Something strange in Waltham Forest

Two months ago, I reported that there was a petition brought to the Metropolitan Police Authority asking for an extra 120 police officers for Waltham Forest.  The Police and the DCiC*, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, were clearly unhappy about the idea of unpicking the Resource Allocation Formula that determines local policing strength just for one Borough, but it was promised that Assistant Commissioner McPherson would visit the Borough to see for himself what the issues were (I am told that in fact he has visited the Borough twice since then).

Today, at a meeting of the MPA’s Strategic and Operational Policing Committee, I spotted some interesting performance statistics about policing in Waltham Forest.  In the year to end-February 2010, total notifiable offences in Waltham Forest have risen by 5.3% compared with the twelve months before – the second highest increase of any Borough in London.  Even more significantly, Waltham Forest features amongst the bottom three Boroughs for sanction detection rates (the standard crime “clear up” measure – the proportion of offences leading to a judicial sanction against the perpetrator) for most areas of crime: burglary (where Waltham Forest’s rate was a quarter of the best-performing Borough); motor vehicle crime (a tenth of the best-performer); robbery (a third of the best performer); knife crime (less than half of the best); and sexual offences (also less than half of the best).

Now, there are plenty of possible reasons for these figures.  It may not be that the Borough necessarily needs more police officers.  The statistics might reflect the poor management of the policing resources available or might be a consequence of poor partnership with the local council or might even just be a temporary statistical blip.  However, the figures do raise real concerns, which is no doubt why Assistant Commissioner McPherson is taking it so seriously and why Waltham Forest’s Labour Greoup was right to raise the issue in the first place.


Public engagement is vital to effective policing to combat terrorism

I spoke at a RUSI Conference yesterday on “Delivering Counter-Terrorism”.  My theme was why good governance (and in particular lay oversight) is an essential and important part of ensuring that counter-terrorism is effective and what needs to be done to strengthen public trust in an area vital for our national security.

I started by saying:

“In this country, policing is built on consent – the police are there to provide a service to the public, they should be responsive to the needs of the community and they are – or should be – accountable to the public they serve.  This is as important when we are speaking about counter-terrorism and protective services as it is when we are dealing with neighbourhood policing.

There are very substantial resources devoted to counter-terrorism in this country – perhaps some £2.5 billion per annum.  These sums have grown rapidly since 9/11 and since the London bombings in 2005.  During the last few years, we have seen the creation of a national network of four counter-terrorist units and a number of counter-terrorist intelligence units around the country – all linked and coordinated by the Counter-Terrorist Command (SO15) in London and under the auspices of ACPO(TAM).  It is only right and proper that there should be arrangements in place whereby the public can be satisfied that the monies spent and the resources deployed are being used efficiently and effectively, and that what is done constitutes value for money.

At the same time, it has to be recognised that counter-terrorism is not simply the responsibility of specialist units.  Although terrorism may not seem to be a day-to-day concern in most local communities, the reality is that it should be.  The threat of Al Qaeda inspired terrorism is what the Americans would no doubt call “a real and present danger” for all of us.

The modern terrorist threat is home-grown as well as international.  Successive Director-Generals of the Security Service have warned that there may well be hundreds of individuals engaged in various ways with terrorist plots.  And – as is well-known – these plots have as an objective the achievement of mass casualties.

There are few areas of the country where there are no potential targets, particularly as those targets might include parts of the critical national infrastructure, iconic sites, places of mass resort – attacks elsewhere in the world  have occurred at night clubs, in markets, at schools – and the UK has its own experience of attacks on the transport system.  In Spain, of course, there was an attack on Madrid’s commuter transport system in the run up to a General Election – a fact we might all want to ponder over the next few weeks, although I should stress that I have not heard any intelligence to support such worries.

Most areas have somewhere that might be a target – and, whilst London may have more than most, as London targets become hardened, then others become more likely.  (This will need to be a particular issue when planning the counter-terrorist response to the London Olympics in 2012.)

