Police numbers and violent crime: An open letter to Amber Rudd

 

Chris Hobbs is a former officer of the Metropolitan Police who served for 32 years

 

Well Home Secretary, you certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest with your carefully timed statement over the weekend that spiralling violent crime involving shootings and stabbings is not as a result of reductions in police numbers. This of course, was paving the way for your pre-violent crime strategy launch on the Monday.

I could almost see those cops on the front line sitting in their canteens during their meal breaks and choking on their coffee and croissants or more likely, a bacon butty and a mug of tea when they read the news as it flew around police social media or listened to the news bulletins; except of course cuts have wiped out most canteens and officers frequently have to work through those self-same meal breaks.

The Met Commissioner bullied?

Tell me Home Secretary, just between you and me, did you have a quiet word in Met Commissioner Cressida Dick’s ear last week about toeing the government line on cuts because she too caused an upheaval on police social media when she echoed your views just a couple of days before.

A bit odd that Home Secretary especially as Cress and her deputy Craig Mackey have previously voiced concerns over cuts. A bit embarrassing also for poor Sadiq who, on Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday morning, suggested that a reduction in police numbers was a factor in the rise of violent crime only to be told by the presenter that his commissioner had said exactly the opposite.

So, to Monday’s launch which received substantial coverage despite the horrors of Syria appearing on our screens. Yet all in all it was a bit of a car crash wasn’t it Home Secretary, in fact it consisted of several car crashes.

Car Crash one

The revelation leaked to the Guardian, that there existed a Home Office report which strongly suggested that cuts in police numbers may have been a contributory factor in relation to the rise in violent crime, didn’t really get the launch day off to a great start did it?

I bet there is one hell of an enquiry going on at the Home Office as your officials attempt to track down the whistle-blower. Not to worry though because your government protects whistle-blowers doesn’t it? Can’t quite understand though, Home Secretary, given that you all worked so hard on this strategy, how this report passed you by.

Car Crash 2

Despite the importance of the announcement, things didn’t improve, did they? Your Home Office minister Victoria Atkins, when interviewed on Sky, stated that your government was putting an additional £450 million into policing. Remember that £450 million and a certain Sir David Norgrove, the chap who heads the UK Statistics Authority and the fact that he condemned these claims of the extra £450 million as ‘misleading.’ A harsher interpretation would be ‘lying’ but it was clear that you, as a government, were not to use this false statistic again. Yet it slipped off Victoria’s tongue with ease didn’t it?

Car Crash 3

Probably you weren’t best pleased Home Secretary, that police numbers dominated the day. Bit unfortunate then that Victoria was unable to say, even approximately, what those current numbers were when asked on Nick Ferrari’s LBC morning show. The naughty step for Victoria then.

Car Crash 4

Then there was your interview with Sky News Home Secretary, which went rather viral on social media. Just to refresh your memory, you were asked about the £40 million being allocated to the ‘new’ Home Office strategy and whether something else had to be cut to pay for it. You gave a fairly convoluted answer that didn’t really answer the question, so the journo asked you simply,” What’s going to be cut for it?”

You looked like the rabbit caught in the proverbial headlights as if you couldn’t believe the impertinence of someone actually wanting a straight answer from a politician to a reasonable question. Then you said, “Thank you very much,” before flouncing out. What a disaster.

Elections Looming: Blame the Mayor and the Commissioner

Interesting Home Secretary, that with local elections just weeks away, lots of your candidates are blaming Sadiq and Cress for the rise in stabbings and shootings and indeed police station closures but not your government’s cutbacks. I’m sure Cress knows only too well that she is caught between the rock and a hard place with both you and Sadiq as effectively her bosses with either one of you able to make her position untenable at any time. Shades of Boris and Sir Ian Blair I guess. Oh and of course it was under Boris’s regime that police station closures began. My, isn’t he doing well in his current role?

But tell me this Home Secretary, given that gun and knife crime are rising dramatically not just in London but across the country, wouldn’t those 21,500 extra old bill make just a little bit of difference, not simply in relation to violent crime but in the fight against terror which of course has taken a back seat just at the moment: You know only too well that it will bite us all again on the backside in the months to come.

Of course, it’s not just about the decline in the numbers of police officers. What about the thousands of police staff who have also been lost thanks to cuts. In the Met they did number 14,134 and are now at 8,487. Did you think that the missing 5,647 were sitting around picking their backsides during the day? Someone had to fill in and carry out their tasks and guess who that was Home Secretary? Yes indeed, those on the thinning blue line.

Did you know Home Secretary, that I was never a great fan of PCSO’s but they did grow on me and many were and are excellent especially in the field of community policing. Well in London we had 4,238 of those and now we have 1,375 which leaves a bit of a hole on the streets.

A greater percentage of police on the front line: More smoke and mirrors

Oh, and Home Secretary, do you remember when you had us all clutching our sides with merriment when it was proudly announced that the percentage of front line police had actually increased under your government’s watch. Even if that were true, because of the 21,500 missing cops, the actual total number of front line officers would still be down; at least it is by my reckoning. Heaven only knows what your definition of the front line is.

