Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 564 - 579)

TUESDAY 10 JUNE 2008

CHIEF CONSTABLE IAN JOHNSTON AND INSPECTOR JIM HITCH

  Q564  Chairman: Chief Constable Johnston and Inspector Hitch, thank you very much for coming today to give evidence to the select committee inquiry into policing. I would like to start with you, Chief Constable Johnston, your instant reaction to the very impressive sales pitches we have had from these three companies. Any instant reactions?

  Chief Constable Johnston: I think the position around Airwave and around mobile data is that there are still lessons to learn, there are still things to be done, but both of them are a fantastic facility for the Police Service. I am supporting their pitch around all the good things that are happening, but I am saying that there are things that we can do to make better use of both of those facilities and to address some of the concerns that the Federation raised so powerfully when they did.

  Q565  Chairman: Presumably you believe that the new technologies will help the police as far as their work is concerned.

  Chief Constable Johnston: Absolutely. I think the Airwave radio system has been a revolution for us. We have got coverage that we never had before, we have got facilities, in terms of talk groups, that we have never really had before, so there is flexibility in the system, and in terms of the mobile data, the ability to search criminal records from the position on the street, to get information from voters' registers, from an encounter on the street, is very powerful operationally for the officers out there and also actually saves us time back in the control room, because the officer doing the search direct is not ringing on the radio back to base for somebody to do the search there and then come back. So there are a lot of efficiencies there and a lot of really good news for us.

  Q566  Chairman: What about the figures that we have been given that it will cut down on paper work?

  Chief Constable Johnston: I think paper work is always going to be a burden for the Police Service. As Ronnie Flannagan acknowledges, I think he spoke about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, and there is good bureaucracy and bad bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is essentially around accountability, and I think we all want a police service that is accountable, so we are always going to have bureaucracy. What we want to cut out is things like duplication.

  Q567  Chairman: Does it cut down?

  Chief Constable Johnston: The mobile data stuff certainly does. An officer, under the old system, would write down a stop search in his book, would go back to the police station, type it into the computer—a very slow process—and would have to do the same with the intelligence report. Mobile data does this for him automatically. He taps it out on his mobile data terminal, John Smith gets typed in once, so every time he deals with a name John Smith, it will come up automatically on the key pad, the date of birth will come up automatically, so there are savings there in terms of paper work and also savings in terms of transferring the records from his on the street record back to the records of the organisation. That is done automatically, and so there are definite savings there.

  Q568  Chairman: Before I bring in Mr Prosser to continue along this line of questioning, can I ask you about the Mayor of London's ban on alcohol on the transport system because the inquiry is quite a wide inquiry into policing. Do you welcome this ban?

  Chief Constable Johnston: I think drunks on any form of transport, drunks anywhere holding bottles of alcohol and rolling about on other passengers, is a pretty unseemly, unattractive part of life, and I think doing things about that is a really good idea. Clearly, it is the drunks who are the problem rather than people carrying the alcohol, so we are still going to have a problem with the drunks, but I think London Underground and the Mayor giving a very clear signal about what is acceptable behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour is a really good move. If the public picks up on the spirit of this in the way that they have done with the smelly food lessons that London Underground portrayed, generally getting people to behave better, I think is a really good thing and I am happy to play my part in that.

  Q569  Chairman: Presumably you were consulted about it?

  Chief Constable Johnston: Yes, we were.

  Q570  Chairman: Did you expect those little parties at the end of the official drinking period?

  Chief Constable Johnston: I think it is a shame. I think it makes the point very clearly that this is exactly why we do not want drinking on London Underground. That was pretty unacceptable behaviour and I think it makes the point very much about the value of the ban.

  Q571  Mr Winnick: That party, as the Chairman put it, I know he did not quite mean it in that way, was as good an illustration that one could find of outright, drunken hooliganism.

  Chief Constable Johnston: Absolutely.

  Q572  Mr Winnick: There was absolutely no justification for that sort of conduct.

  Chief Constable Johnston: No; absolutely not.

  Q573  Mr Winnick: I want to put this question to you. It is argued by some that the ban on drinking is unenforceable; it is not going to be observed by a good number of people. Do you accept that sort of pessimistic line: that the large majority of people are not going to be law abiding?

  Chief Constable Johnston: No, I do not. I think the large majority of people who use the tube are law-abiding. I think there are some that get on it that we would rather they did not and we would prefer them to behave in a different manner, but I make the point, again, this is about giving a signal about what is acceptable behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour, and I think it is a very powerful signal.

  Q574  Mr Winnick: Those who are not law-abiding (and I hope they will be very, very few indeed and that sort of drunken exhibitionism will not be repeated), are you confident that your force can deal with such people?

  Chief Constable Johnston: Yes, we can. In the first instance what we are looking to do is to advise people rather than have to enforce the law, but there are the rules of carriage which enable us to eject people from the underground system should they not comply with the rules around drinking and carrying drink.

  Q575  Tom Brake: Could I clarify whether you are saying that this should be self-policing or have you, in fact, put in a request for extra officers?

  Chief Constable Johnston: We are in negotiations with the Mayor's office about extra officers for the underground, and he has made an offer that we have yet to see.

  Q576  Chairman: Who is he?

  Chief Constable Johnston: The Mayor in his manifesto pledged to release funding for 50 additional British Transport Police officers to patrol the worst suburban stations, and we are in dialogue about that. As yet they are to materialise but I am confident that they will, and that will be a help in enforcing it, but I do think the first instance is about an education programme, and then we are going to get tough on the people who do not comply.

  Q577  Chairman: Have you put in a request for more officers?

  Chief Constable Johnston: We have accepted his offer of a gift of more officers. If that does not materialise, we shall clearly be pursuing it with a fairly firm request.

  Chairman: Excellent. Back to new technology.

  Q578  Gwyn Prosser: Chief Constable, we have been told about the funding system for British Transport Police. It is rather complex, but more than one source. Indeed, your connection into the new technologies, into the police database, for instance, there is some confusion perhaps. Can you tell us a bit more about the barriers to purchasing and implementing this huge array of new technologies which are out there?

  Chief Constable Johnston: The British Transport Police is funded by the rail industry. We are occasionally included in wider policing initiatives, like, for example, mobile data, where we have benefited from some additional funding. In relation to the Police National Database, which is, in effect, going to be the major intelligence source for the Police Service going forward, the major data collection regime, we do not have access to full funding and support, which seems to me to be an extraordinary anomaly. I think that is a big issue for us. We suffer a bit from a serendipity arrangement in terms of funding, but we are never quite clear whether we are in or whether we are out. Quite clearly, I think, in terms of the national intelligence database for the United Kingdom, we should be very much a full part of that family. We have something to contribute and something to take from it and I think we should be fully included within it in funding terms. We are not being banned, we are just being required to pay for it through the railway companies.

  Q579  Gwyn Prosser: Has the Home Office given any rationale for that, what looks like an omission?

  Chief Constable Johnston: The rationale they give is that the Police Service for the railways is funded under "the user pays" principle and, therefore, the railway companies should pay. I can see value in placing at the railway company's door some specific benefits of policing, but it seems to me that the BTP's contribution to the national intelligence database is for the benefit of UK, not just for the railway companies, and I think on those sorts of grounds there is a very clear rationale for the scope of the programme to be widened to include BTP and for it to be fully funded by government.


 
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