Moreover, what is now known or alleged about the location of bomb factories, training grounds and bonding events, often not in the most obvious of places, also demonstrates that effective counter-terrorist work must span the whole country.”

I then went on:

“And carrying the public’s support with counter-terrorist measures is essential.  In fact, I would go further: it is vital that the policing service is a continuum – one service dealing with anti-social behaviour, neighbourhood issues, street crime, burglary, serious and organised criminality and terrorism.  There are synergies between the different aspects of policing work: traffic police who find that those speeding are wanted for other crimes; credit card fraud used to finance people trafficking; the disposal of large quantities of peroxide bottles being spotted by local PCSOs identifying a terrorist plot in the making; and the list could go on and on.

Critically if it is the same police service that has to manage the community consequences of high-profile counter-terrorist operations, then that police service will be mindful of those consequences in the way in which those operations are conducted.

Community engagement also delivers better policing as through that engagement the public can, importantly, give a steer and direction on questions such as what reassures them and what does not, or how to use particular policing tactics in culturally sensitive ways that will command public support.

Building strong relationships with communities is going to be essential for future anti-terrorist work.  Getting it wrong will not only build resentments that will make co-operation with the police more difficult but are also likely to act as another factor influencing a very small minority to listen to the calls of those promoting terrorist violence.”

I then moved on to the issue of trust and the break down of political consensus:

“It used to be the case that the major political parties were careful to move with consensus on matters of national security.  That consensus broke down a few years ago with the debates on the length of time terrorist suspects could be held in police custody before being charged and with some of the rhetoric deployed over control orders and other counter-terrorist powers.

The consequence is that now, when Ministers warn of the dangers, what they say is discounted.  And I do understand that some credibility was inevitably lost over Iraq and the WMD that were never found.  And it is not just about Ministers.  The security service is seen as implicated in the WMD issue and the service, along with the police, is accused of talking up the threat so that more resources will be awarded.

So there is a general issue to be faced: how do those of us who are privy to some of the intelligence picture of the terrorist threat convince the wider public that that threat is real and that the measures being taken are justified and proportionate?  How much can and should be shared?  Is it possible to share enough to convince and at the same time protect the sources on which that intelligence is based (or for that matter convince people that what is being done is sensible but not induce alarm or panic or shut down the UK’s tourist industry)?

Striking the correct balance is even more difficult when we start to look not just at society as a whole but at individual communities and sections of communities whose initial reaction to the authorities of the state will be one of suspicion or hostility.

But this is not something that is new. In the late 1990s the Metropolitan Police through Operation Trident rebuilt its relationship with sections of the black community in London and engaged their support in tackling so-called black-on-black killings.  And all over the country, police authorities have worked with their local police services to consult local communities about the use of stop and search powers, helping to improve practice and reduce community resentment.

To understand the problems that we may face, the police need the co-operation and support of all or virtually all strands of community opinion.  I am not here talking about the recruitment of covert sources – although the environment in which the police are operating will also have an impact here.  I am talking about ensuring that the police understand what is happening within a community, that they are aware of which meeting places are attracting people who may be vulnerable to extremists, and that if there are worries or concerns about particular individuals they are articulated so that the police may monitor them.

None of this can happen without trust and that trust cannot be created overnight.  Moreover, it will require a very high level of trust for an individual to voice suspicions about a friend or family member.  But even the degree of trust necessary for individuals to talk to the police about community sensitivities will require a consistent willingness by the police to address that community’s concerns.  The police cannot be just fair-weather friends; they will need to be there all the time.

It is only when individuals within that community have sufficient confidence in police officers whom they know will they start to confide their fears and concerns.  And they will only acquire that confidence, once the police officers concerned have demonstrated their willingness to act on other issues that worry the people from that community – and these will often be traditional policing issues about burglary, street crime or anti-social behaviour, as well as matters which are directed specifically at that community.  And that confidence will only acquire sufficient strength for more serious matters to be raised when the police officers concerned have shown that they can act appropriately and effectively and, where necessary, with discretion.

