'Over-strength' Lambeth police defend officer cuts

Chief Superintendent Matt Bell said the 20 per cent fall in officers means Lambeth now has just the number of police it should

Chief Superintendent Matt Bell said the 20 per cent fall in officers means Lambeth now has just the number of police it should

First published in News Wandsworth Guardian: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by , Reporter

Police officer numbers in Lambeth have fallen by 20 per cent over the past two-and-half years, it has been revealed, after the borough’s top cop claimed the borough had been “over-strength” for years.

A week after the police chief of neighbouring Southwark resigned and claimed the Metropolitan Police was in “financial crisis”, the latest figures for Lambeth show a drop of nearly 200 officers in two-and-a-half years – 1,038 in March 2010 to 846 at present.

Sergeants, including those who led the borough’s safer neighbourhood teams, also fell over the same period from 119 in 2010 to 88 at the beginning of this week.

There are growing concerns that Gipsy Hill police station could be among the police stations to close as the Met seeks to save £500m by 2015.

Half the borough’s police stations – Gipsy Hill, Cavendish Road and Clapham – have been temporarily closed to the public since late August to get more officers on the streets. Since the Met’s recruitment freeze was lifted in February 2011, 52 officers have joined Lambeth, but they are outnumbered by 89 officers leaving to join other units.

Chief Superintendent Matt Bell said Lambeth police had been “over strength” for years and now has just over the number of officers it should.

Chief Supt Bell said: “While there are fewer officers than in 2010-11, performance in the borough has improved this year, with reductions in burglary, robbery, serious youth violence, gun and knife crime.

“The Metropolitan Police Service remains committed to maintaining operational capability during the current financial climate and the challenges that presents.”

Last week, Southwark’s borough commander Charles Griggs announced his departure from the Met after only nine months in the job, saying the force faces a “financial crisis”.

He told colleagues: “Sadly, as part of the budget cuts in response to that crisis it has not been possible for the Met to honour their commitment to my three-year tenure.”

Lambeth and Southwark’s London Assembly member, Val Shawcross, said she feared the drop in police numbers could result in a resurgence of crime in Lambeth.

Ms Shawcross said: “It has been clear that police numbers have been falling last year and this year.

“I think it’s a real concern to the community.

“It’s a very poor situation at the moment and I fear it could get worse.”

She said the cash crisis and cuts were being “very badly managed” with no clear information coming from the Mayor of London’s office.

In Gipsy Hill the safer neighbourhood team has been halved since the start of the year because Sergeant Lee-Ann Mills is on maternity leave and two PCSOs have left without being replaced.

David Green, chairman of the Gipsy Hill Safer Neighbourhood Panel, said: “We must have police officers patrolling the streets and if this is being cut down they cannot be in two places at the same time.

“The impact is loss of confidence and the sense of personal wellbeing would be that much diminished.”

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