Will the Met’s “Public Access Review” provoke yet another huge row about the closure of police stations open to the public

I see that Assistant Commissioner Ian McPherson has launched an on-line survey to ask people how they “want to access police services” and in a letter to “stakeholders” he gives more details:

“The review of public access ‘channels’ started on the 11th April and will conclude on the 27th May. It will look at how we can enable the public to communicate with police and access policing services more effectively. A key aim of the review is to identify the role front counters play in the wide range of public access channels, from calls and online contact to face to face meetings.

The review will seek to establish the principles for re-shaping the future and ensure that the public understand and support the decisions the MPS makes about front counters, and that any changes reflect their views. You can expect to be informed about local consultation processes relating to specific locations later in the year.

Front counters will remain a core element of policing. Notwithstanding this, I think you will understand that, given our financial pressures, it is right for us to carry out a review of public access which encompasses front counters. Police station front counters – open to the public 24/7 or for set hours – are very important but, in the 21st century, they are just one way for members of the public to access police services. Staffing front counters is more expensive than most other forms of access and evidence has shown that some front counters are very busy whilst others are much quieter, averaging fewer than five callers per day or just one caller during three nights of opening. We must find ways of aligning our public access channels to better meet public need and convenience, whilst working within our financial constraints.

In the public access review we will ask you to share your perspective on the best and most cost efficient model to enable the public to contact the police. As you know, some of the needs of the public are best met by multi agency responses. We will consult our partners and the public on several key issues including:

    1. A proposed core service commitment for front counters, based on a minimum expectation of one well-staffed and easily accessible 24/7 front counter per borough, supported by an expanded appointments system and Safer Neighbourhoods team surgeries;
    2. The criteria the MPS will use to identify the need on any borough for an enhanced front counter service, over and above the minimum of one 24/7 location.”

This means that the consultation about “specific locations” will be taking place in the run up to the Mayoral elections and the future of individual stations will no doubt become a campaign issue in  some, if not all, London Assembly contests.

These are never easy discussions. The public are often wedded to the idea of the availability of services from a particular building – even if personally they never seek services from there. 

It is hard to justify the staffing of a facility which may only get one or two members of the public coming in over the space of an hour or two. Yet the withdrawal of a staffed front-counter is often seen as tantamount to the police withdrawing from the whole area – even though not staffing a particular facility may release officers to engage in active response policing in the neighbourhood.

However, the sequence of questions in the survey asking “If you were not able to visit a police station” gives a rather large hint about the direction of travel of the review and the likely outcome for many “specific locations”.

Previous experience suggests that the Metropolitan Police do not always handle the discussions about individual front-counters in the most tactful and sure-footed of ways.

However, I rather expect that Mayor Boris Johnson and the putative Deputy MOPC* Kit Malthouse AM will be hoping that on this occasion the local consultations are handled without the usual ineptitude.

*MOPC (pronounced MOPSY) = Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime.

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