The Mayor of London is obsessed with police officer numbers. His manifesto had one big pledge on policing, which was to maintain police officer numbers at 32,000.
Handily for him, arguing about officer numbers and ignoring other police service employees allows him to mask the big drop in the Metropolitan Police Service’s frontline capacity that has taken place on his watch.
I think Londoners deserve a more sophisticated debate when it comes to policing, one that isn’t just about officer numbers but about the whole workforce and how you use them to maximum efficiency.
I think the public understand that the civilian staff member working in the Met’s homicide team is just as important as the police officer walking the beat. This comes down to whether the workforce is in frontline operational or backroom organisational roles.
The Met already has its own ‘Operational Policing Measure’ of the capacity of the whole service, which categorises the workforce based on the roles officers, PCSOs and staff perform. It categorises the workforce into three groups:
Operational – police officers, PCSOs and staff whose primary role is the direct delivery of the Met’s overarching aims and who work in direct contact with the public, e.g. beat patrol or homicide.
Operational support – police officers, PCSOs and staff who provide direct support to colleagues engaged in operational roles, e.g. custody or technical support.
Organisational support – police officers, PCSOs and staff that support the internal needs of the organisation, set policy and manage the Met, e.g. the Commissioner or Director of Resources.
If we look at how the workforce of the Met changed during Boris Johnson’s first term there was a reduction of 732 police officers over his first term 2008-12.
However, if we use the Operational Policing Measure to look at what happened to all police officers and staff we realise that there was in fact a loss of 1,183 officers, PCSOs and staff in operational frontline roles.
We are also able to see that there was a reduction of 867 PCSOs, staff and officers from frontline support roles.
If we break down the Mayor’s term into two halves to take a closer look, what emerges is a very interesting picture.
The first two years saw the number of staff, PCSOs and officers in operational roles and operational support roles increase, and backroom organisational support trimmed. I would argue this meant things were moving in the right direction by maximising the Met’s operational capacity and boosting the fabled frontline.
However, if we take the last two years, we see there was a significant reduction to operational and operational support roles which completely cancels out the increases that took place in the preceding two years. Conversely there was a small increase in organisational support.
The Mayor’s fixation on maintaining officer numbers has meant he has sacked many civilian staff, the perverse outcome of which has been an overall reduction in the Met’s operational capacity. It’s worth noting that civilian staff are on average £20,000 a year cheaper to employ than police officers, so the Met is becoming more expensive as well as less efficient.
The Mayor’s plan to add 2,600 police officers to the boroughs may seem impressive at first. However, without using the ‘operational’ measure we won’t know if this is actually increasing the Met’s frontline or just moving police officers from one operational role to another. Even if these police officers were in backroom jobs and they all moved into operational roles, they still wouldn’t make up for the reduction of police officers, PCSOs and staff that took place between 2010 and 2012.
The London Assembly, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, and now Boris’ own Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime all support the Operational Policing Measure as way of measuring the frontline. But the Mayor still insists on only talking about police officer numbers.
The Mayor may well get police officer numbers up to his pledge of 32,000. However, without using the ‘operational’ measure it could be at the expense of the overall frontline capacity. The Mayor needs to stop talking about police numbers and start talking about the workforce in operational roles so that Londoners can have a more honest debate about policing.
Jenny Jones represents the Green party on the London Assembly.