The sale of Metropolitan Police stations to pay for the force's 22,000 new body-worn cameras has raised the ire of a London borough where a station is closing.
"We want a police station more than anything — full stop!" said Geoff Cowart, a spokesperson for Hammersmith and Fulham council, after learning money saved by closing Fulham Police Station and others is being spent on purchasing cameras for officers across London.
In early 2016, the savings will be reinvested to buy 22,000 new Axon Body 2 HD cameras for the Met. The three-year contract was awarded to Axon Public Safety UK Ltd (a division of Taser) on 24 November. It is likely worth more than £5.7m considering that the cameras sell for US$399 (£263) each.
Fulham station will close in June 2016 as part of the Met's three-year Police and Crime Plan to save £60m on its estate properties. The station costs £520,000 per year to run, and the building will be replaced with a "front desk" for just £120,000 per year. But the figures do not add up to a winning strategy to everyone.
"The Mayor must come clean about what the sale of the building means for a police presence in a fast growing area [of London]", said councillor Michael Cartwright, the council's cabinet member for crime and anti-social Behaviour, in a September statement. "How will response times be affected in emergencies? We're very concerned about what these plans will mean for residents." The councillor was not available for further comment.
But according to Jessica Roscoe, a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC), the purchase of "new body cameras and tablets are helping the Met to become more mobile, effective and accountable than ever before".
Policing is changing, Roscoe said, making many buildings unnecessary. "Through the sale of old and under-used police stations, the mayor has been able to invest in new technology for a more efficient police force fit for the 21st century," she said
The top 10 sales of police buildings alone, "including the £370m disposal of the New Scotland Yard site in Victoria, have raised £661m", according to a College of Policing 24 November press release.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson's 2013 Police and Crime Plan aims to sell off 33% of buildings the police own by 2016, reducing the total space for the Met by about 200 buildings.
The plan promises that Hammersmith and Fulham will get 92 more Police Community Support Officers, who float between council wards helping reduce crime and anti-social behavior.
Across London "since 2012, an additional 2,600 officers have been moved into local teams, building stronger links with communities", said MOPAC's Roscoe. "Over the same period neighbourhood crime has fallen by almost 19%." Met stations have already closed in Hackney, Clapham, Barnet, and elsewhere.
How residents interact with police in London is also changing. The 2013 plan points out the number of crimes reported at front counters has dropped by 100,000 since 2006, and that more and more people are choosing to report crime online. This, it finds, makes it unnecessary to operate a number of large police stations.
There has also been a shift to visit victims of crime in their homes. "Appointment volumes increased by about 38% in 2012 allowing an extra 36,000 victims to be seen," said the report.
Londoners, it finds, "want to see more officers out in the community on the streets, rather than being stuck behind desks".