Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



20.  You mentioned there is still a very high turnover; presumably, those who leave are not necessarily lost to the force, they are simply going back to wherever they came from, or somewhere else?

  (Sir John Stevens) That is absolutely right. Fifty per cent of the people who join the Metropolitan Police are not Londoners, so the favourite places they will go back to are places obviously where they were born, where their families are, their mothers and fathers, and the like. And this is one of the things that London suffers from, basically, and has always suffered from.

21.  Are you satisfied that the pay of the front-line officers is sufficient, compared with the pay of the boys or girls in the backroom, to make front-line police work attractive? I think, when you last met the Committee, you complained about that?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes. I think this is another aspect of the Reform Bill. I think, if we do not reward the people who are out on the streets doing the job, doing shift-work, at the very front of policing, more than people who are sitting behind desks, then we are not doing the job as we should do it. And that is why one of the aspects of the kind of wage discussion at the moment is about rewarding people at the front line in the way we should; and, unless we do that, I believe, we are not giving credit to the people who are taking all the dangers on the street, and you know that there are massive dangers on the street, in terms of physical assault and abuse, and the like. So I, for one, and I know all of us here agree we must reward the front-line officer more than we reward those who do a very important job, perhaps in a control room, but we must reward those on the street.

22.  And do you believe the coming reforms will give you the flexibility to do that?

  (Sir John Stevens) I do, indeed, yes, Chairman.

23.  Just on élite detective squads, you mentioned a moment ago that you were short, and you were having to bring one or two people back from retirement, but the opposite danger to that is that people can spend too long in such squads and acquire bad habits; that has happened in some of the regional crime squads, as we all know about?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think you have got to reach the balance. I think, where we had tenure previously, where people were going in only for three years, or four years, and then moving around, that probably might have been alright for the times, but I think what you have to do is ensure that people who train up, and we spend tens of thousands of pounds training these people up, are put in the right positions. As a counterbalance to that, to the very real problem that you talk about, you have to have a proper corruption strategy, and we have had plaudits from all over the world for the one Paul Condon and I introduced four years ago, well, three and a half years ago now. You have got to have a proper anti-corruption and dishonesty strategy which is something that you know that works, and therefore that will counterbalance, I think, some of the issues that quite rightly you bring up, and some of the bad practice and some of the corruption and criminal behaviour that took place in some places round the country years ago.

24.  Not so many years ago, actually?

  (Sir John Stevens) It was not, no.

25.  But once you become a detective, you do become a detective for life, or might you go back to uniform; and, if you went back to uniform, would it be seen as a punishment?

  (Sir John Stevens) No, I do not think so. We all wear the uniform, and are proud to do so. No, I think not. I think that you have to have a balance. I was a career detective for 20-odd years, or whatever, and then went to uniform and had a mix, of going to the Staff College as a trainer, and so on and so forth, and Ian Blair had the same. You have got to understand what policing is about in the round. And I think there has to come a stage in a detective's career when you do not lose the expertise, when you do allow him to see that there are other sides of policing; the same applies to traffic, Thames Division, and the like. You have to see that this is a big organisation that delivers in all sorts of ways; if you do not, you become parochial. But, at the same time, we must hold on to those people who are outstanding detectives, bearing in mind that we need them for murder inquiries, and the like, and some of the very sophisticated things we are involved in at the moment.

26.  Going back to front-line police officers, who are out on beat duty, is there a habit of nicking someone in the first hour or two of a cold night and then spending the next four or five hours back at the station, doing the paperwork?

  (Sir John Stevens) I would like to think not, Chairman.

27.  And, if there is, have you managed to crack it?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think one of the biggest problems is not the fact that they will go and do that and get in. I went up to a north west London police station recently, where someone was arrested for a very low-level crime, you know, shop-lifting, I think it was for something like £1, or something ridiculous, not ridiculous, obviously, to the person who lost that money; but he then had to take this person into the police station, he was off the streets, in a town which had only two officers walking round there, for seven hours. Now we have to find better ways of dealing with things like that. So I do not think it is a matter of police officers arresting people and then going in and keeping in the warm, so to speak, it is a matter of the systems, which have got to be changed, and we have got to be quite bold, and maybe radical, about dealing with these things.

