Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  Q80  Chairman: Mr Johnson, thank you very much for coming today. As you know, the Select Committee has begun an inquiry into policing in the 21st century and we thought it would be helpful, in view of London's essential role in policing, for you to come and give evidence today. Are you satisfied that the London Police Service has the structures and capacity for dealing with the challenges that will confront London over the next few years?

  Mr Johnson: Let me begin by saying that, of course, I think the police do a fantastic job and I certainly agree with much of what the Mayor has said about the decline in some crimes in this city over the last few years, though I do not think he necessarily reflects the reality as it is perceived by many people in this city, and I certainly do not think that in the case of violent crime his picture reflected what the Home Secretary herself seemed to indicate when she said she was worried about walking down the streets of Peckham—

  Q81  Chairman: I thought it was Hackney.

  Mr Johnson: Hackney, forgive me. I mean to cast no aspersions on either borough—and her colleague, Emily Thornberry, who said there was not a child in her constituency who had not been mugged for a mobile phone, or whatever it was. I do think there are two interrelated problems that we need to take more seriously, and they are gang violence and the general climate of disorder on public transport. I think there are things we could do with the structures of the Police Service at the moment that would make a difference to those two particular problems, and I have urged that we reallocate some of the Mayor's publicity budget for next year, or some of the increment in the Mayor's publicity budget for next year, so that we get more uniformed personnel, PCSOs, on the buses giving people a sense of reassurance and security, which they do not have at the moment. One of the crimes that is going up, in spite of some of the statistics we have just heard, is bus crime, violent crime on buses is up 3.4%, and if you talk to Londoners this is something they care about and something they want addressed.

  Q82  Chairman: Do you personally feel safe at night in London?

  Mr Johnson: It depends where you are, but by and large, yes, I would feel safe to walk down the streets of any neighbourhood in London, but I have to say that many people do not feel safe and I think the job of the Mayor is to deal with people's real apprehension and their real sense that the city is too violent and there are too many people who pose a real threat to them. In particular, I think what the Mayor said about a climate of disorder and instability as a result of deep social changes in the 1980s, or whatever his analysis was, is true in the sense I think we have the problem, I do not necessarily agree with his analysis, but I think it s up to the Mayor to do something about it, and that is why I want to see far more done to sort out this order on buses and that is why I want to see far more done to sort out gang culture.

  Q83  Chairman: Mr Johnson, we have taken evidence already from Sir Ronnie Flanagan about the whole debate on additional police officers as opposed to the better use of police officers. Where do you stand on this particular issue? Do you think London needs more officers or do you think it is a question of their better use?

  Mr Johnson: I think it is a question of getting more officers out on the street. I agree profoundly with the analysis that the public wants officers out on the street. We benefit as a city and as a society from having the reassurance of police out there and we can do much better. They have a much higher ratio in New York of police officers out on the beat than we do in London, and we all know the arguments about getting rid of some of the bureaucracy, we all know how we might do it, and that is why I do want to take the opportunity of taking the Chair of the MPA, working with Sir Ian, to get more of his officers out on the street where we want them and I think there is a case to be made for using more civilian power in the back room to deal with processing of forms. I am a great fan of the PCSOs. I think we should drop all the kind of—

  Chairman: We will be coming to them later. A quick supplementary from Mr Clappison.

  Q84  Mr Clappison: The point you made about fear of crime in London: I have a 14 year old constituent, the daughter of one of my constituents, who no longer feels safe to travel on buses in London. My constituency is very near to London, and her father came to see me from Potters Bar to complain about his daughter being mugged on a bus in the afternoon in North London. There seems to be a widespread perception amongst those of us who have constituencies near to London that there is more of a problem with violent crime affecting young people. Will you give priority to crime against young people? There seems to be an amount of feeling that it is of a lesser order. I do not think that is wrong.

