Thirteen year’s ago when I was the Crime Editor on a national newspaper I wrote an article about a new style of policing that was been piloted in London called Safer Neighbourhoods.

I say new but of course it mimicked the traditional policing of a bygone era when you knew, respected and were a little bit scared of your local bobby.

The idea was that  people wanted community-based officers to be part of the local scene, who they could trust, confide in but also make them feel safer.

I saw how the six strong Safer Neighbour team worked and after some initial cynicism I was impressed.

Realising fear of crime is sometimes worse than crime itself, the Met decided to deal
with what would usually be considered low-level offences affecting the public’s feeling of safety and security – fly tipping, abandoned cars, graffiti, poor lighting and anti social behaviour.

Teams of a sergeant, two constables and three community support officers who were “ring-fenced” to an area so they never got moved away held monthly meetings with community representatives and set up plans to deal with concerns and initiate change.

Heart warming stories began to emerge, like the elderly woman who had not been to bingo for five years because she was scared to leave her house and now felt safe enough to go out after dark once again.

The Met was committed to providing 624 Safer Neighbourhood teams to cover all of London’s 32 boroughs by 2008. With the backing of the then Mayor, the Greater London Authority put up £26.6million to fund the first year

One of the residents told me in 2004 “It’s going back to old-fashioned way of policing that proved to be very, very successful many years ago. You can see police on the streets, stop and talk to them and feel you can trust them. The fear of crime has gone down here”.

In addition to the community teams, the Met recruited 288 extra police officers and 192 extra community support officers.

Fast forward to today. In 2017 we are told police are more efficient and this has resulted in crime reducing by a third but it’s also led to drastic police cuts.

For the majority of us it is not the major crime but the low level crimes that drive down an area and its the trust and therefore that vital intelligence, which could be so beneficial in tackling radicalisation and terrorism, that police, and therefore we, all lose out on.

According to London’s Mayor  Sadiq Khan over the past six years the government has systematically cut police budgets in London and the Met has already had to find £600m of savings since austerity began in 2010. To date, these have led to the loss of 2,800 police staff, including hundreds of Community Support Officers and the closure of dozens of police stations.

There are still Safer Neighbourhood teams but with fewer numbers and as the cuts hit, stations were closed and Thornton Heath’s two police officers and community support officer along with the Bensham Manor contingent were relocated to Gipsy Hill in neighbouring  Lambeth, while the SNT Parchmore office sits empty until the lease runs out.

Police cuts became an issue in the election because of the terrorist attacks but it has been a massive issue for last few years. Only now has it been pushed to the front of the political agenda and is something that local communities should be concerned about.

Andrea Perry

Editor, Thornton Heath Chronicle