Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



60.  Yes; that would be very helpful. I recall that Northumbria did that, perhaps under your stewardship, a few years ago?

  (Sir John Stevens) We did, indeed, Chairman, yes, and highly successful; crime down by 40 to 50 per cent.

61.  Absolutely; we remember it well, yes. Just going back to policemen on patrol, on the beat, and making them more effective, is there a role for the humble bicycle, do you think?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes, there is.

62.  Is it being used?

  (Sir John Stevens) I do not regard it as being too humble, actually. It is very interesting, to go to places like Kentish Town and the north west of London and speak to police officers who are on bicycles, who have actually been sponsored by local business; they do not regard it as being humble, because the type of bicycle they are riding the youngsters believe are similar to jet fighters. So I believe there is a lot more to be done with bicycles, I think it is a good way of moving round London; cars are a difficulty, and that is something we are working on very hard.

  Bob Russell: There is a temptation for them to be stolen though, Chairman.


63.  I am sure they are very secure, these bicycles?

  (Sir John Stevens) We do secure them to railings; and certainly the experience in Kentish Town is, where I went up to, to launch a scheme up there, that we did not lose very many.

  Chairman: We are turning now to police reform.

Mr Prosser

64.  Sir John, you have already explained your enthusiasm for auxiliaries, and I think you have given us some sort of view of why you almost prefer supplementing the force with auxiliaries rather than just additional police officers; that view is not shared universally, and certainly my own police constable in Kent is not as enthusiastic as you are. Is the difference all to do with security in London, or something else?

  (Sir John Stevens) I would not speak for other Chief Constables, I would certainly speak for Northumbria, and, if I may, for Sedgefield, where I went and launched the multi kind of, the opening of the building where they are using police officers, wardens, nurses, and the rest, in a kind of combined approach, which has been highly successful. I think, for London, we are different; and why I say that is the terrorist threat, for a start-off. We cannot police the centre of London without taking people away from the boroughs, which has already been remarked on as not being supportive of what we are trying to do in the boroughs, without having between 300 and 700 auxiliaries in the centre of London. And Dave Veness, who is the Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations, the most experienced man in policing history in this area, says that we must have auxiliaries to deliver what we have to for the centre of London, to protect yourselves and others, in this area, in particular.

65.  Can you tell us something about the experiment, the pilot scheme, that took place last year in Lambeth, where I think you used private security firms to supplement the police force?

  (Mr Blair) I am not aware of that issue, but if I could broaden the debate to what I think you are aiming at, as it were. The second level behind the security piece is the sense that everything that you are saying suggests what we believe, that the public require a reassuring, patrolling presence; and we have a number of London boroughs that want now to form their own police forces, it is a bit of a lacuna in the law, lots of legislation around how a police force should operate but there is no legislation to stop you forming a police force if you want to. And a number of boroughs have approached us, Wandsworth, for instance, with their Parks Police, wanting to extend their Parks Police onto the street, Kensington and Chelsea wanting to produce a borough community force; and we believe that potentially this is a Balkanisation of policing in London, with rich areas having better provision, a return perhaps to pre-1829. And so we are arguing very firmly that what we want to do is set up this auxiliary force, so that there is one contiguous and connected force available. Part of the difficulty that policing has, and you have heard about it just now, is the number of demands being placed on the police, in terms of whether it is gun crime, what will come out of the Climbié inquiry, plus the sheer level of demand, means that police officers even if they hit the street will be rapidly off it again, either with arrests or seeing witnesses, or whatever. And one of the things that we feel we need, and why we are so keen on auxiliaries, is it is a force that is there and which does not leave the street, which is the key point, it is actually there, but it is part of the Met as a whole, clearly marked as part of the Met as a whole. And we have argued firmly with that, the Home Secretary has backed us, which is why the Bill has this concept of directly-employed, community support officers.

66.  If you were able to look ahead three years, four years, how would you see the powers, strengths and duties of all these various tiers of policing?

