on the choices you need to make, on what you want to be really good at."
Sir Bernard also highlights that he believes the Met can become up to 15% more productive by 2020. The speech reiterates his view that the current structure 43 police forces in England and Wales is unsustainable and also raises the question of whether the Met’s 32 borough- based policing structure will need to change.
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I have been suggesting for some time to Sir Bernard' Met Police that they would be far more effective in combatting the commonest and most openly committed crime in the UK, pavement cycling, not by using scarce police resources to pick off pavement cyclists one at a time, but by widely publicising the illegality of pavement cycling, encouraging pedestrians to challenge those who do it, and rendering pavement cycling as socially unacceptable a smoking in public places. In May last year I submitted a paper to the Greater London Assembly Transport Committee suggesting just such a strategy. This resulted in specific undertakings in two subsequent TfL reports THE PEDESTRIAN SAFETY ACTION PLAN Page 37 Action 23 "Raising awareness of behaviour among other road users, including cyclists and drivers that pose a safety risk to pedestrians. For example, pavement cycling and failing to give priority to pedestrians at side roads" and. SAFE STREETS FOR LONDON Page 68 Para 36 "fund an increase ..... to improve enforcement against anti-social road use behaviour .... Including ..... cycling on the pavement ...." The alternative is to put pavement cycling so low on the list of police priorities as to abandon all attempts to enforce the 1875 law against it which I believe would result in encouraging the pavement cycling anarchy from which we are increasingly suffering as a result of government promotion of cycling as an alternative to motor transport.
The analogy with progress in health reforms is a good one - and Sir Bernard will realise that this was achieved by allowing individuals to have control of their own health outcomes through education and empowerment.
However, I believe that Sir Bernard is mistaken in believing that progress will be through even more force amalgamations and greater centralisation. The great error of the old ACPO mentality was that the UK needs a national police service. We don't. Sir Bernard correctly identifies that the future of effective policing means a return to Peelian principles under which "the police are the people and the people are the police" - an echo of the health improvements - and this means reversing the iniquitous effects of the 1964 Police Act, a greater diversity of police services, more forces rather than fewer, more accountable to local people not less accountable.
The struggle for control of Britain's police between the Home Secretary and local citizens is at least two centuries old, and the pendulum, which swung towards centralism and State control in the latter half of the last century, is now, I believe, moving back. Elsewhere in these pages Jonathan Schifferes extols the benefits of Localism; one of these is having a local Watch committee running a local police force with a local identity.
So what do the public think? Has anyone asked the people of Brighton City, for example, whether they want their old police service, abolished by the 1964 Police Act, back? Neither Brighton nor Surrey would suffer, and both may gain, from such a reversal. After all, here in London we are exalted and not diminished by the existence of the City of London police within Sir Bernard's force district, are we not?