London’s Deputy Mayor for policing and crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, has called for a “serious debate” about the police’s role and the taxpayer’s obligation to fund some policing duties.
As the head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOAPC), Mr Greenhalgh is responsible for setting the Metropolitan Police’s budget and strategic direction.
A new report co-written by Mr Greenhalgh and Blair Gibbs, Principal Advisor at MOPAC, asks whether the taxpayer should continue to cover the cost policing crowds outside large events such as football matches at a time when frontline policing budgets are under pressure.
The report has been published by Reform, “a non-party think tank whose mission is to set out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity.”
In it, the authors suggest it’s time for a wide-ranging debate “about what the public can realistically expect from the police, what the policing function is beyond fighting crime, and how the police can be equipped to deliver their core mission in an era of complex threats, high public demand, and shrinking budgets.”
In London MOPAC has helped the Met meet its reduced budget by reducing the force’s property holdings, raising more than £80m from sales of old and disused police stations and buildings.
The force is also working on ambitious plans to reduce costs by placing smart technology at the centre of policing operations and market testing back-office and support services.
However today’s report says such reforms will be insufficient to shrink policing to match reduced budgets and that it’s undesirable to plug the gap by increasing the amount of council tax households pay towards policing.
The authors suggest the answer is a “radical reshaping” of policing priorities, leaving the State providing “an irreducible core of functions” and allowing the the private and charitable sectors to provide or cover the costs of other services.
They say that the Met’s public order work at events such as Premiership football matches and the annual Notting Hill Carnival has become so large that the force increasingly resembles event marshals.
According to the report, “even where that level of policing presence is needed, the resourcing impact is rarely compensated for by the financial contribution of partners.”
Greenhalgh and Gibbs say the answer is for stewarding of events becoming “a civil burden on event organisers,” leaving the police to focus on crime prevention and those duties which only a warranted office can perform, such as arresting and detaining offenders.
They also suggest businesses should be expected “to pay more for security” while local councils and other agencies “may need to contribute financially if they want a claim on policing assets.”
Speaking at the report’s launch, Mr Greenhalgh said: “London is leading the way by taking tough decisions to reduce back office overhead and release underutilised buildings so that we can put 2,600 extra bobbies into neighbourhoods and invest in technology to move policing into the digital era.
“Nonetheless there is a need for serious debate about rebalancing the mission of the police. The police are the first public service and they need to collaborate more with other local public services. Then they will be able to find the time to prevent crime which people think is the most important role of the police.”
Mr Gibbs added: “More than elsewhere in the country, Londoners think the police’s priority must be to prevent crime from happening in the first place, and that shift – aided by technology – could help to reduce demand in the long-term.
“We need to examine the costs imposed on the police by private sector partners and recognise that the police also need more support from other agencies to manage the complex demands they face.”