In a Parliamentary debate on policing, Siobhain has told fellow MPs about her fears for the future of the Neighbourhood Policing model that was introduced in the early 2000s. She fears a return to old-style policing, with officers in cars or offices rather than on the street.
Her written speech is as follows:
6 Feb 2013
In my constituency, one of the most popular local innovations of the last 20 years has been Safer Neighbourhood Teams.
Mitcham and Morden campaigned hard for them.
I remember about ten years ago my rt hon friend the Member for Salford, when she was Police Minister, coming to meet dozens of local people on Steers Mead who wanted to introduce Safer Neighbourhood Teams to tackle the low-level crime and anti-social behaviour that affected their part of Mitcham.
Thanks to my rt hon friend, we were lucky to get one of the country’s first Safer Neighbourhood teams, and the model of 1 Sergeant, 2 PCs and 3 PCSOs walking local beats has been a great success.
As a result, living in Mitcham and Morden is safer and more pleasant.
The police had drifted away from community policing for decades, but Safer Neighbourhoods meant we had 6 people we knew, working local beats, who couldn’t be moved away from us.
It also meant investment in communities that had often been neglected.
One of my happiest days as an MP was in 2008, when I and the community of Lavender Fields finally won the battle to open a new police office in the heart of their neighbourhood.
The office was opened by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and I remember there being hundreds of people there, jostling to be in photos with him.
Police offices like those in Lavender Fields and other neighbourhoods such as Pollards Hill and Mitcham town centre, have benefited the community in many ways.
Most obviously, they enabled our new Safer Neighbourhood Teams to spend more time in the community, rather than travelling to and from distant police stations.
But they also represented investment in local neighbourhoods.
Previously, these offices were derelict – empty shops that attracted anti-social behaviour.
By occupying these buildings we made a difference.
Most of all, these new offices were an outward projection that the police cared about these communities, as they were part of them.
Now, all of that is under threat.
I feel very sorry for my Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Darren Williams, who has been in place for only a year.
I have enormous respect for him. He has brought great energy and enthusiasm to his job, and his work on helping young men find alternatives to crime is second to none.
I particularly want to praise his work setting up a boxing club for young men in my community.
But he has a thankless task.
Others have decided that cuts must be made;
that the 1-2-3 model of Safer Neighbourhood policing is no longer sacrosanct;
and that police offices and police stations are no longer a priority.
The result is very worrying for local people.
A campaign has just been launched by the Guardian group of local papers in South London after, in their words, “it emerged an area measuring about 75 miles squared - larger than any individual London borough - would be left without a 24 hour station”.
As the Guardian explains “The exposed area includes Mitcham, Tooting, Earlsfield, Balham, Streatham, Thornton Heath, Norbury, Norwood, Dulwich, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Beckenham, and Catford”.
Tooting police station, which is actually just inside my constituency, will close. Mitcham police station will be closed at night.
And the Safer Neighbourhood offices we fought so hard to get are also under threat.
I want to take this opportunity to praise the Guardian group for their campaign.
Mitcham and Morden is one of the most deprived parts of South West London. It has great needs.
In the past, it always felt as though areas like Mitcham and Morden lost out when it came to getting the best public services.
Places that already had, got more.
I don’t want a return to those days.
My constituents are more likely to be affected by crime than residents in more affluent areas.
We campaigned to open neighbourhood police offices.
They give my constituents a sense that the police care about neighbourhoods like Lavender Fields and Pollards Hill, and that they are on top of crime and anti-social behaviour.
They are an investment in places that are often neglected.
Removing our police offices will reverse these advances.
Going further and cutting services at Mitcham Police Station will give my constituents the impression that Mitcham is not a priority for the police.
When Boris Johnson’s office published plans to end the 24 hour service at Mitcham police station, to close local police offices and to scrap the 1-2-3 system, we were appalled.
I’m sure he’ll find out just how much at a meeting in Morden later this month attended by his Deputy, Stephen Greenhalgh,
who will be there to try to answer public questions about policing numbers, station closures, and how he is reducing the police budget.
The Labour Leader of Merton Council, Cllr Stephen Alambritis, will be there,
and I congratulate him and his Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Cllr Edith Macauley,
for saying the Council will oppose any moves to close local police stations or cut the number of police and PCSOs in our communities.
There is even a motion to Council later this evening, proposed by, of all people, the Liberal Democrats.
They say the proposals are “seriously flawed” and “[express] the borough's opposition to the proposals as they stand, and to their potential impact on community safety and crime levels in Merton".
I hope the motion is successful, and attracts cross-party support, although I do remember the Conservative spokesperson, Cllr David Simpson, saying he was “relaxed” about the SNT shake-up.
And no Conservative has yet signed up to the Guardian’s campaign.
I hope they will change their tune, but as Merton’s previous Chief Superintendent, Dick Wolfenden, explained, the changes are because of Government cuts. He said:
“By 2014 I’ll be operating with 25 to 30 per cent less... My life, right now, is all about spinning plates and trying to keep the shop open... I’m fighting battles on all sorts of different fronts.”
People in Mitcham and Morden are starting to feel the difference.
There will be fewer police in their neighbourhoods, and fewer places they will be able to find them, than before.
They think the police are surrendering their territory.
This debate has given me an opportunity to express their concerns, and I hope I have done so effectively. [Ends]