  (Sir John Stevens) I see them as part of what we have referred to, for a long while now, as an extended police family. I think one of the weaknesses that we have in our present system is, it is layered, and there is no continuum, if you like, of intelligence. If you look at what happens here, let us take people on the door here, and that can be replicated right the way round London and the City, there a continuum, if a person who is on the door here sees someone suspicious, has worries about them, is there a continuum of intelligence that works its way from him, or her, into the police systems. And I believe, if we can get this right, and I do believe, of course, there are other parts of the country where we will not want auxiliaries, for all sorts of reasons, that is a matter for them, but there are places that have been using what we would call auxiliaries, the north side of the Tyne, for one, Sedgefield, and other places, who have been using auxiliaries for a while, which have not caused a problem, I believe it should be part of an extended police family. I think the training should be done by the police, just as we did the training for bouncers in London, Liverpool, Manchester, and if that is the case and if the proper safeguards are there I believe it can work. What is the alternative for us in London, to continue to use 300-700 or even 1,000 police officers in the centre of London to secure the centre of London and take them away from the boroughs; that is not on. So, for us, in London, it is an immediate problem that we believe can be dealt with now, and if we can get it right, in the centre of London, in terms of the rules, the safeguards, the accountability, I think that is something we need to think about, if we can get that right I think it can work for other places as well. But I would be the last one to turn round and say, because we want it in London, use it elsewhere.

67.  That is a fair response. Just staying within the London concept, have you got a feeling for the difference in powers these various categories will have and their different duties?

  (Sir John Stevens) We have, and I will pass you to Ian, on that, if I may.
  (Mr Blair) The powers set out in the Bill are broadly the powers that we see as appropriate, and they are, for the auxiliary officers, the power to deliver a fixed penalty notice for low-level offences, say, graffiti, minor vandalism, minor disorder, but you have got to give them also the power to require a name and address, because otherwise you cannot have a fixed penalty notice, and also the power to detain, pending the arrival of a constable, if that person refuses their name and address. We have also got a provision in the Bill for them, if an area is declared an area subject to the provisions of the Terrorism Act, which is about a power to stop and search, then those auxiliaries will have the power to set up cordons, under the direction of a constable, and to search vehicles and baggage, almost in the same way as you would do in relation to airport security, or anything else. They will not have the powers to stop and search, they will not have batons, they will not have handcuffs, they will not have CS gas, they are not police officers; what they are is a direct labour force who are able to pick up the low-level offences, the low-level disorder, that drives people mad across London, and which, if you are running from one gun crime to another, you are very unlikely to consider getting involved with somebody who says, "I'm fed-up with the way this kid's spray-canned this fence." So it is that kind of work that we have in mind, and we are very keen on that.

68.  Can you give us a view of the training, the depth of training, the length of training, if you take someone literally off the street, without any background?

  (Mr Blair) What we are aiming at, at the moment, is an initial two-weeks' training, and as the powers come on stream, through the legislation, then we will give further training in situ. But we give two weeks' training to the people that guard this place, so I think that is the parallel that we have in our minds.

69.  And your recruitment area, will it be the same as the one you have described for auxiliaries?

  (Sir John Stevens) It will be across London, and those people who joined would not have the free travel, but we would be looking for people in London, basically, I think; and we believe that there is a labour pool out there that would serve this.

70.  Is it requiring any qualifications, or any particular level of education?

  (Mr Blair) We would have thought not. As I said, one of the things we want to use this for is as another entry process into the police, we want to see some of these people getting NVQs in security. The scheme which we are basing it on is the Stadswacht, in Amsterdam, which has been very successful at bringing people into the policing family, and it has been particularly successful at bringing people from minority ethnic communities into that family. We have got to be careful here, because the last thing we want is to create a kind of two-tier ghetto, in which minority ethnic people join the auxiliaries but the white people join the Police Service. We have got the full support of the Police Authority for this process, they have a very clear view about diversity issues, as do we, and I think it has got every potential to be very successful.

71.  Finally, perhaps, on the police family, how far do you want to move, in terms of giving additional powers to traffic wardens, and how will their final role differ from community support officers?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think the traffic warden is a classic example of how people can be in uniform and do an excellent job. We would like to see them having powers to stop vehicles, but again we are into the business of not detaining them, or detaining them for 30 minutes until the professional police officer, who has been trained to that higher level, comes and deals with it. We have been using traffic wardens for a period of time, in terms of enhancing our intelligence input, and for doing jobs which are not totally related to traffic, because most criminals travel by car, perhaps not in London because it takes too long to get round the place, but they do travel around. So the traffic warden, I think, is an excellent example of how we can broaden out and use people who are not actually fully-trained police officers, in a way that is of benefit for London.

72.  And how will the roles differ between the enhanced traffic warden, shall I call him, and the community support officer?

  (Mr Blair) We actually see the traffic wardens effectively migrating into community support officers. All you need to do is to declare somebody, that they are a traffic warden, as it were, within the community support process. We are certainly not going to make anybody redundant, we are certainly not going to be forcing anybody in that direction. But we have got this arrangement, that the Commissioner mentioned, with Transport for London, setting up the secure bus routes, and we see that, initially, will be police officers and traffic wardens, but over time it will be police officers and auxiliaries who have traffic warden powers.