Let’s take the Met Home Secretary; officers who work the front line are generally regarded as part of the Territorial Policing Command (TP), you know the ones who charge around with blue lights flashing and pump on the chests of dying teenagers. Also, on the front line are those officers who are trying hold the remnants neighbourhood policing together.

Well when the government changed in 2010, there were 20,640 officers ‘on the TP front line’ and in 2017 16,573. All those other priority issues the Met has to deal with, you know terrorism, child abuse, fraud, human trafficking etc etc have meant officers have had to be moved to centralised units. Oh, and I should have added the Homicide Command to that list ‘cos they’re a tad busy at present.

Talking of figures Home Secretary; this is a bit of belter. Did you know that in the European league of officers as a percentage of each 100,000 of the population we (England and Wales) are sixth from the bottom?  Below us are Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Estonia. Doesn’t make you heart swell with pride that we are so efficient that we can manage with so few, except we’re, not are we?

Whose streets

Community policing. Showing the human face of officers & gathering priceless intelligence

So, let’s have a little look at the situation on those streets. Your assertion that the reduction in numbers hasn’t been a factor in the rise of violent crime is a little baffling. If there are less officers on the streets, if community officers that police those areas where the gangs loom large are infrequently or no longer there, isn’t that good news for those who may have criminal intentions and just might they, rather unsportingly, take advantage of the situation?

If, because of cutbacks, local intelligence units which collate all the intelligence information and have their fingers very much on the pulse of the community, are shut down. doesn’t that sort of swing the balance still further in favour of those nasty criminal types?

Oh, and do you remember that rather awkward moment, Home Secretary, on BBC’s Question Time when you were asked about community policing cuts resulting in a reduction of intelligence gathering that would impact in the fight against terror and you said……. priceless this…..that most of the intelligence in relation to terrorism came from the Prevent scheme. Community policing it seems wasn’t a factor at all. Even the normally acquiescent police chiefs took exception to that one. Presumably your views will also apply to street gang violence except the other day on Radio 4 you said neighbourhood policing was important and agreed police were under pressure yet you still say police have the resources they need: Breath-taking.

Violent Street Crime; The Facts.

As we have already seen Home Secretary you are claiming that numbers are not a factor in the rise of street violence so let me throw this at you. The Met’s Homicide and Major Crime Command reckon they solve about 90% of murders in London; though I’ve heard that officers believe that success rate is dropping and will fall to 75% because of the spike in murders is leaving them struggling.

Still 75% is pretty good eh? But, did your people tell you that over 75% of street stabbings remain unsolved. So, if you die you probably will get justice; if you receive life changing injuries and perhaps are traumatised for life, the odds are that your attacker will escape justice and will be free to probably strike again.

Of course, if you threw a murder squad with all its resources at a non-fatal stabbing you’d probably solve that too but, well, there are simply not enough officers to do that are there? So, the ‘stabber’ is free to stab again and all his gang colleagues will be aware of that as will those in other gangs thanks to gang social media. Thus, most will know that if you stab someone and they don’t die you’ll probably be free to stab again as you won’t be apprehended. Does that impact on the number of stabbings? Well if you agree it does, the conclusion surely is that police numbers do matter.

Blood on hands: Stop and search.

Stop and search being conducted by officers.

You may have hoped that I wouldn’t mention this but what a mess your governments have made of ‘stop and search.’ Blood on her hands’ is an allegation frequently thrown at Theresa May because of her hostility to stop and search and an apparent determination to woo votes from the black community. I doubt whether, whatever their views on stop and search, that would have made an iota of difference to the common sense possessed by the black community in terms of their voting intentions, no matter how often the present Prime Minister accused police officers of being racist.

As we know, stop and search was dramatically curbed and out of the bottle popped the gun and knife genie who is proving a bit of a bugger in terms of forcing him back from whence he came.

Yet even though it was obvious throughout 2015 and 2016 that there was a massively growing problem in terms of street violence, the 2017 election saw Theresa, in your manifesto, threatening legislation if stop and search wasn’t reduced still further.

So, what’s happening with that pledge now Home Secretary? Given that you seem now to support stop and search as does Sadiq who has also flip-flopped on the issue, are we still going to see legislation to curb it?

You may think ‘blood on your hands’ is a little harsh, but is it? Just about every victim of a fatal stabbing or shooting would be alive if their assailant had been stopped and searched before reaching their victim.

Looking at it another way; every knife or other bladed article taken off the streets by virtue of stop and search is a potential life saver.

Crack cocaine supply and the cynical mirth of UK Border Force officers

You made much, Home Secretary, of the supply of cocaine as relevant to the problem on our streets which I’m sorry to say caused much cynical mirth amongst UK Border Force officers. You might perhaps just have wondered how all this cocaine is getting into the UK because it can’t actually be cultivated here.

Of course, Theresa actually cut numbers of those protecting our borders. I can tell you that she got rid of some outstanding customs officers while the remainder were reluctantly absorbed into the UK Border Force.

