How many police officers does it take to keep London safe? As the Metropolitan Police faces up to budget cuts that will see it forced to save around £800m in the next 4 years that is the question facing the Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.
In an interview with LBC he said: “If we could keep at least 30,000 cops, I can make this city safe. If it’s below that, I start to get worried.” With the Commissioner already suggesting that cuts could mean losing 5,000 or more, it seems that he is going to get worried.
The latest data for September this year shows that the Met currently has 31,780 officers. Of those, 18,141 are allocated to what it calls Territorial Policing. That is the day-to-day local policing done at borough level. The largest number is in Westminster, the borough that covers much of central London with large numbers of visitors by day and revelers each night.
The rest are allocated to specialist units covering particular crimes like murder or gang violence, or particular operational areas like air support and mounted police.
The average ratio of officers in Territorial Policing to the population of the boroughs is 2.1 per 1,000 people. It is higher in some central areas, particularly Westminster.
Looking at the number of officers in relation to what the Met has identified as priority crimes (violence, robbery, theft, burglary) shows a higher caseload for officers in some North London boroughs. In Brent and Islington there are 23 priority crimes per officer. South of the river in Lambeth and Southwark there are 18 and 19.
Haringey and Lewisham offer a good comparison. They have a similar number of officers and ratios of officers to population, but the rate of priority crimes per officer is 21 in Haringey and 17 in Lewisham.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris Sir Bernard said that he wants to increase the number of armed police in the Specialist Firearms Command above the current 2,000 level. If the cuts are to fall most heavily on Territorial Policing it may be the boroughs in North London that feel the greatest impact.