After last week’s look at London’s gang culture, the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee spent Thursday afternoon questioning Deputy Mayor for Policing Kit Malthouse and Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe.
I’m in favour of the concept of elected Police and Crime Commissioners and welcome any move to give the Mayor more control London’s essential services.
But like many I’ve been wary about the scrutiny arrangements for the police.
Under the new arrangements, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) provides the Met’s scrutiny and strategic direction, while the new Assembly Committee scrutinises the MOPC.
Hogan-Howe’s presence is a courtesy to Assembly Members but he doesn’t have to appear.
When I interviewed Malthouse last month he made it clear both he and the Mayor expected Commissioners to submit to questioning by AMs but I’m still uncomfortable of what is effectively scrutiny by consent.
But, as pragmatists throughout the ages have observed, we are where we are.
Structural misgivings aside, I thought AMs acquitted themselves well. At the risk of being unfair to members of the departed MPA, I thought the quality of questioning was higher than was often the case in MPA meetings.
No doubt that speaks to the credit of the City Hall secretariat which supports Assembly Members. MPA members, even those who sit on the Assembly, had no such support.
From my perch in the public gallery I sensed a shared desire to ensure the new arrangements worked in the interests of Londoners.
At the start of the question session Malthouse confirmed his intention to co-operate with the new panel and gave a commitment to ensuring MOPC and the Met support the themed investigation sessions AMs plan to hold each month.
He also sought to address concerns about a decrease in transparency and the budget for MOPC versus the lack of extra resources for the Assembly, another topic he and I discussed.
Those interested in the new governance arrangements may find this video useful:
Questions covered a number of topics, including an additional £90m in funding from the Home Office which is allowing the Met to boost officer numbers this year.
With some AMs suspicious that the money amounts to a Government contribution to Boris Johnson’s re-election campaign – especially as the Commissioner didn’t know he as getting the extra funds until a few days ago – it was inevitable that a small amount of politics would creep in.
But overall Londoners got 2 hours of non-partisan scrutiny on a range of vital subjects.
For me the highlight was the discussion on youth crime and stop & search.
The old MPA had a good record for representing and taking on board the views of London’s youth – last year it went against the fashionable tide of reducing paperwork and required the Met to continue record Stop & Account incidents.
The reason for this was ensure that Met officers were themselves accountable for their use of a power which many London youths feel unfairly discriminates them.
There are similar concerns about Stop & Search which Hogan-Howe says catches wrongdoers only in the minority of cases.
The Commissioner has previously talked moving to more intelligence-led approach to Stop & Search but at yesterday’s meeting he also suggested that changes in the Met’s recruitment practices would also see attitudes change.
He told AMs that previously up to 70% of new Met officers came from outside London which meant we had an annual influx of officers who perhaps didn’t really understand the sensitivities of London’s diverse communities.
The new practice of recruiting from among the ranks of Specials and PCSO’s meant more officers were Londoners and familiar with local issues, or at least that’s the theory.
As a force the Met seems committed to ensuring that in future it works harder to target only those youths who are carrying knives and to avoid alienating those who are innocent or, in some cases, the victims of gang and knife crime.
It seems there’s also some consideration being given to how to let people know they’re in an area where Section 60 Stops are being carried out to ensure local communities understand why they might be approached by officers.
I’ve uploaded a video of the knife crime section which I think is worth a watch, discussion of police recruitment and numbers and much more can be found on the London Assembly webcast.