Hasn’t that gone well eh Home Secretary as we’ve had report after critical report from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration? You were a bit sneaky with the last five as you released them all on the same day at a time when the news was dominated by Brexit and Salisbury. Burying bad news? Surely not!!

The fact is Home Secretary our borders are a shambles which is precisely why you are seeing the problems with cocaine. Of course, there are big intelligence led seizures which boost your figures but what about those where there is no intelligence? What about these gang ‘olders’ who arrange little and often importations knowing that in the unlikely event of one being apprehended as he/she passes through the green channel the three or four remaining on the flight or ferry will still ensure a nice profit.

Can you imagine the frustration of experienced customs officers who have now been permanently assigned to passport controls? Even those on ‘multi-functional’ teams find that if they manage to spend some time in the green channel, they are whisked away as soon as queues at passport controls build up.

That old fashioned, experienced customs officer who has a ‘nose’ for the wrong ‘un is rarely to be seen in the green channels and believe me Home Secretary, customs work is not all about being intelligence led.

Cocaine ‘swallower’ packages ingested by the courier

I noticed you briefly mentioned drugs in your introduction to the National Crime Agency’s strategy that has just been published. Why, you may ask, did news about the NCA strategy go a bit viral amongst the UK Border Force front line? Well because the NCA strategy document didn’t actually mention any strategy in respect of drugs? Another document that somehow escaped your attention despite your written introduction to the document in question?

The fact that gangs are having a field day importing and distributing drugs (county lining) including cocaine is down to your predecessor and is being perpetuated by yourself due to our borders having more holes that a chunk of Swiss cheese. I’m also told that the total post-Brexit chaos at our borders will be manna from heaven for drug importers and suppliers.

Figures.

You obviously went to your stats people at the Home Office and asked for something to reduce the impact of the current dreadful figures and they came up with 2008 as being worse in terms of knife crime with more police on the streets; thus, your conclusion seems to be that police numbers aren’t currently relevant.

The methods of recording stats change and yes, the knife crime stats were not great then. There were around 271 knife related homicides back in 2008. However this far this year, it’s around 77; thus, by my ‘O’ level maths (failed) reckoning, if this keeps up at the same rate the number in 2018 may well exceed that of 2008.

One fact that you have overlooked Home Secretary is that the techniques of paramedics, trauma surgeons, A&E staff and indeed police officers; the latter often first on the scene of stabbings and shootings, have improved beyond measure during those 10 years. If it wasn’t for their efforts the murder toll would far exceed that of 2008.

As for other knife crimes back then, I find it a bit hard to disentangle the actual stabbings from the overall figures but one fact we can rely on is that stabbings and slashings in London have been running at 300 plus increasing to 400 a month in London alone over the past three years. I am puzzled as to why only a tiny fraction of these appear in the media. Is that your policy or that of the Met’s spin doctors, after all we wouldn’t want to alarm the public, would we?

Another pertinent fact is that in 2008, the Met and other forces had the numbers to cope. The Met’s Operation Blunt combined with the activities of Operation Trident officers together with local gang teams and, crucially local intelligence units, had an effect on the violence.

Then, from bringing the figures down, the violence began to increase as police numbers declined as did stop and search as did cuts in child services, youth services, social services, the probation service, special needs education together with children’s and young person’s mental health services.

Your recently announced strategy, Home Secretary, is an attempt to repair just some of the damage you and your colleagues have caused.

However, by taking officers away from their other duties to form a task force, by taking another 300 officers away from other duties or their days off to patrol the streets and by bringing in officers from other forces (Essex police officers patrolling in Parliament Square!!!) the gangs will, as is being seen in gang social media and as they did after the riots, ‘wind their necks in.’ Will that deal with the problem in the medium term as police pressure eases as it will have to? Nah.

And Finally.

I am going to express a purely personal view now Home Secretary which may or may not find favour with my former colleagues. The cuts imposed by Theresa May and clearly endorsed by you have resulted in, as we have seen, a huge decline in police officer numbers and indeed the numbers of their support staff.

Officers are now more thinly spread than ever before, often single crewed with back up sometimes miles away. The demands on them are unprecedented while assaults on officers both in numbers and severity have increased. In attempting to paper over the cracks exhausted officers are owed tens of thousands of rest days while sickness levels due to both injuries sustained on duty and stress have shown a marked increase.

Attacks on officers are increasing.

In short, the actions of both yourself and your predecessor Theresa May have increased the already significant dangers faced by police and made the public far more vulnerable as we have seen by the increasing numbers of knife, gun and acid crime victims.

Many of us feel that the constant denigration of police by politicians and the media increases the dangers faced by police on the fractured blue line. At the time of writing for example, Chukka Umunna has clearly indicated that stop and search has been used by police purely to ‘humiliate young people.’

Do you think it appropriate, Home Secretary, given the fact that this government’s policy has significantly increased dangers to and pressures on, police, that you and the Prime Minister should attend events such as police bravery awards? Perhaps if you declined such invitations, and no I can’t understand why they are issued in the first place, Prince William and/or Prince Harry could be tempted to attend as they would surely have more in common with officers due to the selfless nature of their own service.

Just saying Home Secretary, just saying!!

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