28.  And will the proposed reforms give you the discretion to do that?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think the reforms go only so far. What is happening at the moment is, the ex-Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir David O'Dowd, is looking at the bureaucracy of things; and what we are looking for is something which will allow officers to take them to the police station, into the charge room, spend a minimum period of time there, and technology should take over. There are some forces in the country who do have a kind of seamless thing, where you take someone in the charge room, and these things were introduced seven years ago in the North East, as I think you know, and it allows the officer to place the person he has charged there and get back out on the street as quickly as possible, where we need them.

David Winnick

29.  Commissioner, I want to refer to the various aspects of crime levels, but nearer home, if I can put it like that. Your predecessor, and you yourself when you met us in January, referred to a very, very small number of police officers who were considered to be corrupt; you emphasised that it was a very small number, your predecessor, as indeed yourself, spoke about between 100 and 250 officers in the Met, but accepted that the damage they could do to the reputation and morale was very big indeed. Now what I would like to ask you is, have you got rid of those officers?

  (Sir John Stevens) When I was Deputy Commissioner, I think the figure was between a half and 1 per cent, which was about 100 to about 250, or 120-150. We have actually convicted 54 people now; there are another 14 police officers waiting to go through the courts, in terms of corruption charges. What we certainly ascertained was that there were probably between 100 and 120 officers who were involved in corrupt activities. We can safely say that those officers have been dealt with in the way we needed to deal with them, bearing in mind, of course, that there are still trials to take place towards the middle or the end of the year; these things take an awfully long time to come to fruition. Where we really are quite pleased, and we have to acknowledge the help that the Federation has given on this, is with the corruption strategy, where we use integrity testing now, and the like, and we have been doing that for three to four years. So, from my point of view, as heading the fight against corruption before I became Commissioner, we have certainly taken some very quick steps, successful steps, in terms of ridding ourselves of some of those officers. But, before I hand over to Ian, if I may say so, in a city like London, or any big city, there is always going to be the temptation for police officers to be corrupt. Fortunately, in the Metropolitan Police, it is a very small number. But the temptations, on the amount of money that runs around drugs, you know, we are making cash recoveries of £1 million, and that type of thing, and the way we know some of the organised criminals are operating actually to try to get in to some of our officers and corrupt them by a gradual process, we must make sure we have a very effective anti-corruption branch, CIB3, that works to root these people out, because, as you said earlier, Sir, one corrupt officer is one too many.

30.  But you do accept, from what you have said, Sir John, that the chance of having a totally corruption-free Met force is impossible, or as near impossible in an imperfect world as we have to accept?

  (Sir John Stevens) Absolutely, I do not think there is any doubt about that. And what we must make sure is that we have got that system that takes the confidence away from someone, or the arrogance, or even the ability just to completely push aside the law, to take the chances.
  (Mr Blair) If I might just add to that. I think the significant recognition is that corruption is not cyclical, it is actually ever present, and that organised crime will seek out officers to corrupt, it is part of their business plan, if we can describe it that way, and, therefore, our intelligence-led approach to this will have to remain. And, interestingly, in the discussions that we have had with the Police Complaints Authority, as it moves towards being independent, one of the issues that we have been talking about is that this is much closer to organised criminality than it is to public complaints, and we need to retain the kind of activity, which is very, very significant, in terms of staff numbers, and the very long-term penetration operations against organised crime.

31.  Thank you very much. I want to turn now to the wider issue. Street crime is very alarming at the moment, is it not, Sir John?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes.

32.  For example, there have been a number of reports very recently in the press, and the Home Secretary yesterday, in his speech in Nottingham, called for police strikes to smash the street gangs which are carrying out a wave of car-jackings, and mobile "phone thieves. Are you on top of the job, or, let me put it differently, is the force on top of the job, in dealing with this?

