Update from Upminster Police Meeting

On Friday I attended a public meeting hosted by Keith Prince AM, London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge, to discuss local concerns regarding policing and crime.

It was planned that a Senior Officer from the local Havering Police Team would attend the meeting however, unfortunately at very late notice Keith was informed that their attendance would not be possible due to purdah restrictions in connection to the European Parliament elections. Keith felt it best to go ahead with the meeting anyway and invited me to join the panel along with Leader of the Council, Cllr. Damian White, and Cllr. Bob Perry, Chairman of the Council’s Crime & Disorder Overview and Scrutiny Committee so that we could each advise what we are doing at our respective representative levels on policing.

The meeting came to be organised after a constituent called my office a short while ago to advise of concerns about street crime in Upminster following a mugging and incident in Upminster Park that was shared widely on social media. As operational policing matters fall within the responsibilities of the Mayor of London, I enquired whether Keith may wish to host this discussion as part of his role in scrutinising the actions of the Mayor of London. Keith obliged, and I am thankful for the effort that he and his team placed in organising the meeting and for attendees who gave up their Friday evening to discuss their concerns.

Before taking questions, the panel outlined the work we are each doing in the area of policing. I advised attendees that I am acutely aware that crime is a key local concern across the constituency, particularly with regard to the changing crime profile in Havering where outer boroughs are seeing the kinds of incidents previously more often problematic in inner London boroughs. I informed attendees of my own views that additional funding for policing is required and of my efforts in lobbying Government for this, including meetings with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. Following these meetings, before Christmas the Chancellor provided an additional £172m in extra funding for the Metropolitan Police this year and a further £100m for knife crime following the tragic killing of Jodie Chesney in Harold Hill. I also advised that I had recently met the new Borough Commander for Havering, Stephen Clayman, and highlighted concerns that the follow-up with constituents after reporting a crime has not always been sufficient. I noted my earlier discussions with Stephen’s predecessor regarding police response times at the start of the tri-borough policing model and the improvement that was delivered in this area. Finally, I advised of the Offensive Weapons Act that will provide the police with greater powers to remove offensive weapons from our streets and of my discussions with charities and other third sector groups working within the knife crime/youth violence area so that we may meet with the Council to find opportunities for greater coordination between volunteers, police and council.

Cllr. White advised attendees that while the Council has no formal jurisdiction in policing matters it was doing all that it can to support the police to carry out their duties. Cllr. White advised that the Council initiated a judicial review of the decision of the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime to close Hornchurch Police Station and through this action obtained an option to purchase the station so that it may be kept open. Cllr. White went on to advise that the purchase order for this will be signed within the week commencing 20 May 2019. In addition to this Cllr. White advised that the Council has entered into an agreement with the Metropolitan Police where it will pay for five additional full-time police officers to be allocated to Havering. Under this arrangement, these five officers will be tasked only within Havering (unless in exceptional circumstances) and will focus upon Havering priority objectives, such as burglary and tackling anti-social behaviour.

Before opening the floor to questions, Keith Prince AM outlined that his role as the Assembly Member for Havering & Redbridge is to scrutinise the actions of the Mayor of London in the same way that MPs scrutinise the actions of the Government. Keith advised that Assembly Members fulfil this role within committees and in monthly Mayor’s Question Time sessions. Keith also advised that he had previously sat on the Greater London Authority Crime Committee and that he had served as an advisor to the Deputy Mayor of London on Police and Crime, Stephen Greenhalgh.

A number of attendees at the meeting, as well as some constituents who have contacted me since, have requested a summary of the wider discussion. A member of my team attended the meeting and has provided below a summary of the topics raised by the audience and the responses from the panel.

Additional police officers funded by Havering Council
A number of attendees had queried with Cllr. White how these officers would be funded, why they were necessary, how they would be tasked and whether they could be diverted to other activities outside of the borough.

Cllr. White advised that these officers would be funded by the Council’s own budget at a cost of approximately £300k per annum. Cllr. White outlined the economic case for this measure, noting that in the last year the Council had raised £500k in fines against landlords in breach of HMO Licensing requirements. Such raids could not be conducted without police support which could not be guaranteed without additional officers which would deprive tenants in unlicensed properties of protection and Havering of the revenue raised through this enforcement.

In terms of the necessity of the officers, Cllr. White noted that the police were simply not able adequately to deal with all crimes and these officers would focus on priorities set by the Council, outlined earlier, which the police might otherwise not be resourced to tackle. Cllr. John Tyler queried how these priorities would be determined and Cllr. White advised that they would be guided by intelligence gathered by the Council through its own statistics and datasets but also by safer neighbourhood panels. Audience members gave opinions regarding the tasking of these officers in specific locations or on an ad-hoc basis, based on where crime had been committed.

