On the streets of Tottenham, Croydon, Clapham, Hackney and Ealing, we saw what happens when adequate numbers of trained police are not deployed at the right time and in the right way.
And we heard how numbers on the streets were subsequently boosted from 3,000 to 16,000 only by drafting in back-up from neighbouring forces. In fairness, it must be said that riot control is very hazardous and officers must have the right training before they are deployed.
Yet Londoners can still be forgiven for wondering where all the police are, that they’ve been persuaded to pay for in higher council taxes.
Go back to the start of the GLA in 2000, and the police establishment was close to 25,000. Fast forward to last year’s official numbers, and the tally had risen to 33,000 sworn police officers, with a further 4,000 special constables, 4,500 support officers (PCSOs) and 14,000 civilian staff.
To begin with, Boris Johnson and his deputy talked a lot about not seeing policing simply in terms of numbers. But more recently he has returned to heated point-scoring, contrasting his predecessor’s record.
To try to shed some light on the subject, the Assembly’s budget committee (of which I am vice-chair) has spent 18 months investigating what makes for effective policing.
We found that a lot of the headline growth in Met numbers is not in front-line operational roles but in support functions such as technical, forensic and specialist units like counter terrorism. Important though these are, this reduces flexible deployment.
Comparative evidence with police forces outside London showed us that greater civilisation of back office roles should be possible, but is held back by inflexible historic rules about police terms and conditions which the Winsor Review was meant to address.
We also found that at any one time nearly 3,000 officers are on restricted or recuperative duties, further limiting the available resources Londoners are paying for and expect to see.
So there’s much more to effective policing that crude numbers. My own priority is finding ways to build on the ward-based safer neighbourhood teams, so we maintain their staffing levels, but deploying them to achieve locally agreed wider neighbourhood-level crime reduction and community safety plans.
And nine years on the Assembly’s budget and performance scrutiny committee have convinced me there is lots more we can still do to spend the available money much more cost-effectively.
But at the end of the day, it does come down to boots on the streets – and that means numbers. No Mayor of London can or should countenance funding cuts which threaten that.
Mike Tuffrey AM speaks for the Liberal Democrats at City Hall on housing, planning and finance and is running to be LibDem candidate for Mayor of London.