Where should police be stationed?

Carrying out an “estates portfolio review” sounds a rather boring, technical thing – perhaps something done by accountants or estate agents. But don’t snooze off quite yet, for what it means for the Metropolitan Police is that the future of many police stations in Haringey, neighbouring Camden and other boroughs is uncertain.

Some of this is good news – there are police stations that are in old, inadequate buildings. But what will the response be? Will it be to refurbish them? Will it be to move to a new building in the same community? Or will it be to close stations and concentrate services in central “super-stations”?

The latter was in fashion for a long with the Met Police, shutting local services and centralising resources in distant, out of touch mega-buildings. In recent years, the Met started putting more emphasis on delivering local policing through local services – but that is up for grabs again.

Sir John Stevens, when he headed up the Met, had even started to turn the tide a bit with some stations reopening to the public – as we saw in Muswell Hill, where my long campaign with residents finally persuaded him and his colleagues to reopen the doors to the public.

And this was so great – and so popular with people in Muswell Hill – because local police stations are liked and needed by their communities. So, any desire to remove them had bettered be matched by an offer of something not only equal or better – but also agreed upon by local people after proper consultation. Because policing works best where it works with the community.

We are only just now rebuilding the relationship between community and the force that polices them. Only now are people even beginning to feel our voices, which for so many years called for street policing, are at last acknowledged as Safer Neighbourhood Teams roll out into every ward or neighbourhood. And the scheme is beginning to deliver reductions in crime – as we, the people, always knew it would.

I have already met with Sir Ian Blair, London’s top policeman, on this. I was heartened by his promise that no police station would close without a new one opening “as nearby as possible”. However we need to ensure that really means in our community – not a distant, far-off station. “As possible” could be open to a host of different interpretations!

There may well be an argument for a modern office block to house administrative functions. There may well be a valid argument for a cellblock – as we are desperately short of cell space and the police spend hours and hours just trying to find somewhere to hold criminal suspects.

But the real debate has to come about where police are stationed and where they patrol from and where the public can access our police when they need them – and I emphasize ‘our’ police. Of course, what most people most want is police out on the streets patrolling – but where those police are based matters. There is clearly a debate to be had about how to get police more integrated and where they can be accessed by the public: in supermarkets or with front counters in shops on high streets or in a police kiosk – although the one in Wood Green was hardly ever open – so people never really had any confidence in it and now it faces demolition. Much better would be to keep the Wood Green kiosk, base more services at it and have it open for longer.

Sir Ian is going to come and meet me and the local police chief for an early discussion so that he can work on his ‘vision’ for the future of police placement in the borough. He said at our meeting that he wants to know what people think. I want to make sure he hears as many opinions as possible – so please do write to me with your views at House of Commons, London, SW1A 1AA or via my website, www.lynnefeatherstone.org/contact.htm

Let’s act early, act local and be vocal.