London Conservatives are saying how appalling it is that 45% of all reported crimes are 'screened out' and not investigated fully by the Metropolitan Police.
Screening means that a crime is initially assessed and then marked for no further investigation. Figures obtained by Assembly Tories show that 70%-86% of various types of theft, 40% of burglaries in homes and 23% of robberies from people are screened out.
Now, the Met has its problems. We can all agree on that. But one thing we can't imagine is officers sitting around, feet up on a desk, saying "shall we look into this car theft on a residential street with no CCTV and the miscreant wore gloves, or do you want another cup of tea? Pass the custard creams". Is it not more likely that the police have to make a reasonable assessment of the best use of their time?
At a time when officer numbers are being cut, it's not surprising to discover the Met doesn't have time to investigate everything. Officer strength at March 2013 (the most recent numbers we have, PDF) was 30,265 – that's compared to 33,260 in March 2010 and is 1,692 fewer officers than it originally planned to have in post. Most crime is falling, but clearly not fast enough that we need fewer police to be able to deal with it all.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has also been looking into the police. Data for 2012 obtained under Freedom of Information shows that Met 999 response times have increased by 30 seconds since 2010 for the most serious incidents and nearly six minutes for calls classed as 'priority'-not-emergency. But, more relevant to today's discussion, callers to 999 classed as non-emergency (i.e. you probably shouldn't have called 999 in the first place) waited over 12 hours for a response – over four hours longer than in 2010. Another example of police having to prioritise around cuts?
There's also an issue around cuts to the number of support staff. Green Mayoral candidate and Assembly Member Jenny Jones told us last year that the Met had cut 900 civilian staff and were 1,500 short of where it expected to be; then in November came an announcement that 3,500 more staff were to go. Quite how this is supposed to help officers investigate crimes, we're not sure.
On another note, it's odd that of questions asked about screening at Mayor's Question Time, we can't find one that's received a full answer – not even one asked by Boris's deputy mayor Victoria Borwick back in February. To put that into context, the question sheet for tomorrow's MQT promises that anything not answered verbally will be answered in writing by 22 July. We also found a question by Tory James Cleverly from February 2012, saying how positive it was that the Met were screening out a quarter fewer crimes than five years ago. Either something's gone terribly wrong in the last year or the Conservatives need to get their story straight.