  Mr Johnson: Yes, and I just do not think we can be complacent about it. We cannot be complacent about people's real experiences on buses. I think there are things you can do. I applaud the Mayor. There is one act of theft that I will defend before this committee, and that is the Mayor's determination to steal my policies. I think his decision now, late in the day, to say that he wants to try live CCTV on buses, if I understood him, is a good idea, and I think we should do that: because very often, if you talk to the police, the problem they have with cracking down on young kids who create violence on buses and intimidate other kids on buses is that the bus companies do not have any obligation under statute to hand over the CCTV, and I think we should change that. I think it would make a huge difference. I am told by the police responsible for this in many London boroughs, in the case of a reported crime, the relevant CCTV is only handed over in 5% of cases and in the best London boroughs it is only handed over in 30% of cases. We could do much better. I think we should have a by-law to insist that the CCTV is handed over by the bus companies in an effort to crack down on what I think is a real problem and must not be under estimated.

  Q85  Ms Buck: You talk in your introduction in a lot of the coverage of crime about violent crime, yet your specific proposal concerns bus crime. What is the evidence that you have that suggests that this is Londoners' top priority for your one specific and costly proposal? Can you give us an indication of what has been happening in terms of staffing on the London transport system over the last few years?

  Mr Johnson: Of course what happened was that there was a decision taken to remove conductors from buses, which, of course, is impossible to revoke because it will be financially extremely expensive, though I do think there is scope. Again, I applaud the Mayor for coming late in the day to the idea of putting more PCSOs, beefing up the transport teams, on buses to give people back a sense of security. You cannot restore conductors, but you can have more PCSOs on buses and I certainly think we should do that. To get to the first part of your question, I do think there is a relation between what goes on on the top deck of a bus and what goes on on the street generally. There is a relation between crime on buses and violent crime on buses and crime on the street, because if a young tearaway thinks he or, indeed, she can dominate people on the top deck of a bus and get away with mayhem, that person is going to get off the bus and think that he or she can dominate the street as well, and so I do think it has a very corrosive effect. I also think, by the way, that we should be much less tolerant of habitual theft on buses in the form of fair evasion. I am sorry, Mr Clappison, just let me finish this point. We are currently tolerating losses of £46 million per year in lost fares, and if we cracked down harder on that, we could, of course, spend a lot of that revenue more sensibly on staffing buses with the kind of people the public want to see.

  Q86  Chairman: I was not trying to interrupt you to stop you, except that we would like briefer answers because a lot of the members wish to ask you questions.

  Mr Johnson: Forgive me.

  Chairman: Could you be as brief as possible.

  Q87  Ms Buck: Just to pursue that point, what actually has happened to the transport police staffing and PCSOs on buses in recent years and what would be your proposal in terms of the trend?

  Mr Johnson: What I want to do is to reallocate, as I say. The Mayor's Transport for London publicity budget which is going up from 64 million to 84 million next year. I think some of that money could be spent on getting another 440 transport PCSOs on some of the rowdier bus routes where there are not enough transport PCSOs. I would also like an additional 50 transport police, because one of the big problems we have got is suburban railway stations where people feel very threatened after eight o'clock at night. We only have about 330 transport police around London. I think we could do a lot better there and give people an extra sense of security, and I would also like to give the Revenue Protection Inspectors greater powers to interrogate people about their names and addresses if they are caught evading fares.

  Q88  Ms Buck: Is it the case that the 440 that you are proposing is only about a quarter of the total increase that there has been since 2000? Why should it be that that number is as transformatory as you claim when the number that has actually changed over the last eight years has been so much bigger?

  Mr Johnson: I understand what you are saying. I do not think anybody would claim that any single measure is going to be transformatory, to use your word, but I do think that something needs to be done, I do think we cannot be complacent about this. We cannot just throw our hands up in the air and say this is all the fault of Margaret Thatcher. We do need to do specific things to tackle the problem of crime on buses and people's sense of---. You asked me earlier on, I think, what gave me the impression that Londoners cared about this?

  Q89  Ms Buck: Much of the evidence.

