I have recently returned from London as part of the national mutual aid deployment to support the Metropolitan Police during the Olympic Games. I was part of of public order contingency in the event of disorder.
Traditionally, public order reserves have been strategically deployed to a car park somewhere, out of sight, out of mind until needed. However, recently this has changed and there is a recognition that public order resources can be more gainfully employed but still available to task if required. I was, therefore, very lucky to get the chance to police London Boroughs, undertaking various tasks from providing urgent assistance to carrying out rapid intervention and drug searches.
I feel it is important to highlight that policing the Greater London area is an enormous task and I only had a small snapshot of it, this is not an academic study by any means.
My working day in London began at an MBDC (Met Briefing and Deployment Centre) where we were fed, provided with a snack, given our deployment and briefed. There were several, but the picture below will provide a clue to where ours was. These were massive temporary sites, capable of feeding and briefing thousands every day.
We didn’t always police the boroughs and I was fortunate to police the road cycling, Marylebone Cricket Club (Lords), Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace.
However, the normal deployment was to a borough, where we reported to the ‘Grip and Pace Centre’ for specific duties. The GPC was a new concept to me and I have mixed views. It was explained that the name meant ‘get a grip and inject some speed (pace)’. These acted as localised command and control stations (the Met use a centralised communications centre) and had a senior member of staff from the borough command team to take charge of incidents. There was also a Harm, Opportunity and Threat Sergeant, responsible for identifying incidents that present opportunities or threats to the force. While I identified some positives from this, I can’t help but feel that it adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.
Our duties were, typically, a combination of patrolling identified hotspot areas and targeting individuals for arrest and we were usually provided with local officers to assist with navigation, local knowledge and to complete the paperwork. Of particular note was that the local officers tolerated a degree of abuse from some of the locals that would not be accepted by officers in Scotland. We were briefed in numerous occasions, particularly when deployed in Haringey and Lambeth (the boroughs covering Tottenham and Brixton respectively) about the sensitivities amongst the locals and warned regarding the tipping point. This constant discourse generates a culture of fear amongst officers.
It was heartening to be so well received when we patrolled some of the estates that come with reputations of being anti-police and my officers played football with local youths, rapped with them (I’m sure the footage is on YouTube, but I dread to look) and were invited to BBQs and street parties.) I’m sure this reaction was largely down to us being a curiosity and the locals readily identified us as strangers, our accents and black shirts making us stand out, but the fact we took the time to speak to them also helped. This is not a criticism of the Met, we had no time pressure and when you have 8 hours to walk round a small estate you speak to everyone, this coupled with the gregarious cops in my van meant you had to hide if you didn’t want to speak.
There was two aspects of policing in London which I thought were counterproductive.
Given the volume of incidents attended, there is a production line process to policing, whereby a response officer attends a call, notes details and a brief crime report, this is then passed to an enquiry officer, if someone is arrested, then a custody process team handles the follow up enquiry, the result of this is that there is little ownership, demarcation is the cry, that’s not my job, why should I do it? My officers assisted at a report of a burglary (housebreaking in Scots speak) and offered to do some door to door enquiry and were told by the local cop not to bother as ‘it isn’t our job.’ A local Sergeant, senior in service but my no means a dinosaur, bemoaned the lack of personal responsibility and ownership demonstrated by the local officers.
The other aspect I found troubling is the separation between response officers and community (safer neighbourhood teams). These tended to work as distinct entities, response cops work from anonymous patrol bases, located in industrial units with little or no identification on the outside while Safer Neighbourhood Teams work from small shop units located in the neighbourhoods they serve. While this has advantages, especially in locating the community cops in the community, policing the community should be the responsibility of all officers and making response officers remote from the community destroys that link.
The most heartening aspect of my tour was the number of complete strangers who stopped to thank us for the great job we were doing, a little praise goes a long way to improving and restoring moral. A happy cop is a productive cop.