I spoke at a conference this morning, grandly entitled “The Policing and Crime Act: Putting People First” and I found myself in the rather unexpected and unusual position of defending the Dog-Catcher-in-Chief (DCiC) himself, Deputy Mayor Kit “Hand on Tiller” (HoT) Malthouse AM.
I was talking about the inter-action between politicians and the police service and made the point that one of the functions of a police authority is to help sensitise police chiefs to the issues that matter to the communities they both serve. We ended up discussing as an example the issue of dangerous “attack” dogs.
This is a topic which led the Metropolitan Police to brief the press about their exasperation (“he’s on the phone every day”) over the vigour with which the DCiC was pursuing the matter. I pointed out that the Metropolitan Police Authority – in particular, Cindy Butts – had been raising concerns about the increasing prevalence of such dogs in London and the extent to which they were used to intimidate and threaten people. In my local park you routinely see youths training their dogs to hang from tree branches by their jaws and most big-city dwellers will have similar stories. The DCiC picked up on these concerns and pressed the Metropolitan Police to take the issues more seriously. This they have now done.
This is not about interfering with the operational independence of chief constables. It is about highlighting legitimate public concern and encouraging the police service to respond operationally in a proportionate and appropriate fashion.
I am sure that, even without the DCiC’s pressure and that of MPA colleagues, the Metropolitan Police would eventually have taken action. But police authority intervention hastened that action by highlighting public concern. And I rather think that most Londoners welcomed that.
It is a bit like what Winston Churchill is alleged to have said about the United States “The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.” For Americans read the Metropolitan Police, although I am not sure who the Churchill-equivalent would be in this case.