Police stations closed, police numbers down, crime up: how the Tories are ruining neighbourhood policing

PolicingThe “Safer Neighbourhood” Police teams of six police officers and community support officers in each council ward in London – introduced by Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2006 and widely credited for a sharp fall in crime since then – are now under threat. Police numbers are falling, police stations are closing, there’s more and more centralisation, and the long-term decline in crime levels in London is starting to go into reverse.

Here in Blackheath Westcombe ward we have an excellent police team led by acting sergeant Tom Button and based upstairs from Marks and Spencers on Old Dover Road, at the very heart of the ward it serves. The team is held to account by an active Safer Neighbourhood Panel, with representatives from community groups and neighbourhood watch schemes across the ward, which meets quarterly. Since it started in 2006 Blackheath Westcombe ward’s police team has done a great job at reducing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour at the Royal Standard and elsewhere, giving out advice to householders to prevent their homes and cars being broken into, and recently putting in painted markings around cashpoints at the Royal Standard (the yellow boxes labelled “private” may be unsightly but are very effective: the number of robberies and distraction thefts has fallen to almost nil since they arrived).

Privacy markings around cashpoints at the Royal Standard: unsightly but effective at cutting crime

Privacy markings around cashpoints at the Royal Standard: unsightly but effective at cutting crime

Boroughwide, the police and the Labour council work together closely and have jointly funded a Violent and Organised Crime Unit (VOCU) which has helped cut crime in Greenwich by 10.5% from 2007 to 2013 – a faster fall in crime than most other London boroughs. The police, council and other agencies have also started a new project to tackle domestic violence, which is too common in Greenwich and which has not always been tackled as effectively as it should have been.

But after a long period of decline crime has recently started rising again: the Met’s latest figures show that there were 1,640 crimes in Greenwich in March 2014, up 8.5% on February (in Blackheath Westcombe, the increase was even higher: crime rose by 18% from February to March). In both February and March 2014, the number of crimes in Blackheath Westcombe ward was more than double the same two months in 2013.

Our local police are currently based on Old Dover Road - but for how much longer?

Our local police are currently based on Old Dover Road – but for how much longer?

While it may be unwise to draw too many conclusions from a short-lived rise in crime, it’s time to look at whether Boris Johnson’s decision to cut police numbers, close police stations and centralise many of the Met’s functions is to blame.

Although ward panels can still set three key priorities for their local neighbourhood police team, the “MOPAC seven” London-wide priorities take priority. Under Ken Livingstone, the police defined a “neighbourhood” as a council ward (about 10,000 residents): under Boris, a “neighbourhood” is now at least four wards (40,000-plus residents). Since local police teams were given less flexibility over overtime and shift patterns back in 2010, policing has got a lot less local.

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Back to the 1830s: Greenwich town centre may lose its Police station

Greenwich (2)There has been a Police Station in Greenwich town centre (originally  on Park Row, and nowadays on Burney Street) since the 1830s. But very soon there could be no police building at all in  this part of the borough.

Boris Johnson’s proposals for police station closures  (being consulted on at http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/policing-and-crime/community-engagement) hit this part of the borough hard. The only two police stations left open in Greenwich Borough would be Plumstead and Eltham. Greenwich, Woolwich and Thamesmead Police stations are to be closed and sold off, leaving no police stations at all in  SE10 or SE7. Read more of this post

Road through Greenwich Park closed for two months

Greenwich-Park-Map.mediumthumb.pdfDespite all the furore over TFL’s new proposals for river crossings (which I will be posting about soon), a more immediate change to local roads is upon us.

With very little notice, the road through Greenwich Park, which opens during rush hours to spread the load of car-borne commuter traffic, is now closed for two months until March 28th.

This is to allow for resurfacing of the road, and the completion of the new Blackheath Gates at the southern end of the Park. Although the council had known there was going to be some disruption around the completion of the new Gates, and the resurfacing work may well be necessary, we had no word of a two-month closure until the first week of January. Read more of this post

Olympic memories – and hopes for the Paralympics

I must admit that I am not normally a huge sports fan. But the Olympic Games transcend sport (in the same way that Pantomime is more than just theatre, the Proms transcend classical music, and the World Cup transcends football). And for those who have little or no interest in the Games (or in Sport in general) the Games provided all sorts of other fun things to do, and did not disrupt daily life in as bad a way as some had predicted. For those who saw British Horsemen (and women) triumph in the show-jumping in front of the Queen’s House here in Greenwich, or attend an opening ceremony rehearsal at the Olympic Stadium as I did, it was difficult not to be moved, let alone maintain scepticism or disinterest.

Quite apart from Team GB’s Sporting triumphs (which are all worthy of congratulation but I will not recount here), two local Olympic connections can fill Blackheath and Westcombe Park with pride. Read more of this post

Greenwich Pier: remember everything looks a bit shiny when it is new

Since the unveiling of the newly-restored Cutty Sark in April, people have asked who was responsible for approving the new copper-clad wooden structures at the pier nearby. I plead jointly guilty, having been chair of the Planning Board (the rather grand title that Greenwich gives to its main planning committee) in 2007, when the new buildings were given planning approval.

(The ship itself is a different story: I sat on the board when the original glazing proposed around the hull was approved, but not the bulkier version and lift tower on the east side that ended up becoming necessary).

One of the hazards of having been Chair of the council’s Planning Board – particularly at a time when an economic recession started, which meant that many schemes which were given permission were then delayed by several years – is when schemes which you voted to approve on paper start appearing in bricks, mortar, concrete and glass. Sometimes the results are very pleasing and sometimes less so. Read more of this post