I was intrigued to read the claim that Brian Coleman had "worked tirelessly" to drive down crime in Barnet. It occurred to me that this is fantastic news and I should be reporting on this achievement as a responsible blogger. I immediately sent a Freedom of Information request to the Chief of Police in Barnet, to make sure I had the full details to make a proper report on the issue. I asked the following questions :-
Now as regular readers of this blog will know, Barnet Council invariably answers FOI requests way beyond the statuatory time of 20 days, in which they are supposed to answer such requests. Usually there is no reason given for the delay. Even worse, the responses are as obtuse as possible. Information is not revealed, because the completely exact question was framed in a way which allowed a degree of interpretation and Barnet have chosen to interpret it in a way which means they don't give you the information they clearly know you are seeking.I have just received a leaflet from the Conservative Party stating that "Boris Johnson and Brian Coleman have worked tirelessly to drive down crime in Barnet. I would be interested to know how many meetings you or you predecessor have had with Brian Coleman to discuss crime reduction strategy in Barnet. I would also like to know how many anti crime initiatives have been instigated by Brian Coleman in Barnet since 2008. Please could you provide me with details of these as an FOI response. Please forward this to the appropriate department or furnish me with their details.
This is the first time I've had reason to send an FOI to Barnet Police. I was wondering how their response would measure up to the quality of service I usually get from Barnet Council?
Well, I sent the request on the 22nd January and received the response today. That is a working week. Barnet Council should take note. And what did it say? Well, here is the full response :-
TICHBORNE Final Reply Borough Commander
So what does this tell me? First and most obviously that Brian Coleman was telling porkies when he stated he'd been "working tirelessly" to drive down crime. As a GLA rep he's actually held no meetings that the Metropolitan Police can find any trace of. In fact the only meeting the Met can find on record is one to discuss licensing issues in his Council ward of Totteridge.
Now if it was just a question of a politician over egging the pudding in the run up to an election, in an attempt to preserve his £52K a year salary, I suppose no one would be too surprised. The trouble is that it is fundamentally more serious an issue than this. By printing such a misleading document, Brian Coleman has inadvertently drawn our attention to his complete lack of interest in engaging with the Metropolitan Police in his area. Why is this important?
Coleman gets paid £52,000 per year by the taxpayer to advise and assist the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson in his role as Mayor. Brian Coleman represents Barnet. Boris Johnson recently abolished the committee that oversees the Police and brought them under his direct control. It is clear that the priorities of Barnet Police will not be brought to the table, because Brian Coleman hasn't discussed them.
Every Borough has different issues. Barnet is a very diverse Borough. We have the largest Jewish population, so one would think that there may be the occasional meeting between our GLA rep and the Police to discuss issues relating to hate crime. We have many major road networks in Barnet (A1,M1, A406, etc) , which also fall under Brian Coleman's remit as the Council cabinet member with responsibility for roads. Barnet is plagued with traffic accidents and injuries. Most of these are caused by speeding vehicles, surely this would warrant the odd discussion with the Police. Then there are issues related to poverty in Barnet, Coleman has the Environment portfolio at Barnet. It is no secret that a bad environment breeds crime. Badly planned estates are hotbeds of crime. Given that Barnet has major redevelopments, and the Mayor has the final say on many of these, surely Coleman should at least canvass the views of the local Police on whether the plans are going to have an impact on crime in the Borough? It is not the job of the Police to tell the Police how to do their job, but they can help set priorities. They control huge budgets, which if spent wisely can bring crime down and if spent badly can send crime soaring.
Let us consider the current "growth" crime in Barnet. This is theft of mobile phones. Barnet has seen a 10% rise in crimes related to mobile phones in the last 12 months. It is becoming a major concern for the police as stolen phones have become a tradable commodity. What has this got to do with Brian Coleman and his policies? Well he is the man who brought in the "pay by phone" scheme. This requires people to stand on the street, talking on their phone, often with wallet and credit card in their hand. Did Brian Coleman consider the impact of his scheme on phone related crime? Well if he did, he didn't discuss it with the Police.
One final note about the FOI response. It is refreshing to see a response which is clearly in line with the spirit of the FOI act. It was on time and answered the question. It also provided additional information, which was clearly related to the inquiry and has forestalled the need for a follow up question. In short, the Metropolitan Police in Barnet have given the council a timely lesson in how to do their job. I suppose that the point Brian Coleman and Barnet Council should learn from this is that if you do your job properly, there is no need to tell porkies, no need to claim credit where none is due and no need to waste everyones time with silly follow up enquiries.