  Mr Johnson: Believe me, I travel all around London boroughs talking to people, and it is the number one issue for many people across London, and not just late at night: people are feeling intimidated particularly at 3.30 in the afternoon when school is out and there are too many kids on the buses acting up. What I want to do is much more systematically take away their right to free travel, and take it away permanently, but then give them the right to earn it back if they want.

  Q90  Ms Buck: You also make the general point about looking at (your words) the 3.2 billion policing budget for efficiency savings. What figure has been achieved, do you know, in the Met in terms of efficiency savings and what is your own personal target?

  Mr Johnson: I am not in favour of losing any money from the Metropolitan Police budget. It is going to go up to 3.5 billion and I heartily applaud that. What I want to do, by working with Sir Ian and using my role as Chairman of the MPA, is to make sure we allocate those funds that London needs more effectively, as I was saying earlier on, to get a proportion of London's officers out on the beat where we want them.

  Q91  Ms Buck: Do you have a target figure?

  Mr Johnson: Of course I do not have a target figure, because I have not yet been able to go through the budget in detail, but I can assure you that that will be a priority.

  Q92  Tom Brake: I think you accused the Mayor of stealing your policies on getting PCSOs on buses. When did you first call for extra PCSOs on buses?

  Mr Johnson: Several months ago.

  Q93  Tom Brake: Thank you.

  Mr Johnson: He seems lately to have espoused this. I think it was at the transport hustings two weeks ago that he developed—

  Chairman: Mr Brake, your question!

  Q94  Tom Brake: There are many PCSOs travelling on buses already and there have been for a number of months. You have also called for extra BTP officers. They are not within your remit or responsibility as Mayor. How would you go about securing those?

  Mr Johnson: It is curious you should say that, because as far as I can tell, having talked to the BTP at length about this, they would be very grateful for some Transport for London money to be allocated to them, as it already is, by the way, to supply another 50 transport police.

  Q95  Tom Brake: What is your financial pledge then in terms of how much you are willing to put into that?

  Mr Johnson: If you have studied my manifesto in detail, as I am sure you have, Mr Brake, you will discover that, again, simply by reallocating some of the increment in Transport for London's non recruitment publicity budget for next year, we can achieve our manifesto proposes to re-allocate the increment in the MPS non recruitment publicity budget for next year, not TfL.

  Q96  Tom Brake: So the publicity budget is paying for that as well.

  Mr Johnson: I do think that when Londoners are faced with the choice of more police officers or more press officers in London, I know what they would go for.

  Q97  Mrs Dean: Mr Johnson, neighbourhood crime mapping is already undertaken by the police. What difference would your proposal to publish this information make?

  Mr Johnson: Of course the difference, Mrs Dean, is that what I am proposing is that the public should be able to see the information, and I know that this is controversial because I know that people worry that it could blight neighbourhoods, for instance, and I know that there are anxieties about whether police information might be prejudiced in some way. I do not think that either of those are sensible objections and I think the public deserves to be treated as though it was grown up and as though it deserved information about what is really going on in their city. The police have crime maps. There is no reason at all why crime mapping should not be made available to all us so we know what is happening in London and we can use that information as a tool to make our points to the police about what is really happening in our neighbourhoods and we can, thereby, urge them to deal with the problems in our neighbourhoods. Additionally, of course, what I would like is to have proper monthly meetings between borough commanders and council leaders as widely advertised as possible so that everybody can go along with the information that is publicly available about what is happening on their street and make their point.

  Q98  Mrs Dean: Would this not make it more difficult for the police to operate and retain discretion but also to target crime where they need to target it, without the public trying to get them to tackle it as they would wish, rather than the police feeling that it would be better tackled in a different way?

  Mr Johnson: Mrs Dean, I do not think it is wholly illogical or wrong to allow the public some say in asking the police to tackle crime as they would wish, and I think that might be beneficial for policing in London.

  Q99  Mr Winnick: On the make-up of the police force, Mr Johnson, some in your party over the years have dismissed having more ethnic minority police officers, be it in London and elsewhere, to use the phrase so often used, as political correctness—

  Mr Johnson: I do not agree with that.

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