Policing is in the spotlight at the moment. This morning I listened to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan discussing policing on the Vanessa Feltz show. I have to say that what I heard was alarming. I have no confidence at all in this Mayor to sort the problems out, having heard what he had to say. It is not just the Mayor. We have had a succession of Home secretaries, starting with the now Prime Minister Theresa May, who have been completely useless when it comes to policing. Police budgets have been cut, community engagement stopped, support staff sacked and officers drowned in paperwork and administration.
Today we've had a London man taking the Mayor to court over police station closures. We used to have a visible police presence on our High Street. If we had a worry, we could nip in and talk to a human being. If we found an old ladies purse we could drop it in. When I was a child, there was an old lady down the road, who I now recognise as having dementia. The police would find her wandering the streets of Mill Hill in her nighty at 3am in the morning. They'd take her to the station, give her a cup of tea and call her daughter to come and get her. She once told me "The chief constable is always sending his car to collect me so he can have a cup of tea with me!". Her daughter gave me a pained look and told me the whole story. She said that the police were lovely.
I remember my first brush with the Police aged 14. I was caught writing graffiti on a poster at Mill Hill Broadway Station, with a pencil. I was frogmarched home, he waited outside, whilst I got a rubber and then frogmarched back to rub it out. The copper in question was a mate of my Dad's. He used to frequent the Mill Hill Services club. He put the fear of God into me. He didn't tell my father though. He said "You owe me one now!". About five years later, my Dad was buying me a pint in the Services club and playing me at snooker. The copper came over and said "How's the career in graffiti coming on?" I was mortified, he told my Dad the story, who found it hilarious. He then bought me a pint. No paperwork and a lesson learned. It also made me realise that the police are simply members of our community, trying their hardest to make it a decent place to live in.
Fast forward to 2018. I believe in citizenship and community. I have supported through my business, a charity called NCS - The Challenge for quite a few years. This gives 17-18 year olds the opportunity to do National Citizenship Service. Each year, groups of youngsters come to Mill Hill Music Complex studios and I give them a tour, answer questions and then advise them on a pitch they are preparing for a team of Dragons, who will fund the winners in a venture they are putting together.
I am always highly impressed by the young people who turn up. They are very switched on. Amongst the presenations I saw this year (I have no idea what it will be until they perform it), one was about long hours NHS workers suffer, one was to arrange a fundraiser for Friern Barnet Library and one to support a mental health charity. All groups were eloquent and well presented.
My studios participated in many events, providing PA systems for Harrow against knives festivals, participating in videos to promote awareness of the dangers of knife crime and all manner of other initiatives. Most of these were either organised or supported by the local Police community officers. We even saw a breakdancing Policeman at an event organised by the excellent Nutmeg organisation.
Most of these programs were cut in 2010 to save money in response to the call for austerity. At the time when the cuts were first being announced, I interviewed the then chief constable of Barnet. He told me that the Police had been told to stop such community engagement and concentrate on "core policing". I suggested that this was short sighted and was storing up trouble for the future. His response was "Well if we don't have such programs for a year or two, it might not cause too much damage, but if we stop completely, then yes, we run the very real risk of losing the trust of young people".
So here we are in 2018. We are seeing an epidemic of knife crime. We are seeing decent young people, who want to be good citizens, saying they have trust issues with the police. From talking to these young people, I don't think they are the type of people who will commit crime. The reason that trust is so important is that amongst their peer groups and their families, there will be people who are drifiting into trouble. If they have no trust of the Police, they are far less likely to take any action that may help get their friends back on the right track. When I was 18 years old, a friend of mine with family issues, drug problems and mental health issues tried to commit suicide. He did this by taking 18 methodone suppositories. He turned up on our doorstep. I called the police immediately. My father had told me that if someone is in a critical situation, the police will take them to hospital quicker than an ambulance (there was no such thing as paramedics then). I did this in the full knowledge that the police may ask some difficult questions. As it happened they were great. They sorted him out, got him to hospital and he's still alive today. They then came back and asked a few questions. They were interested in how he'd come by the drugs. I explained that he'd simply turned up in a terrible state and I knew I had to call the emergency services. I had no idea where he'd got them or why he was in such a state. They asked if I knew who may have provided them. As I've never been a junkie and we moved in different circles, I couldn't help to much. The officer then said "You did the right thing. Never be afraid to call the police if there is a life and death matter". As I mulled over this, I recall hearing a radio report stating that stabbing victims do not go to hospital for fear of police. This really does make the issue a matter of life or death.
The austerity cuts are killing our society. We urgently need the Met to rebuild its community operations. We need breakdancing policemen. We need discretion. We need back office staff to do the paperwork, so highly trained and well paid officers can get back on the beat. But most of all we need politicians who can actually act like adults and sort things out. Both the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London are sons of bus drivers of Pakistani descent. I call on both of them to reboot their relationship. The time has come for policing to be sorted out. Sorting out gangs and knife crime can be done. It needs sensible policing and it needs money. But most of all it needs leadership. If Sajid and Sadiq could work together and sort this out, both of them could demonstrate that they are of suitable calibre to do the top job (as to my mind there are not exactly a huge number of candidates).
We've had cuts to police budgets for the best part of a decade. The chickens have come home to roost. Now it is time to try something different. It is time to recognise that a tragic mistake has been made and that we need to have trust between police and teenagers. We need a visible police presence in the High Street. Times change, maybe the High St Police station is outdated. I'd like to see a national network of community centres, with activities suitable for teenagers, which house an office for community police teams to work in the community. I'd make sure that community police spent a couple of hours each week working with the teenagers, coaching football, giving breakdancing, table tennis or guitar lessons, and building up a degree of trust. I'd like to see more young people doing outdoor activities and I I'd like to see police officers encouraged to organise these. That is how trust can be rebuilt. You can't start at the margins, you have to start in the mainstream and it is clear to me from what I heard that the mainstream is a problem.