Borough-based policing commands to disappear in London-wide cost cutting plan

Police on the street

Pic: Metropolitan Police

London’s 32-borough policing system is to be slashed down to 12 ‘Basic Command Units’ as part of a £325 million savings drive by the Metropolitan Police, resulting in fewer officers on the streets.

Hackney is set to merge with Tower Hamlets in November, the same time as Croydon joins Sutton and Bromley. Lewisham, meanwhile, is to merge with Greenwich and Bexley within the year.

A majority of the new BCUs will be a union of two boroughs, which have traditionally followed the same boundaries as local government boroughs. However, in areas where demand for policing is low, like Richmond or Kingston, they could be as many as four.

While the plan will result in fewer officers on East London streets, the Metropolitan Police insists it will not affect public safety, claiming that loss of manpower will be balanced by increased efficiency.

In an official statement, the Met said the introduction of BCUs would: “improve the service [provided] to London in several ways as well as investing resources to address key priorities.”

The statement went on to justify the cuts, saying: “The Met continues to face a significant financial challenge, alongside increasing demand, and must make savings of £325m by 2021/22.

“We need to plan for a future with less, and become more resilient so we can continue to meet our financial and operational challenges, and our current and future policing challenges.”

Falling Numbers

A significant manifestation of how London will have to deal with “less” comes in falling officer numbers. The Met has not specified the extent to which the merger will affect officer numbers within the East London Lines boroughs. Across London as a whole, however, numbers are expected to fall to 30,000 by April, and further by 2021, following a peak of 33,404 in 2009. Met officer numbers currently stand at 32,125.

This news follows statements from Tower Hamlet’s Mayor John Biggs earlier in the week, saying that repeated government cuts to policing have had “a serious impact” on the welfare of his community.

Biggs linked falling officers numbers to rising crime, describing the current situation in Tower Hamlets, which has lost one in three of its officers over the last eight years, as “devastating”.

Lewisham mayor Sir Steve Bullock released a similarly clear-cut statement, directly after news of the mergers was released, saying: “The number of police officers in London is under huge pressure because of government funding cuts.”

The Met’s end of year crime report provides clear evidence of the ramifications of London’s falling officer numbers. Year on year crime within all four ELL boroughs rose between 2015 and 2017. Despite this, police action and the number of sanctions within each borough has unanimously fallen.

Year on year crime with ELL boroughs

Year on year crime within ELL boroughs, Source: Metropolitan Police

Falling crime ramifications with ELL boroughs

Falling crime ramifications within ELL boroughs, Source: Metropolitan Police

A similar trend can be seen nationwide. Since Theresa May became Home Secretary in 2010, the number of police officers across England and Wales has steadily declined.


Number of Police Officers in England and Wales

Number of Police Officers in England and Wales, Source: Home Office

The full list of the 12 new Basic Command Units (BCUs) is:
Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster
Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Wandsworth
Bromley, Croydon, Sutton
Bexley, Greenwich, Lewisham
Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge
Ealing, Hillingdon, Hounslow
Lambeth, Southwark
Enfield, Haringey
Hackney, Tower Hamlets
Camden, Islington
Barnet, Brent, Harrow
Newham, Waltham Forest

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