In my time as an elected politician, I attended hundreds of community events.  At many of them, there was a police presence.  However, there was no point in that presence when the demeanour of that officer was such as to indicate that he had drawn the short straw to spend his Saturday afternoon at an event he  or she did not understand with people whom he had only limited, if any, contact.  Much more important was the presence – the sort of presence I am pleased to say was becoming much more common – where the police officer is obviously known to those attending the event and where the conversations you would overhear with the officer were of the nature of: “you remember that matter I mentioned to you two weeks ago, well now this has happened ….”

These days there is now a much better idea than there once was of what brings about so-called radicalisation.  It is a gradual process whereby a tiny proportion of individuals within a community are persuaded to see that the only response to the grievances that they perceive as being practised against their people is through terrorism.

Some of those grievances are international: what is happening now in Iraq, or on the West Bank, or in Kashmir, or in Malaysia, or in Chechnya are all given their place as part of a single narrative; as are issues about the distribution of economic power around the world.

In this country, the role of our government in these issues or its failure to help resolve them becomes a factor.  As does the wider sense of discrimination in jobs and wealth against Muslims (even if this is not something that directly affects the individuals concerned).  And, of course, the measures that have had to be taken to combat terrorism create their own mythology of prejudice and discrimination.

Every inappropriate stop under the Terrorism Act, every time there is a fuss about Control Orders and the debates we had about how long terrorist suspects can be held without charge will all feed – disproportionately – into that sense of grievance.

Now please do not get me wrong, I am not criticising the measures that have been taken to combat terrorism – I am a robust defender of their necessity.  I certainly believe that there is abundant evidence that such measures have to be taken given the number of people who have already progressed along a path of radicalisation to a willingness to commit atrocities.

What I am saying is that we must look at all our policies (including those designed specifically to combat those who have already gone down the path of radicalisation to that willingness to commit atrocities) and make sure that we are doing all we can to choke off the flow of young people being persuaded to follow down that path those who have already taken that journey.

However, we all have a role to play in ensuring that there is a strong and deep engagement with communities about what is being done to combat terrorism.  The more that people understand why particular measures are being taken, the more they recognise that those measures are being used in a fair and proportionate way, and the greater is the sense that the police service is there for them and provides support to all communities, the more willing will be people in those communities to support the police and the less likely will credence be given to those who try to argue that it is all part of the single narrative of victimisation of that community.

It is essential, too that the police can demonstrate that they are not fair-weather friends and that they will actively address the wider issues of concern to those communities.  It is essential, so that when things go wrong – as they will – that there can be a dialogue, a debate, and perhaps an understanding.  And it is essential, so that the police will have the support and perhaps the information that they need to take forward their work.”

Five of the top fifty Labour achievements since 1997 – VII

  • Since 1997 overall crime is down 36%; domestic burglary is down 54%; vehicle related crime is down by 57%; and violent crime is down 41%
  • a new flexible points-based system to ensure only those economic migrants who have the skills our economy needs can come to work in the UK
  • Police numbers up by 16,000 since 1997, alongside more than 16,000 Police Community Support Officers
  • Every community now has its own dedicated neighbourhood police team, easily contactable by the people who live in that community and working with them to agree local priorities and deal with people’s concerns
  • Equalised the age of consent and repealed Section 28

“Nothing justifies torture” says former head of MI5

Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former Dame Eliza and Director-General of the Security Service (MI5), gave the Mile End lecture in the House of Lords a few hours ago.  Her topic was “Reflections on Intelligence” and I understand that the text of this will shortly be available on the Parliamentary web-site.

In the Q&A after the lecture one Jack Bauer enthusiast asked her about torture.  She was unequivocal in her reply:

“Nothing – even saving lives – justifies torture.”

She’d earlier made some comments about US “waterboarding” activities at Guantanamo Bay and she added the caustic comment:

“The sad thing is that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush watched “24”.”