Cllr. White advised that the officers can be diverted to other operations outside of Havering in extreme circumstances such as a terrorist attack or significant public order operations. Under the agreement with the Metropolitan Police, the officers can be diverted to other duties for a maximum of ten days per officer per year (the average amount of diverted days is four days per officer per year). Should the officers be diverted for more than this, the Council will then receive a refund for the time taken as well as additional compensation.

An attendee also queried where these additional officers would be resourced from and how would their performance be monitored? Cllr. White advised that these officers would be drawn from a pool of experienced officers maintained by the Metropolitan Police which would then be replaced by future recruitment. Cllr. Perry advised that the performance of these officers against the Council’s priorities would be monitored by the Council’s Crime & Disorder Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Hornchurch Police Station
Some attendees also queried the operation of Hornchurch Police Station, stating that it had been closed for a period of 18 months. Cllr. White advised that the station was open for public access for three hours a week and that the main purpose of purchasing the station was to maintain a base for officers to operate from. Without the retention of Hornchurch Police Station officers responding to calls in the south of the borough would have to travel from Romford.

Police Funding
Some attendees outlined their view that it should not fall to Councils to fund additional officers and a constituent queried what action Julia Lopez MP had taken to advocate for additional police funding.

Julia again advised attendees of meetings that she has had with both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to call for additional funding for policing and the £172m that the Chancellor provided to the Metropolitan Police following these meetings. Julia also advised of her questions to the Home Secretary, Communities Secretary and Prime Minister in the House of Commons chamber following the killing of Jodie Chesney but also of the work she was doing on these matters before that tragedy, and how she has tried to connect residents to police via her surgeries, in private meetings with the Borough Commander and through casework queries as and when she is contacted by constituents on specific incidents.

Of the additional funding provided to the Metropolitan Police, Julia noted that there was a lag in the impact of this funding being felt due to the time it takes for police recruitment and advised that the incoming Borough Commander had experience in this field which he hopes to draw upon. 

Julia also noted that there are other funding pressures upon the police, such as the funding of the police pensions and that she was working with the Policing Minister to try to get the Treasury to fund a greater portion of police pensions.

Julia also advised that the pace of change in crime in terms of location or crime and its changing nature is often faster than police are able to adapt to it. In outer-London the pace of this change has been faster and Julia advised of her representations to the Mayor of London that additional resources are required in outer-London to respond to this.

Keith Prince AM also highlighted how London has additional policing needs compared to other regions due to duties that are not felt in the same way elsewhere e.g. diplomatic protection and terrorism, which is reflected in additional NIC funding received by the Metropolitan Police. Keith advised that there is currently a disparity between the NIC funding that the Metropolitan Police have calculated as required and that which the Government have calculated.

Public Health approach to knife crime
A constituent queried Julia and Keith’s position with regard to the adoption of a public health approach to knife crime.

Julia advised that she supports taking a holistic approach to knife crime which addressed both specific incidents as well as causes of crime, noting that police officers have commented that they are frequently responding to matters which would be best addressed by social services. This includes meeting local stakeholders on how to tackle school exclusions, family breakdown and related matters. Julia noted that the current local government funding formula underfunded areas such as Havering because it has not kept up with the rapid demographic changes as East London has grown, such as the fastest growth in children and the highest portion of over-65s in London. Julia advised that she has lobbied the Government to amend the formula under the Fair Funding review which would support additional measures used under the public health approach.

Keith also advised that he supports the use of this approach noting that this should be employed alongside enforcement measures, such as stop & search, which, while suppressing violence, do not tackle the root causes of the crime. Keith also highlighted the good work of local charities in this area, such as You and Me Counselling, who he will be working with that work to mentor young people at risk of falling into crime.

Specific incidents of crime
A number of residents noted particular incidents of crime which will be taken up by panel members. These include:

  • Pickpockets operating in Hornchurch – Keith Prince AM to look into with constituent
  • Drug dealing in a residential road in Upminster – Constituent in ongoing correspondence with Julia Lopez MP and Ward Sergeant, but Keith will also now highlight with Borough Commander.
  • A constituent was concerned that comments from the police misrepresented an incident that he reported to them – Keith Prince AM to look into with constituent. This sparked a wider discussion about the disparity in what constituents are telling us and crime data/police response times, and work done to highlight problems with the 101 reporting number and police communications with Commissioner Cressida Dick.
  • it should be noted that our office is dealing with the follow-up to the specific incident of street mugging that had sparked the meeting request.