BBC BLOGS - Guy Smith's Met Matters

Archives for May 2010

Cutting times for the police

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Guy Smith | 16:32 UK time, Wednesday, 26 May 2010

It's all up in the air right now how deep the cuts will be for the Met.

The coalition government has announced a £135 million cut to policing in England and Wales. The detail has not yet been hammered out so we don't know what exactly the impact will be on London.

But Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson put on record this morning that he does not anticipate any fall in police numbers.

Sir Paul Stephenson

At the last count, the total officer strength was 33,143 plus a further 4,588 PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers).

These are unprecedented numbers which we're told is something the public wants. Feeling safe on our streets, goes apparently arm-in-arm with a visible uniformed presence.

"We have long-term plans for reducing the budget," the commissioner told a group of crime hacks today.

"We have to live in the real world. There's going to be difficult times for all public sector organisations including the Met."

He talked about "leaner and meaner" processes, value for money, cutting costs but maintaining effectiveness.

He gave several examples of where he could cut: the vehicle fleet, service suppliers.

A source on the Metropolitan Police Authority told me the budget will remain untouched this year but the following 12 months would see "significant savings".

Another suggested that zero-based budgeting was the only way forward.

Instead of shaving bits off the budget, otherwise known as "salami slicing", this person said all expenditure in every area of the Met should be justified.

"Let's start with a blank piece of paper," the source said. "We fund loads of things that are just not needed. We should chop out some of the layers of management. And we can start with the chaufeurs and limos that some of them have."

The commissioner has pre-empted this particular critic on at least one thing.

He said he's written to the MPA today and stated that there will be no recommendations for bonuses for 29 of his highest-ranking officers and senior police staff this year.

He said it is "inappropriate at this time" to accept any bonuses.

He cited operational independence and the belief that it does not motivate officers to get the job done.

"I do not believe in them," he said. "I have questions about bonuses in the public sector generally."

Are courts sending the right message on knife crime?

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Guy Smith | 14:47 UK time, Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A collection of lock knives. Getty Images"I'm disappointed and frustrated". The words used by Britain's top cop at a Scotland Yard briefing to crime reporters today.

Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson was commenting on how young people are now far more likely to be searched for carrying a knife, more likely to be caught, and 90% of them are then charged with possession of a weapon.

But what seems to disappoint him is that very few end up with a custodial sentence. The latest figures show only one in five convictions result in immediate custody.

He said: "If you have sentencing guidelines then they should be followed and we should be asking questions if they're not followed."

So what are the guidelines?

There are three levels according to the seriousness of the offence. They apply for adults.

Level 1 is the least dangerous situation ie. for someone convicted of having a knife but there's no real possibility of he/she using it. Also the weapon is not used to threaten or frighten anyone.

For that, the guidelines state "the starting point would be close
to 12 weeks custody for a first time adult offender who has pleaded not guilty."

However, teenagers are treated differently and more often than not receive non-custodial sentences. It's a balancing act between avoiding criminilising young people and ensuring those convicted are held responsible for their actions.

Do you think the courts have got it right? Are they sending the correct message to young people?

The start of a glutinous relationship?

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Guy Smith | 18:04 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Glutinous. The definition: "Of the nature of or resembling glue; sticky."

That seems now to be the operative word to describe the new civil partnership between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

Or at least it is for Kit Malthouse, the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

I've just come back from City Hall to listen back to a recorded interview with him. And glutinous seems to jump out.

Have a listen to the full version below:

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We covered a lot of bases from the new relationship and what it will mean for policing London to the inevitable savings and efficiencies that lie ahead.

Reclaim our children

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Guy Smith | 20:14 UK time, Monday, 10 May 2010

It's not every day you come across people who really impress you. But, today I was at a news conference for the launch of a DVD series on personal safety called "Watch Over Me".

Margaret and Barry Mizen were just those people. They're the parents of Jimmy, who yesterday would have been 18. He was killed exactly two years ago in a bakery shop in Lee, south east London.

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They sat in front of a bunch of hard-bitten hacks in the Scotland Yard press room to tell us about 10 films, based on real-life stories. It's hoped the latest series, made by the charity Kids Taskforce, will be shown in secondary schools here in London and across the UK.

Both parents showed a deep understanding of the issues rather than any residual anger or bitterness to the teenager, Jake Fahri, who killed Jimmy.

Barry Mizen told me you will never solve the issue of teenage violence overnight.

He said: "There are no instant answers. Yes 11 (teenagers) have died so far this year and if it goes the way it has done in previous years, the chances are there will be 10 young people in London alive now, who won't be by the end of the year.

"Let's use that shocking thought to say we want to bring along changes. Harsher punishment won't do it. Bigger deterrants won't do it on it's own."

Margaret Mizen, who's the mother of seven sons and two daughters, called on the leaders of the three main political parties to come together to tackle violence in the capital.

She said: "The three party leaders, please all of you work together on this issue. We keep working for peace around the world but we have no peace on our streets. We need to reclaim our children."

Audacious robbery at Westfield

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Guy Smith | 16:38 UK time, Wednesday, 5 May 2010

It was an audacious move. And clearly well-organised. Early this morning a gang of up to 10 masked thieves broke into Europe's largest urban shopping centre.

Westfield in White City boasts more than 265 designer and High Street shops. The targets were the jewellers Tiffany & Co and diamond specialists De Beers.

It's believed the gang, wearing balaclavas, were armed with sledgehammers. They forced the firedoor on the ground floor and made their way to the two shops in The Village.

They then smashed through the front doors. Apparently it took just minutes to steal jewellery valued at many thousands of pounds.

We don't know yet exactly how much or what was stolen but I saw empty display units and shelves when I popped down there. Security staff were just cordoning off the area.

I was told the alarms alerted police and they were on the scene as the gang were getting into at least three get-away cars. There was a high-speed pursuit but the robbers escaped.

This raid was the first burglary of its kind since Westfield opened in Octbober 2008. Thankfully, no one was injured. Police are looking at CCTV footage and have questioned witnesses.

This was the statement released today by the CEO of De Beers François Delage. He notes: "This is an unfortunate incident, but is yet another reminder of the timeless allure of diamonds." Well, that's a positive spin.

Tiffany & Co just confirmed the break-in and they were currently closed for business.

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