In a tale of two cities, London proper has always had its own police force while the rest of the districts have been managed by the London Met Police Force. Over the years there has been discussion of combining the two forces, but there has never been a concentrated effort to do so.
Recent budget cuts have begun to force the issue and arguments are being made over whether City of London police jobs should be abolished and amalgamated with the London Metropolitan Police to cover both financial cuts and to preserve public safety standards. Which side you come down on is going to depend on what your view is of how policing needs to evolve to meet the changing needs of the city.
The Cuts to the London Met Police
The London Met Police Force is facing £500 million in budget cuts. There is a project lay off or cut in hours for over 800 officers and many of the police stations are slated to be closed. As the Met is charged with policing Greater London, these cuts are seen by many as devastating to public safety and demoralising to the force.
One reason that abolishing the London force is attractive to many is it would allow for their budget share to be assumed by one joint force. Staff, pensions and services combined even post Met cuts, would lessen their feared impact. Fuelling the fear is the fallout from Boris Johnson’s 2011 cuts to the force that saw 455 officers removed. The worry is that in the zeal to save money, the city will be left unprepared to handle incidents.
Changing Needs of the City
The Tottenham riots are on everyone’s minds as the cuts and amalgamation proposals are being shifted about. With fears of ethnic and race clashes, terrorism and general malaise the need for a solid and central police force is seen as necessary. The new proposals, which decentralize the Met into local borough forces is seen as inadequate to responding to another riot on the scale of Tottenham.
London City is reluctant to give over its dedicated force, as well, especially given that the London Met Police is occupied with an increasingly busy annual crime and action rate in all the other districts. To many, the amalgamation of the forces would be to leave London central without the police presence that many attribute its low crime rate and fast response times to. There is much concern from both sides about the new push to remove the distinctions between uniformed officers and detectives as well.
Policing with Economy
To meet the needed £500 million in budget cuts the London Met Police is closing 65 police stations and selling off 200 properties including the New Scotland Yard in London. Police officers would be placed in post offices and supermarkets at new stations to increase their accessibility. That is not as wild an idea as it sounds. A report done last year indicated that 80% of all crimes were reported by phone and that few crimes were brought in to the front desk of the station.
The hope is that by eliminating the cost of maintaining the front desk, police operations can be rehoused more economically and police presence can be increased in publically accessible areas. The other idea to streamline the force is to begin to lessen the distinction between uniformed officers and detectives. Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne has described a scheme wherein all police are in casual clothes and there is more cross training in detective work to allow uniformed officers to conduct preliminary investigations.
This would provide firm cost savings, but at what price? Many worry that the very nature of police work and the culture of the force require a strictly enforced and visible hierarchy, to keep abuses of power low. With recent claims of racism, bribery and corruption in the Met force there may be merit to consider in that worry.
What is the Right Choice?
There is no easy decision to be made in moving forward with a budget in disrepair and the only choice of funding being found in cuts. Managing the cuts so they do not interrupt services and decrease public safety is a difficult matter. No matter whether the London Force is abolished or not, neither force can remain operating under the same structure as it has been.
In rebuilding the economy, all of the service organisations are facing restructuring. Complicating all of these issues is the matter of trying to preserve pensions and benefits so that harm does not come to those who have served and that policing remains a profession that is capable of attracting the very best applicants.