Yet more “deniability” in the Tory campaign

The Guardian this morning produces new evidence of the Conservative Party organisation using surrogates and deniability.  Apparently, a shadowy organisation, called the Young Britons’ Foundation has trained 2,500 Conservative activists including eleven Parliamentary candidates.  The “training” has involved exercises with assault rifles on a shooting range in Virginia and the organisation’s leader has called for the NHS to be scrapped, environmental protestors to be shot and for US-style laws on firearms.  He has also defended waterboarding techniques in interrogation.

Naturally, despite the group’s close links to leading Conservatives, like Daniel Hannan, Eric Pickles, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Ed Vaizey, David Davis and John Redwood, Conservative Central Office denies that it has official links with the YBF, even though it strongly recommends activists attend Blaney’s courses.

There they go again …..

A secure internet will require a commitment from everyone

Scott Charney, the Microsoft Vice President in charge of Trustworthy Computing, is speaking today at the RSA Conference in San Francisco.  He is re-stating both Microsoft’s commitment to “End-to-End Trust” but also the need for business, government and the public to work together to ensure that those using the internet are safe and secure.

The message is an important one: responsibility for internet security has to be shared.  The House of Lords Committee on Personal Internet Security, on which I sat, reported nearly three years ago and used a road transport analogy to make the point: safe road use requires responsible behaviour by drivers and pedestrians, but cars need to have safety features embodied in them, roads themselves need to be well-maintained and properly lit, there need to be laws regulating safe behaviour on the roads (speed limits etc) and those laws need to be properly enforced.

If anything the message has become even more important since our Committee reported.  More and more commercial and personal interactions take place on line.  Social networking sites are booming and an increasing proportion of commerce is conducted via the internet.

The threats to security have also become more pronounced.  The threats are no longer from isolated individuals, but from organised crime and it is also becoming abundantly apparent that some nation states are operating in the same way to infiltrate commercial and government networks for their own purposes.

And the technology itself is developing.  Cloud computing is becoming the norm and this presents its own challenges.  Certainly, this has raised the issue of security for many people (although it is not automatically a given that the security of data held in a cloud is necessarily worse than if it is held on your own servers, particularly if it turns out that they are inadequately protected).

So how do we move forward?

Partnership is certainly essential.  Governments have to work together in setting an international framework for collaboration and for law enforcement.  And at a national level they must also work with IT service providers and with business in general.

But above all, the individual user must be at the heart of all this.  Sensible security arrangements that make sense to the individual have to be devised.  It needs to be acknowledged that most individual users of the internet, whether they are trying to do their weekly shopping or organise their social lives, are rushed and busy.  Moreover, they are not technological experts.  They have inadequate levels of knowledge, so an error message or system alert that makes sense to an IT professional will probably be gibberish to most of us.

And critical to all of this is the need for robust identity management.

Surely, it is not too much to ask that people can feel confident that their personal details are secure, that they can communicate with others secure in the knowledge that the person or organisation with which they are communicating is who it says it is, and that when they are asked to identify themselves they need reveal no more about themselves than is necessary for the transaction concerned.

If today’s discussions at the RSA Conference take us further towards those objectives, we will be making real progress and we can all feel more hopeful that a trusted and secure internet environment is being built.

Pit-bull attack on police officer demonstrates why MPA stance on dangerous dogs is so necessary

When I posted yesterday on the subject of dangerous dogs, I didn’t know that just a short time before there had been a serious incident in which a police officer had been attacked in South London.

The subsequent Metropolitan Police statement was as follows:

“Shortly before 12.00 noon on Tuesday 23 February, a 57 year old male police officer, was attacked and bitten by two pit-bull dogs in the back garden of a residential property in Sladedale Road SE18.

Officers were attending the address to arrest the occupant for non-payment of a £1500 fine.

One PC placed himself in the garden of the neighbouring property in case the suspect tried to make off from his address.

