Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe suggests Croydon may retain "two or three" police stations
MET Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has suggested Croydon may keep "two or three" of its police stations.
All but one have been earmarked for closure and while Sir Bernard said the borough would not retain all six, he believes a "sensible" compromise could be found.
Speaking during a public meeting at Croydon College on Wednesday night, he said plans for 117 extra officers represents a "genuine increase", despite the numbers only returning the borough to the level seen before they were cut two years ago.
Seeking to explain the "confusion", Sir Bernard made the frank admission that Croydon has 70 officers who are on "restricted duties" and are not allowed to police the streets, in some cases due to ill health or injury.
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While the meeting was the latest of the Commissioner's road shows across London, and was not specifically connected to the recently announced cuts, discussion inevitably focused on plans to close police stations.
Bases in South Norwood, Norbury, Addington, Purley and Kenley could all close as part of the attempt to meet a £500m cut to the police budget. This would leave the central base in Park Lane as the borough's only station.
Patrick Ratnaraja, a spokesman for Croydon Tamil Community Organisation, asked why stations were being closed in Croydon when crime and population have increased.
Sir Bernard replied: "The sad reality of what we face is if we don't lose the buildings we will have to lose the people. I don't think it's wise to lose more officers, so we will have to compromise a bit.
"We have looked at what we have got and found people, on the whole, don't come to our stations.
"The biggest cost we have in stations with front counters is the people employed to sit there for no one to come in.
"I don't want to promote the closure of police stations but on the whole I think it's a wise thing to do, provided we get the new building structure right."
Sir Bernard said stations would be replaced by nine "front counters" - in some cases manned by volunteers and open at specific times – across the borough. This could include contact points at post offices, libraries or supermarkets.
When asked why Croydon North, an area with significantly higher crime levels than the rest of the borough, might be left with no station at all, he replied: "Whatever the new structure turns out like it probably won't be six stations. It's somewhere between two and three.
"I'm not going to try and predict the answer but it looks like you have the north, central and south and we need to get something which recognises that and reassures people.
"It won't be six but I think there's something sensible we can sort out there."
Boris Johnson's draft Police & Crime Plan, published earlier this month, said the closure of stations would be offset by an extra 117 officers being allocated to Croydon, the second highest increase of any London borough.
A special report by the Advertiser has since revealed that increasing the number to 740 would return us to the similar level as two years ago and that Croydon has lost the equivalent of 63 officers since the riots in August 2011.
Marion Burchell, of community group New Addington Pathfinders, asked whether the promised increase was genuine.
Sir Bernard said the confusion with the figures was down to the "disproportionate" number of officers assigned to the borough who are currently on "restricted duty" - warranted officers doing back-office jobs for reduced hours, usually through injury or ill-health, but who continue to receive full pay.
"I do honestly think it's a genuine increase, although we're going to have to find a better explanation than what I've got," admitted Sir Bernard.
He said the issue was "complicated", adding: "Many of the officers who were posted to Croydon some years ago were restricted in their duties.
"For whatever reason, and there are many explanations for this, (Croydon) seems to have got a disproportionate number of people in that category., something like 12 per cent.
"So of the 600 odd they should have, over 70 are in this category where they can't be deployed on response or various other things.
"Of the thousands officers we have there are some who are less physically able than they were. It happens to everybody during life and we have to deal with that.
"So that's one thing which I think has caused some confusion about the numbers – people have been put here, have been on the books, but frankly haven't been available.
"That poses quite a challenge for Rob (Atkin, the acting borough commander) and his team. That's our responsibility – why were they put there? How can we deal with that?"
Sir Bernard explained that previous Commissioners had "tried their best" to give Croydon more resources. He added Haringey had been allocated 50 extra officers last year as recognition that it was the epicentre of the riots, but did not explain why Croydon, arguably the worst hit area in the country, has lost 63 full-time equivalents since the disorder.
The Commissioner began the meeting by revealing statistics, both positive and negative, about crimes in Croydon.
Total crime, not including antisocial behaviour, rose by 0.2 per cent in 2012. There were 320 residential burglaries in a single month but a five per cent decrease across the year, which equates to approximately 160 less burglaries.
Personal robbery increased 11 per cent, which Sir Bernard admitted was "a worry" and serious youth violence also rose 8 per cent from 2011. Though this equates to a relatively small 25 additional incidents, such offences have decreased across London as a whole.
Earlier in the day, Sir Bernard visited Archbishop Lanfranc School, in Mitcham Road, where he was quizzed by a Year 9 history class on issues including his salary.
"The second question was how come your paid so much and our school's not getting any money," he explained.
"I did my best to explain. They were perfectly right to ask the question and they deserve a good answer."
- An eight week consultation process into changes to policing is underway. A specific public meeting will be held at Croydon Conference Centre in Surrey Street on February 12