Bridget Prentice

73.  Just on the business of the traffic wardens, have they not just gone from the Met into the responsibility of the borough councils?

  (Mr Blair) No, that is a different group. What the borough councils have got is they have got the power to raise income from parking fines, so, in general, the boroughs have started to set up their own effective traffic warden force, which is why we have been running down the traffic wardens. We were never going to run them down completely because they protect what are currently the Red Routes, and they are also available for public order and football, and so on.

74.  So there will not be a conflict between these two groups then?

  (Mr Blair) There should not be.

  Chairman: Mr Cameron has some question on the Standards Unit.

Mr Cameron

75.  It is on the Standards Unit and also on police reform. The point my Chief Inspector, who runs my local police station in my constituency, always makes to me about police reform is, he says, "The problem is, if you have a constable who is not corrupt but just is not particularly good at his job, it is very difficult to get rid of them." Is that still the case?

  (Sir John Stevens) It is the case, but there are systems coming in about efficiency in the way we can deal with that and getting rid of people by efficiency; but it has been the case that it has been very difficult to do that. However, what I would say to the Chief Inspector, hopefully he is not in the Metropolitan Police, is that he has powers to get on top of someone who is not working properly; and I would expect someone who was wearing three pips on their shoulder to get out and lead the person, even, if necessary, personally, or if necessary put a bit of pressure on them. Because we have no room for any people who are passengers in the organisation, as you all know, at the moment.

76.  But there are cases when people just are not particularly good at the job, and in any other profession or business you would warn them, they would have a series of warnings and then they would be fired; but there is nothing in the Police Bill that is going to change that, is there, as far as I can see?

  (Mr Blair) There does not need to be, because those efficiency provisions are in; but, I have to tell you, because of the way that they were negotiated with the Federation, they are just as complex as the processes of discipline, and the first person was dismissed on that in Lancashire a few months ago. It is an immensely complicated process.

77.  It is quite a contrast, I hate to bring your attention to it, with your own position, in the Police Bill, the Secretary of State may require the Metropolitan Police Authority to exercise its power under Section 9(e) to call upon the Commissioner, or Deputy Commissioner, in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness, to retire or resign. And he can just sack you?

  (Sir John Stevens) It appears so. It has got to go through the House though.

78.  And what is your view on that clause; entirely, of course, ignoring your own interests in this?

  (Sir John Stevens) We, in the Metropolitan Police, are used to dealing with the Home Secretary, because he was our Police Authority until a year and a half ago; so actually he did have that residual power right up to a year and a half ago, before we had a Police Authority which came along, which I think is one of the better things that has happened to the Metropolitan Police. I think there has to be a very, very detailed debate on what is operational independence and what might affect operational independence. I am not talking about this Home Secretary, or Mr Straw, or anybody else. I believe that, the worst case scenario, you should look at someone who might be the Home Secretary who may well want to exercise control over Chief Constables, and it is a golden thread of British justice that the police are independent. Now I am not going to give you cause céle"bre in cases whereby, if there was political interference in the way we do our investigations in London, or in other parts of the country, we would be in difficulty; and it must be held that the Police Service is independent and can exercise its rights of pushing the law out and enforcing the law independent of political control. That does not mean to say that if we are not delivering a service as well as we should, and people like yourselves and Londoners feel that we are not doing the service right, someone should not come in and say, "Well, look, Stevens, you're not doing that right, because in that part of the country this works and that works, so get on and do it." But the absolute essential point is, and I really must emphasise this, if I may, we must have the ability to act independently, because otherwise we may well be influenced in things like corruption, both local and central government, or, if I might say so, the type of inquiry I am still doing in Northern Ireland, which has to be done without any political interference at all, and I would not do it if that were not the case. I have had none. But what I am saying is, what if there were political interference in the investigation I am doing on collusion, Finucane, and the like; I would be lost.

79.  Would you have sympathy with a view that said, well, what on earth was the point of setting up a Police Authority for London if, just a year and a half, or two years, later, you are going to override that and bring back the Home Secretary having control over the removal of the Commissioner?

  (Mr Blair) There is a point that we do need to emphasise, which is that those powers already exist. Section 11 and Section 42 of the Police Act, that is a replication of those powers. The only additional power that the Home Secretary has sought, in this Bill, is the right to suspend the Chief Officer.

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