Merton Liberal Democrats' submission to the Met police consultation regarding the proposed closure of Wimbledon Police station.
"Whilst we recognise that the Mayor of London is not responsible for the Conservative Government’s decision to withdraw some £1 billion of funding from the Metropolitan Police budget, we believe his current proposal to close Wimbledon Police Station to help address this shortfall to be absolutely wrong. It is our firm view that the planned closure represents a short sighted and unimaginative response to the problem, which underestimates our police station’s practical and symbolic role at the heart of our community."
Our petition (www.SaveWimbledonPoliceStation.org.uk) is around 2000 strong - paper and online copies combined - and still rising.
- We are writing to give our views on the specific proposal to close Wimbledon Police Station contained within the Public Access & Engagement Draft Strategy for Consultation after a number of us attended the public meeting held on Tuesday 26 September addressed by the Merton Borough Commander, Steve Wallace and the Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime, Sophie Linden. In brief, whilst we recognise that the Mayor of London is not responsible for the Conservative Government’s decision to withdraw some £1 billion of funding from the Metropolitan Police budget, we believe his current proposal to close Wimbledon Police Station to help address this shortfall to be absolutely wrong. It is our firm view that the planned closure represents a short sighted and unimaginative response to the problem, which underestimates our police station’s practical and symbolic role at the heart of our community.
- Whilst we support the general thrust of the strategy document, to improve the MPS’s online provision in respect of both the reporting and handling of crime, we strongly believe it is premature to make irreversible decisions with regard to the fabric of the MPS estate prior to establishing whether, and to what extent, the expected efficiencies will be realised. Although the provision of tablets and integrated software are a long overdue improvement, there is a danger of overestimating the amount of additional time this will free up to be spent on patrol. We foresee obvious practical difficulties in dealing with on-going matters via tablets, whilst officers are on the beat or in patrol cars, and suspect they will still use the station, a hub or some other place with a table and chair to do much of the work that subsequently arises in a case; even if the plans to institute on the spot filing of the initial crime report are successful. Officers will also need to return to the station for a variety of other reasons including team meetings and briefings, interviewing suspects and witnesses, not to mention the critical need for members of a team to interact in person and not just digitally. In short whilst we agree that the provision of new technology is likely to improve efficiencies, it is doubtful whether it will have as dramatic an effect as the consultation document seems to imply, in increasing the amount of time officers will spend in the community.
- We welcome the more robust approach planned in prioritising the ward responsibilities of Designated Ward Officers and recognise the logic of instituting DWO hubs normally within 20 minutes walk of the officers’ wards. However it is clear from the consultation document that the hubs will only be operational bases and not somewhere to which the public will have access, nor provide the much needed symbolic assertion of safety within the heart of our community. The document suggests that the accompanying Community Contact Sessions will increase contact between the DWOs and the community but is deliberately vague as to their location and frequency. Although we recognise why a “light-touch” is being taken in this regard we have little confidence that Community Contact Sessions will represent any great improvement on the, now discredited, Contact Points, as it will be difficult to extend their reach much beyond the subset of the community who already use the space in which particular sessions are held. We wonder whether a better approach might be to combine the DWO hubs and Community Contact Sessions by situating the hubs in some of the currently vacant shop premises across the borough. Given the prominent location of high streets and shopping parades this will give DWOs easy access to their wards, whilst providing a visible police presence at the heart of the community and an easily accessible and advertised location in which the Community Contact Sessions might be held.
- Whilst efforts to improve community policing are welcome, these should not come at the expense of failing to maintain an effective response to emergencies. Merton currently exceeds the MPS average in attending to over 90% of ‘immediate’ grade 999 calls within 15 minutes. This shows that the current configuration works, despite the fact that, in the words of the Borough Commander, “it’s challenging [for the police] to get across the borough” particularly as he thought that more emergency calls were probably generated within Mitcham (although it is noteworthy that no actual analysis seems to have been completed on this point). It has been asserted that closure of Wimbledon Police Station will consequently not negatively impact response times, particularly because the police are normally already on patrol when an emergency arises and, with the advent of tablets, the time officers spend out of the station is expected to increase. We have already expressed our qualified scepticism regarding the latter assertion and think the proposal also fails to appreciate that the borough’s major pinch points, where back up is invariably sought directly from the police station, are all in Wimbledon, including: the Broadway’s large night time economy; one of London’s busiest transport hubs; the 40% of borough businesses within 0.5 miles of Wimbledon Police station; and the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.
- Although the strategy document places great emphasis on maintaining a 24/7 front counter in every borough it offers no argument, beyond the financial, as to why Merton’s should be removed from its current location. To relocate the front counter from the heart of Wimbledon, near the centre of the borough, to the outskirts of Mitcham, in the south of the borough, is clearly not a practical solution for it will be far more inaccessible, particularly for those travelling by public transport. Admittedly the use of front counters appears to be in decline, but given the political decision to maintain one in every borough it makes little sense to then place Merton’s in a comparatively isolated and inaccessible location. It consequently seems highly unlikely that the Mitcham 24/7 front counter will be as well utilised as the current one, as further evidenced by the document’s own figures on crime reporting, which show that the Wimbledon front counter is currently 4 times busier than Mitcham’s; a divergence that cannot simply be explained by longer opening hours.
- We submit that the strategy document’s proposals in respect of Merton provide a simplistic analysis that reduces a complex issue to a binary choice between Mitcham and Wimbledon with the decision to retain the former based solely on financial criteria with no detailed analysis of operational needs and buttressed by untested assertions regarding the efficiencies to be derived from new technology. As Michael Fuller, the former Chief Constable of Kent noted at the public meeting, the proposal shows scant regard for maintaining public confidence in the police, nor does it appear to consider future needs and pinch points in the borough, most of which will arise in and around Wimbledon town centre. These include Crossrail 2, the return to the borough of AFC Wimbledon, the anticipated growth in Wimbledon’s night time economy, and the increasing terrorist threat (which often centre around transport hubs, as seen in the recent Parsons Green bombing, where the arrested suspect boarded the tube at Wimbledon).
- In light of these complexities, and doubts over the unproven assumption that a single police station is appropriate in Merton, any decision to close Wimbledon Police station should be postponed in favour of an evidence-based analysis of current and future policing needs throughout the borough. The Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime should then come forward with a range of proposals including: the redevelopment (and partial sale) of the Wimbledon site to include the possibility of a smaller police station being retained on Queens Road; a similar analysis regarding Mitcham; relocation of one, or possibly both stations, to a cheaper location, for example, around the Plough Lane or Deer Park Business/Industrial parks; the introduction of DWO hub/shops; and the development of some form of Wimbledon-based super-hub with a (possibly 24/7) front counter, as envisaged by the Borough Commander when addressing the Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Commission and at the public consultation meeting.
- Merton currently has one of the lowest crime rates in the MPS area, with excellent relations between the police and the various communities that make up our borough. This has given residents great confidence in their police force, and we draw immense comfort from having police stations situated in the midst of our community. This is evidenced by the enclosed petition that something approaching 2000 people have already signed, with more signatures being added daily. It would consequently be a grave mistake to risk all that, by irreversibly changing a successful model on little more than assertions and hunches, without a thorough, evidence-based analysis focused specifically on the needs of Merton.
On behalf of Merton Liberal Democrats