London Assembly member Jenny Jones says London’s new police scrutiny arrangements are hampering the support she can give constituents.
Helping members of the public with the problems they have had with the police used to be relatively straightforward when I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, before London moved to a directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner.
My office would ring up the Police Authority office and within a couple of minutes I would have the contact details for the relevant senior police officer, or a reference number for my question. A simple, fast, efficient system.
That was before Stephen Greenhalgh took over as the new Deputy Mayor for Policing and introduced himself as a big bottle neck between myself and the Metropolitan Police Service.
My questions to the Met on everything from undercover policing to the Met’s performance on road safety have gone unanswered for the last couple of months. Greenhalgh takes the view that Assembly members should leave the job of asking the police questions to him. Our role, as he sees it, is confined to our asking him questions about what he is doing.
Fortunately, Greenhalgh is completely wrong and the legislation makes clear that the Assembly is there to investigate “any other matters which the Assembly considers to be of importance to policing and crime reduction in the metropolitan police district.”. However, whilst the legal issues are explored, I still have members of the public who want questions answered and things have become rather silly.
One constituent contacted me to find out some information from their local police about a crime in their area and so I offered to write to their Borough Commander to get the relevant information. I requested the contact details from the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime’s office on the 9th of July. I also asked if they could provide me, and other Police and Crime Committee Members, with the contact information for all Borough Commanders as a way of saving everyone’s time by limiting future requests for information.
Having not heard anything back after nearly three weeks from this simple request I chased the Deputy Mayor’s office on 27th July and was told that the view of Stephen Greenhalgh was that Assembly Members should go direct to the Met Police’s website or switchboard unless there was a more specific context than my simply wanting the contact information.
I explained that I needed the information as part of some casework I was doing on behalf of a concerned constituent and that is why I had requested the contact details. I received no response from Stephen Greenhalgh’s office and I am still waiting on this letter explaining why I could not have the contact information.
In the end I decided to call the Met’s switchboard to ask for the Borough Commander’s contact details. After holding on the phone for 5 minutes I was provided with the Borough Commander’s name, 3 police stations in the borough and an educated guess as to which would be the most appropriate one to send the letter because the person I was speaking to was unable to tell me for sure which address was the right one.
Why the Deputy Mayor’s office simply couldn’t let me know straight away that they were not willing to provide me with the information I do not know; partly because I am still waiting on that letter from Stephen Greenhalgh which I hope will enlighten me.
I am also hoping this letter will explain why I had to chase this simple request after hearing nothing back after nearly 3 weeks. Surely the Met’s switchboard has more pressing things to deal with than requests for administrative information. Isn’t this the type of request that would be best handled by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime?
Members of the public deserve better than this. One person, even a Deputy Mayor, can’t possibly handle the sheer volume of issues and complaints which arise from the daily inter-actions of Londoners and the MPS. A large number of them will also doubt the independence of Greenhalgh in dealing with their complaints, as he is the ‘executive’ as well as doing some of the ‘scrutiny’.
This will inevitably result in an administrative log jam and an unnecessary escalation of the feelings of mistrust in the police service. We do not want Londoners to feel that they have lost their ability to hold the police to account.