The Casey Report has heavily criticised Met leadership for allowing frontline policing to suffer, with overworked, unsupported and exhausted officers lacking the basic necessities of the job, such as evidence storage, uniforms, or even chairs.
Casey traced this decline to the introduction of Austerity policies in 2010-11. Since then, the Met’s funding has dropped by a fifth, being about £700m less now than it was in real terms in 2010-11.
This had obvious consequences for the Met’s ability to effectively police the capital. The budget reduction was the equivalent of nearly 10,000 extra officers, which the Met has found difficult to maintain. In 2017, a target of 32,000 officers, which had been in place for the last five years, had to be scrapped because it simply wasn’t possible to meet. Those officers who remained were overworked, investigating up to 25 crimes at a time, with shifts constantly changed, and overtime nearly doubling. The report recorded officers dodging calls and falling asleep at their desks to escape the overwork.
In an attempt to keep an appropriate minimum level of officers, the Met cut back on other staff. Over the last decade, civilian support staff were reduced by quarter, Special Constables reduced by two-thirds, and the number of Police Community Support Officers halved. This had a knock-on effect and ‘contributed to additional pressures on warranted officers on the frontline.’ Frontline officers took on these extra roles, such as administrative tasks and road safety initiatives, limiting their ability to engage in local and practical police work.
Another attempt at efficiency was a restructuring of front-line policing through the combination of Borough Command Units into Basic Command Units (BCU) up to four times the size. These new Basic Command Units were less able to engage in local police work due to their larger areas and lack of resources. Most BCUs had about 25-30% fewer offices than they required. The report noted that the rotas are constantly changing, with shifts extending from 8 to 12 hours at a moment’s notice; some officers had to wait six months for a uniform; and fridges and freezers containing evidence were so overfilled they had to be taped shut. One witness noted that in his BCU, he couldn’t even find a chair that wasn’t broken.
The natural outcome of these austerity policies was noted by the report: ‘Sharper decreases in crime clear-up rates, and in measures of public confidence and trust, coincide with the period when police officer, staff, PCSO and Specials numbers were at their lowest,’ and the BCU change was being introduced. The result was that ‘there are too many holes in the Met’s basic structures and systems… the closer the Met get to Londoners, the more beleaguered the service is.’
The Report is careful to point out that difficult financial circumstances do not absolve the Met of blame. Decisions were taken without evidence, consideration or “credible plans”. Cuts were imposed on frontline staff, while specialist forces were protected, and consultants and contracted services doubled or even tripled. Casey notes: ‘Austerity was imposed on the Met, but the leadership made choices about where these cuts fell.’