Here's another election battleground that won't die: Boris Johnson insists he's put an extra 1,000 police officers on the streets of London. Ken Livingstone says he's cut 1,000. Which is correct?
Erm, they both are. Or they're both wrong. It depends on what you look at. In March 2008, just before the end of Ken's last term, the Metropolitan Police had 31,398 warranted officers in its employment. Numbers reached a peak of 33,260 in March 2010 before falling back to 31,128 in January this year (projected to rise to 32,320 by last month, but since the switchover from the Metropolitan Police Authority to the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime we can't find anywhere that's publishing the numbers).
Boris is comparing police numbers in 2008 to today: a rise of around 1,000. Ken is comparing police numbers at their peak to today: a fall of around 1,000. You decide who's taken the correct line, statistically.
While we're talking about police numbers, let's see what the candidates are promising. Brian Paddick would increase numbers to 33,500 and Ken says he'd reverse the officers Boris has "cut". Boris is sticking with his 32,320 but says he'll move 2,000 officers out of back room jobs and into the front line. Officers doing admin roles is something Jenny Jones has highlighted; there's no point having a trained police officer doing paperwork when a civilian is around £20k a year cheaper. However, Boris's team told us these 2,000 officers will come out of crime reporting teams and the jobs won't be replaced; the idea is that if there are more cops on the street, there's less crime to do paperwork on. Jenny herself told the Sunday Politics she thinks 28,000 officers is about the right level for London.
Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) also get the campaign treatment. Boris's redeployed 2,000 officers will go to SNTs; with another boost from an increase in Special Constables (Boris wants to double their number to 10,000), each of the 624 SNTs in London will have up to six extra staff. Ken would make sure each team had a minimum of nine officers (mix of PCs and PCSOs) – currently, teams in quieter wards can have five or six members – have them patrol until 9pm and restore sergeants to all SNTs (150 have been cut, with another 150 planned).
These plans are all well and good, but Boris only managed to add the most recent 1,000 officers with a government grant of £90m for this budget year, on top of transferring £30m of reserves from Fire and Planning. Quite how current levels are to be maintained, never mind grown, without more money is something we'd like to know.
Image by Dean Nicholas