Mike Tuffrey writes… Policing: not just a numbers game

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.

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This entry was posted in London and Op-eds.


  • Mike, I wish I could share your optimism about the effectiveness of Safer Neighbourhood teams. Sadly, my direct experience as a local councillor in Haringey is that they are simply not to be considered as a response unit, but rather as social workers /PR officers in uniform. Neighbourhood Watch groups find them distant, hard-to-contact and completely ineffectual in dealing with local problems.

    How many Safer Neighbourhood personnel were deployed in active riot duty? Pretty few, I guess. The main problem on the night seems to have been the inexplicable underestimation of the local threat by Tottenham commanders (remember the death off PC Keith Blakelock, anyone?) , together with an equally inexplicable failure to use snatch squads. Deploying all the detectives in the world after the event will never make up for that.

  • Mike, It is not only numbers, it is size and physical fitness. I saw two police officers from S Wale, both had played rugby at a high level and were over 6 ft 4 in height and 16stone in weight: they were very impressive. Putting small, weak or unfit police officers on the street to deal with violent situations is misguided. Look at box ing and judo, people fight in weight categories. No international rugby team have forwards comprising 8 st indviduals. It is easier for a strong 18st properly trained man to control a violent weak 8 st man without doing harm than the other way round. Historically , in Glasgow the Police would recruit the men who undertook the strength competitions in the Highland Games. As friend pointed , two 6 FT 6 , 18 st men who are knon to be very strong are very good at quieting down a rough pub.
    In Japan, the riot police undertake a 1 years Aikido training; perhaps we could learn something from them?

    Also look at the percenatge time constables are on the beat . How much time is spent doing useless paper work. If required laws and regulations must be changed to ensure more time is spent on the beat, so be it.

  • “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.”

    I agree, therefore no Lib Dem MP should support the current Home Office Plans.

  • Gareth Jones 23rd Aug '11 - 9:34pm

    I have to agree with Charlie. My father is a retired Met Police officer. He was originally MOD police in S.Wales but he was made redundant; the only force recruiting at the time were the Met and they still had height requirements. Luckily my father was 6.3 and built like a Bricksh*t house so they snapped him up. Many times he’s told me stories where his physical presence was enough to defuse a situation; and if it didn’t being big was a definite advantage.

  • Daniel Henry 24th Aug '11 - 11:48pm

    Mike, you criticise Boris for cutting police numbers which is fair enough, but if you wouldn’t make such cuts, where else would you cut instead?

    (I think it’s important for our credibility that if we promise to spend more money than an opponent then we explain where the money would come from)

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