Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, has stated that British policing is at a crossroads. Its leaders have to choose, believes the Commissioner, between despairing at shrinking budgets and fewer police officers and transforming in order to meet the new breed of threats and challenges.
During a keynote speech at the Royal Society of Arts spearheading the launch of a project commissioned by the Metropolitan Police Service to engage with partners on developing a collaborative approach towards enhancing public safety, the Met Commissioner made it clear that he’s positive about the future and believes a smaller Met can still make London safer.
Over the coming months, the Metropolitan Police Service has asked the public services team at the Royal Society of Arts to help it work with partners from other Emergency Services, the criminal justice sector and local Government in a project designed to shape the future of policing in London.
The Met has already committed to save £600 million by next year, and is expecting to have to save up to a further £800 million by 2020.
Delivered under the heading: ‘2020 Vision – Public Safety in a Global City’, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s speech highlighted his belief that the police service, partners in the public service, politicians and, most importantly, members of the public must work together to deliver the kind of policing they want and for which they are prepared to pay.
“If you had any doubt, or if my officers had any doubt, then let’s be clear on something. The Met is a ‘can-do’ organisation and I’m a ‘can-do’ leader. A smaller Met can make London safer. However, we need to spell out in much the same way as the military has done of late that we cannot promise to tackle everything the world throws up within a shrinking budget. If we try to fight on all fronts then we’ll fail on some. If we’re not clear what’s beyond our reach, how can others take responsibility?”
Sir Bernard continued: “Perhaps we – the leaders in policing – have too often been guilty of saying: ‘Yes we can’. We never say: ‘No we cannot’. The latter phrase is anathema to police officers, but now we must be clear. Every time we’re given a new priority, we simply have to ask the public: ‘What do you want us to do less of?’”
New focus on crime prevention
In his delivery, the Commissioner also called for a new focus on crime prevention such that this topic is embedded firmly within Government and policing policy in a similar way that the focus in the healthcare sector is around preventing disease as well as treating it.
“Crime prevention has worked over the last 50 years, but I would argue that this is despite rather than because of a Government or police strategy to embed it,” explained the Commissioner.
“I believe that keeping the public safe should be just as high a priority as keeping them healthy. So much of the focus in the health sector has shifted away from acute care towards the individual’s ability to remain healthy. How do we achieve something similar in the realm of public safety, then?”
The Commissioner has set out a vision for collaborating with universities with a view to creating a faculty of policing that would build a stronger-evidence base for law enforcement. “I want to place the police service on a sounder intellectual and professional foundation that would give the UK a world leader in this vital area.”
Despite the Met Commissioner’s tough message, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is clear that he believes the Met will succeed in meeting the myriad challenges it now faces.
“No-one follows a pessimist. I firmly believe the Met will be better in 2020. Transformed? Yes. Smaller? Yes. Doing all the same things in the same way? No. Reducing budgets can make life harder, but it can also focus the mind on the choices you need to make and on those areas you want to be really good at.”
Sir Bernard also suggested he believes the Met can become up to 15% more productive by 2020.
Importantly, this latest speech reiterates the Commissioner’s view that the current structure of 43 police forces in England and Wales is unsustainable and also raises the question of whether the Met’s 32 Borough-based policing structure will need to change.