Some local council leaders have expressed “nervousness” about plans to move away from London’s traditional model of borough-based policing, London Assembly members were told today.
Currently each of the 32 boroughs policed by the Met has a dedicated commander who is responsible managing local budgets and officer deployments. This model has previously been hailed as allowing the force to offer localised and responsive policing in a city where crime rates and community concerns can differ drastically between neighbourhoods.
However while it has clear advantages, the borough command structure is expensive to maintain as it duplicates management functions across the capital and limits the Met’s flexibility to tackle new or growing forms of crime.
With the force needing to make cuts, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime has approved a trial of moving away from borough commands to a new ‘Basic Command Unit’ structure where clusters of boroughs will be managed centrally by a chief superintendent supported by a team of superintendents, each specialising in a different policing function.
The trial will see Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Havering form a new BCU, with Camden and Islington merged into a second. Officers, buildings, technology, vehicles and other resources will all be shared across the boroughs within the BCU, rather than being dedicated to a single community as at present.
Once the trial is complete, Scotland Yard and City Hall will decide whether to roll out the model across all of London.
Previous plans to drop Borough policing were abandoned by former Mayor Boris Johnson after a consultation on his proposed crime plan, which ultimately saw the closure of dozens of police stations and the sale of underused Met buildings to meet budget cuts, revealed they were deeply unpopular.
However the prospect of further funding cuts has seen the plans revived by current Mayor Sadiq Khan and his policing deputy, Sophie Linden.
Appearing before the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee on Thursday, Linden and Met Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey found themselves facing a torrent of sceptical questions from Assembly Members.
Green Party AM Sian Berry summed up the concerns of many committee members by warning that the loss of a local dedicated commander risks making the Met more remote from the public, just as it was trying to break down barriers with some of the capital’s diverse communities.
Berry suggested that even the new proposed Basic Command Unit name symbolised a move away from a more local approach to something more distanced from Londoners.
There were also tough questions from Labour members of the committee, including from Florence Eshalomi who represents Lambeth & Southwark, who questioned whether the planned three year terms for the new BCU commanders was long enough for them to truly build up relations with the community and address their policing concerns.
And her colleague Andrew Dismore asked whether council leaders who decided the new model wasn’t delivering the right policing for their residents could request a move back to borough policing, something Mr Mackey told him would not be possible.
Linden said the trial was designed to identify any issues ahead of a potential London-wide rollout of the model but conceded under questioning that some council leaders had already expressed “nervousness”. “Is everyone happy with it? No,” she added.