Convert expensive inner-London police stations into housing for officers, says think-tank
Half of all Met officers now live outside Greater London
Report says number of “commuter cops” should be reduced by offering officers discounts to live in areas nearer to where they patrol
Thousands more Metropolitan Police officers would be able to live in London – increasing the Met’s contact with the communities it serves – under proposals published today by the Capital City Foundation, a unit of Policy Exchange.
The report, Commuter Cops, recommends that the Met should work with housing associations to convert underused police properties into housing for discounted sale to police officers. Properties bought under the discount could only be sold back to the Met or other police officers. Between 3,350 and 5,380 new homes for officers could be created under the plans.
The force should also provide low-interest loans and top up officers’ savings to help bridge the gap between their salaries and the amount needed to purchase a London home, the report recommends.
Through these means, the Met should set itself a target of incentivising 3,000 more police officers to live in inner London boroughs over the next five years.
The report finds that of the 18,179 Met officers assigned to local borough policing, only 8,896 (49%) lived anywhere in Greater London and only 1,261 ( around 7%) lived in the borough which they policed.
Many Met police officers travel in from the Home Counties or further afield: some from as far as Cornwall, or the south of France, the report found. The Met itself has recognised that this is undesirable.
As the report states, the phenomenon of the “commuter cop” makes it harder to deploy officers quickly in emergencies, such as riots or terrorist attacks; reduces the police presence in London; reduces officers’ contact with the communities they serve; and contributes to the Met’s continued difficulty in recruiting a force that reflects the diversity of London.
The anti-social hours of a police officer’s job make it less suitable than most to be tied to long commutes and unreliable public transport. Officers told Capital City Foundation researchers of having to sleep on the floor after they missed their last trains, and of slackening off in the last hours of late shifts for fear of incurring time-consuming, train-missing arrests.
Interviews for the report found that most Met officers would like to live in London if they could afford it – though not in precisely the places they policed. Having them live in neighbourhoods closer to where they work would improve their job performance by reducing tiring travel time and improving their awareness of communities similar to those they police. More off-duty police officers living in a neighbourhood would also improve and stabilise the neighbourhood.
To avoid the scheme simply incentivising officers to live in leafy suburbs within Greater London, the report recommends that the level of financial assistance and home discount available be varied according to an area’s crime rate. Greater financial assistance and home discounts would be available for those who chose to live in areas with higher crime rates.
The report states that enough Met property to construct between 3,350 and 5,380 new homes for police officers could be released by merging smaller custody suites, merging some police stations with other emergency service premises, shifting some back-office functions out of central and inner London, and building on some Met sports facilities. The report finds that there is little correlation between the size of the Met’s estate in most boroughs and the number of police officers available there.
Glyn Gaskarth, author of the report, said:
“Having a police force that lives outside London affects the ability of the Met to mobilise sufficient numbers of officers to deal with terrorist incidents or civil disturbances. It also affects how they act while on duty, as commuter cops are less likely to seek out difficult cases in the final hours of their shift prior to their long journey home.
“Police officers are required to enforce the law whether they are on or off duty so having them live in areas with a higher crime rate means they are more likely to report crimes, or intervene to prevent them. Meanwhile, incentivising officers to live in certain London Boroughs will ensure that they better understand the areas that require more policing.”