This officer was attacked as the dogs subsequently jumped from the suspect’s garden over the fence to reach him.

A specialist dog section was called to subdue the dogs but due to their violent behaviour armed officers were called to the scene and the dogs were destroyed.

The injured officer was taken to a south London hospital suffering from approx 15 bites to his chest, face and arms. He has now been discharged but remains placed sick at present.

A 55-year-old man was arrested for non-payment of the £1500 fine, and was also arrested under the Dangerous Dog Act and on suspicion of assault on a police officer. He is currently in custody at a south London Police station.

He was also arrested on suspicion of assault GBH in relation to an incident in 2008 where a woman was attacked by two large brown pit-bull type dogs on Roydene Road SE18.

She sustained significant injuries to her body from the attack.

DI Bruce Galbraith, from Greenwich CID said: “This was an extremely distressing experience for this officer who was violently attacked by these dogs. We would like to ask the public to come forward and let us know if there have been any other incidents with these dogs or any information that may assist us with our investigation.””

I understand that a man has been charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act and will appear in Court tomorrow.

A timely reminder that the concerns expressed by MPA members were absolutely right.

But an even more salutary reminder of the risks faced by police officers every day.

Has Conservative Central Office breached the Data Protection Act?

The ubiquitous Guido Fawkes reports this morning that he has received personal details of every Conservative Parliamentary candidate – courtesy (presumably a mistake) of Conservative Central Office.

Looks like a potential breach of the Data Protection Act to me.

And the Information Commissioner can now levy heftier fines …..

Is the “Bridge to Nowhere” going to be a bridge too far for the National Police Improvement Agency?

Last Sunday’s revelations in The Sunday Times that the National Police Improvement Agency has spent £750,000 on repairing an ornamental bridge (overlooked by the grace-and-favour flat provided to the NPIA’s Chief Executive, Peter Neyroud) come at a bad time for the Agency.  I am told that patience is rapidly running out with the failures of the NPIA to deliver the improvements promised by its own name.

Senior police officers apparently never have a good word to say about the Agency and civil servants roll their eyes when its name is mentioned.

The Conservative Party – after a flurry of Freedom of Information Act requests about the costs of the NPIA – have put it on their A-list of candidates for the Quango-cull in the (remote) event of their being in Government after the General Election.

And my spies tell me that current Home Office Ministers have signaled their limited confidence in the Chair of the Agency, Peter Holland (a failed candidate for Chair of the Association of Police Authorities) and “Chief Constable” Neyroud (who distinguished himself at a Home Office Christmas Party two years ago by being the only police officer to turn up in uniform) by only renewing their contracts of appointment for a short period.

The problem that no-one has yet solved is what is to be done – in the event of the NPIA’s demise – about the important functions that it is supposed to carry out.  After all, somebody does need to get a strategic grip of national police technology procurement and the training of senior police officers cannot be left to chance ….

Cameron’s Conservatives perform another policy flip-flop – this time about Parliamentary privilege

Parliamentary privilege is precisely that – a privilege.  It was intended to ensure that Members of Parliament (of both Houses) should be able to speak freely in Parliament without the threat of litigation related to what they might say.  It did not – quite rightly – exempt Parliamentarians from the criminal law.

However, listening to the howls of outrage about the attack on Parliamentary privilege from Conservatives when an investigation into alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act – an investigation that the Police had little choice about having to conduct – led to Damian Green MP, you would have thought that the Conservative Party wanted to adopt the Russian mode of Parliamentary privilege where members of the Russian mafia get themselves elected to the Russian Duma to avoid criminal charges.

Now – suddenly – the Tory Party position has changed – at least it is in a sensible direction this time.  David Cameron has now adopted the Labour Party position articulated by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, who made it clear yesterday, in relation to the MPs and the Conservative Peer charged over their expenses, that people wanted to see MPs treated like everyone else:

“They are entitled to a fair trial and the public… would be aghast if they thought there was some special get out of jail card for Parliamentarians.”