I am going to start this blog by stating that this is not a hatchet job on our local police. I have several friends who are serving officers, of many years standing, and I know that the job is difficult. The police have their priorities. These are dealing with terrorism, murders and serious crime. At the time of the credit crunch, the country took the decision to defund the Police to the extent that regular local policing was wound down. They've had just enough money to do all of the top three priorities and keep a veneer of doing the other things that we expect them to do.
I recently had cause to visit Colindale Police to give a statement. I was quite shocked to find that the officer I was giving the statement to was also manning the front desk. I had to give the statement in a semi public area. Every few minutes, he had to excuse himself to deal with a member of the public. I've given several statements before over the years. This was the first time that it was not done in a private room. Whilst it wasn't a particular problem for me, I was concerned that there seems to be a chronic staff shortage to have made such a situation necessary.
As I strolled home, I got to thinking. If I was burgled, had my car broken into, mugged in the park with no harm coming to me, would I expect the police to catch the culprits and return my property? The shocking answer is no, I probably wouldn't. The best I could reasonably expect is for the perpetrators to get caught in the act at some future date and confess to the crime. This would then be 'cleared up'. Would I feel that it was cleared up? Personally no, to me getting cleared up would be to receive some sort of compensation or return of goods from the culprit. I would be most interested to know if anyone in the borough has had any property returned in the last couple of years, where the perpetrator has not been caught in the act?
My gut feeling, which is probably ill informed, is that most low level crime is solved when members of the public see a crime in progress and a police car is either nearby or the perpetrator is apprehended by a member/members of the public. I know dozens of people in Mill Hill who have been burgled, few have ever had anything more than a crime number and a cursory visit. In conversations with friends who are in the Police, they tell me that generally the Police have a reasonable idea who is committing the crimes, but there is simply not the resources to target the criminals and when they do catch them, the legal process and the courts will not impose any sort of sanction that is a deterrent, even when the culprit is a serial offender.
A few years ago the Met staged "operation bumblebee" which was a major crackdown on burglars. The operation was a success, many burglars were caught.Their fences networks were disrupted and for a short while there were less burglaries across London. I was surprised to find out that Operation Bumblebee is still technically in existence. I haven't heard anyone say that the burglars who robbed them were caught.
The police have been in the spotlight recently. We are all aware of recent cases where members of the BAME community have felt mistreated by the Police. I was talking to one friend from the BAME community who asked "why am I always getting pulled up in my car, but when my mum got robbed they didn't want to know". The recent case where Olympic athletes were subjected to a rather humiliation stop and search was a prime example of this. I can't remember the last time I saw a Police officer in Mill Hill who wasn't in his car or attending and incident (or buying coffee's at Costa). To me, this is sadly "lowest common denominator policing". It does nothing to help community relations and if community relations are poor, the police have little chance of clearing up crimes. There seems to be no visible street patrols. At our business in Mill Hill, we would regularly get officers 'popping in' for a tea and a chat. It added to a sense of security.
Such visits and community engagement generally stopped after the credit crunch. The Met stopped its community engagement program in its tracks. Our business has always been supportive of Police initiatives locally. As a studio, we have helped make anti knife crime videos, given prizes in Police organised events. Where as there would be a dozen or so a year across Barnet, Brent, Harrow and Herts that we'd be involved in, last year there was a single one.
Back in 2010, when we were making the film "A Tale of Two Barnets" I interviewed the Chief Constable of Barnet. We discussed the cuts and the rolling back of the community programs. He told me that this could be done for a couple of years, but if it went on for much longer, the Police would end up being disconnected from the community. Sadly I believe this is what we are seeing. I don't blame the Police. They are not being given enough cash. Officers on relatively high salaries are having to do menial admin tasks that should be done by less well paid admin assistants. This is simply a misuse of resources. The government knows that it is not a cost saving, but it sounds better to cut "admin staff" than officers.
The covid crisis has brought this into sharp relief. No one is being prosecuted for breaching covid regulations. People are moaning that supermarkets and rail staff are not policing their customers, but the Police will not act. Even if they wanted to, they are snowed under. Officers spend their time doing often pointless paperwork, filling in reports, and all manner of tasks that could easily be undertaken by admin staff, freeing their time to be out on the streets catching criminals.
So when you ask what the Police do in the London Borough of Barnet, the sad truth is that the answer is that they spend far too long doing tasks they shouldn't be doing. The Conservative Party is historically the party of Law and Order, but the last ten years have seen us reach the point where unless we are murdered or blown up in a terrorist incident, we don't really ever expect those who commit crimes against law abiding citizens to get caught. The answer? It's simple, fund the police properly, get admin staff to do admin and start up the community programs that were so savagely cut in 2010. Once we've got the Police working properly, we can then get the criminal justice system to do its job, but thats a different blog