  (Sir John Stevens) We are certainly on top of the job; and the initiative we announced about three weeks ago comes on top of other initiatives. There has been an explosion in street crime, and I would like to explain the reasons probably why and what we intend to do about it. Arrests for street crime are up 26.6 per cent on what they were last year, we are arresting more people now for street crime than we have ever done in our history. What we are finding is a new phenomenon; three-quarters of the people we are arresting for robbery now have no previous convictions. That is something we have never ever come across, and what it means is that people are going to nearly the top of the criminal calendar when they are committing offences, rather than what has happened in the past, a gradual work-up to the offence of robbery. We have a real problem in this city, and I have said it publicly before, about youth crime. I cannot talk about research that has come out of certain trials, because those trials are taking place at the moment, but we will have more to say about that when these trials have finished. There is, without doubt, in this city, disaffected youth, disassociated youth, which research has shown have been in care from the age of 12 onwards, all have been physically or sexually abused, they have not been in school for four to five years, their peer group are gangs, and they actually are not, in any way, having any kind of sensitivity of the like of the sensitivities that you or I have. Now we have to get a grip on these people; we are arresting more of them, but street crime is still going up, to an extent which is alarming. Now we have to ask the question, if we are arresting more, why are we not having an effect on street crime and bringing street crime down, and a lot of work is being done on that. But certainly we have in each borough, and one of the initiatives which we are into now is, which involves these 500 officers and more, the business of actually targeting persistent offenders, 320 persistent offenders. And, quite frankly, we need to take the battle to them on the streets and take their confidence away from them, because they are arrogant and they are abusive and they are violent thugs, and I am afraid the place for them is in police stations so the public can have a rest and respite from their activities.

33.  Yes, but these street gangs, and I have no wish to exaggerate the situation, as bad as it is, without any form of exaggeration, some of these street gangs, in parts of London, are inflicting misery, and there is no other way of describing it, on law-abiding citizens, and the feeling amongst those law-abiding citizens is, it is not confined by any means to London, but since we are dealing with the London situation, that no effective action is being taken. But it is a sort of lawlessness which is totally unacceptable in a country like ours, and a lot of criticism, fair or unfair, is being targeted at the Met. What is your response, Sir John?

  (Sir John Stevens) Our response to that is that we will be on the job, and we have put in our resources and are focusing our resources. The types of activities that have taken place specifically over the last two months are totally unacceptable to us, and we will arrest these people time after time, as we do; sometimes these people are bailed eight or nine times, as a result of which we lose witnesses and we lose the evidence that we need, and a certain amount of enthusiasm goes out of the prosecution. We will arrest them time after time, believe you me; that is our job. And, remember, we have arrested 26.6 per cent more this year than we did last year, let us increase that to 50 or 60 per cent. If they think they can get away with what they are doing on the streets, they are making a big mistake.

34.  Why is Lower and Upper Clapton Roads in north London a place where there does not seem to be, as you well know, in Hackney, why is it that the murder rate is so high there, and the general feeling, again, as far as I can tell, from press reports, responsible press reports, is that little action is being taken by the police to find the killers?

  (Sir John Stevens) That is in relation to, there are some boroughs where there is a very high amount of murder, and that goes into the Trident activity. We have got 170-180 officers on Trident; they have had superb results. There have been 460 arrests this year, they have recovered something like 180 firearms; that activity goes on. The problem is that there has been a 46 per cent increase in gun crime, something which I talked about six to nine months ago, a 46 per cent increase in gun crime; sometimes when we get to these incidents there is no victim there, even though there is blood on the floor, and things have been cleared up. Now when you are trying to investigate crimes of that nature, which involve organised crime and drug activity, it is very difficult; but what we are doing is building up intelligence, and we are going to be putting another 60 officers on Trident over the next year, and dealing with it in the way we know we need to deal with it. It is the witnesses and support; and, as you know, and I am sure everybody in this room knows, it is not just a job for the police, we have to have the evidence before we can arrest people and convict people, and we, the police, cannot produce all the evidence. And this needs a battle across the spectrum, from authorities, school, health, political support, from people like yourselves, who I know support us, in terms of getting into this and dealing with it in the way that we all want it dealt with.

35.  Is it correct that in the areas which I have just mentioned, in Hackney, there have been, in fact, seven fatal shootings within the last two years?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think that is probably right, yes; in Lambeth it would be even more.

36.  And how many have been arrested?

  (Sir John Stevens) The detection rate for murder last year was the highest rate that we have ever had, 90 per cent.

37.  I am talking about the particular area?

  (Sir John Stevens) I do not know. I would have to come back to you in detail on that.

38.  Would you send us a note?

  (Sir John Stevens) Absolutely; a full note, in detail, of each and every one, yes.[1]

39.  Harlesden, in north west London, is another, very much a trouble spot, when it comes to murders, am I correct?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes; and Brent as well.

1   See Appendix, Ev 107. Back

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