The deaths provoked shock, outrage and fury not merely among residents of London, but the wider country. Among the furious was Peter Kirkham, security management consultant and policing specialist. While six people have been arrested in connection with two of the attacks, he's certain who's ultimately to blame for them all.
"Theresa May has blood on her hands, pure and simple. When people die, we look for why that happened. She's been consistently told for years if she keeps pursuing the same policies, she'll lose control of the streets, and endanger public safety. Lo and behold, people have died. I don't understand why the government is so blind to what's happening all around them," Mr. Kirkham told Sputnik.
Mr. Kirkham is no ordinary security management consultant — he's a former police officer, and similarly no ordinary former police officer either. A farmer's son from rural Cheshire, he joined the police after studying at a London university, and becoming a special constable (volunteer officer) as a student in 1979. Over the course of his subsequent 23-year policing career, he went "round the block," and then some.
"I started off as a PC, before becoming detective, then sergeant, then I joined the 'flying squad' as detective sergeant, and I was an acting detective inspector for five years until the early 1990s. Then I got on accelerated promotion course, but all it did was accelerate me out of the police. I saw the shenanigans at the higher level, and didn't want to be a top cop. I finished up serving five years as a senior investigating officer, and left in 2002," he explains.
He was begged to stay, as no one else had a range of experience quite like his — but he knew if he did, "I'd end up punching someone."
In brief, if anyone knows how the British police would be best run, Mr. Kirkham probably does. Over the course of an incendiary conversation with Sputnik reporter Kit Klarenberg, he pugnaciously pinpointed a number of major areas of concern — responsibility for which can largely, he feels, be placed at the feet of May, and the Conservative governments she served in and now leads.
Reactive, Not Proactive
"Now, it's all about reactivity, not proactivity. If we went to the areas these stabbings occurred — Hackney, Peckham, Brixton, Brent — I'd imagine it'd be days before we saw an officer. Perhaps we'd spot one or two in a car whizzing through at most," Mr. Kirkham begins.
He notes the UK has only ever had a maximum of about 145,000 police in active service — the notion of the country ever having "an officer on every street corner" is a romantic fiction. However, now there's "nobody left on any corner" — the government believed the country could get by cutting active police presence, and focusing instead purely on "response policing."
Such a move may not be without merit in principle, but in practice a number of factors result in very few officers actually being free to respond to incident reports.
"Ask a citizen how many cops they think are on duty in London boroughs dealing with all incoming 999 calls, they might guess 50, 100, 150…it's actually 25 —30, usually. Once you factor in extant responsibilities they might have — prisoners in cells handed over from night duty, crime scenes to investigate and preserve, and two or three serious crimes that might get called in, and more — that leaves just 10 officers available for reactive work, or even less," he explains.
If there aren't enough officers to respond adequately to incoming calls, Mr. Kirkham says the only thing police can do is "just say no" — there were significant controversies in 2017 when police forces announced they would no longer investigate certain crimes, including lost property, burglaries, thefts and assaults, as there are insufficient resources to properly investigate them.
"The public thinks it's terrible, but so do the police. They don't want to have to do this, but in the current environment it's simply impractical to spend considerable time looking into stolen property, when the value is under £200, for instance. Officers are regularly working 12 — 16 hour shifts, rather than 8 — 12. This might be sustainable for a few weeks, but it can't be the norm. What if a major crisis erupts?" he laments.
Not long after their coalition was formed in 2010, May, then-home secretary, announced an 18 percent cut to annual police budgets, in a historic move — not even Margaret Thatcher, famed for slashing public sector budgets as prime minister, ever dared focus her reductive attentions on the police force.
Over the next five years, police numbers in England and Wales fell from a peak of 144,353 in 2009 to 122,859, while specialist armed police officers fell from 6,796 in 2010 to 5,639. It was argued by UK officials continual falls in recorded crime since the mid-1990s clearly demonstrated it was not necessary to maintain such a large police force — and in any event, there was no direct link between the number of officers and the level of crime.
This reasoning appeared to be borne out in annual crime figures over the next few years — crime continued to drop precipitously, and the reductions were proudly touted by the Conservative government as proof of their policy's success.
However, Mr. Kirkham explains these apparent drops were misleading in the extreme. For one, there's a "two to three year lead-time" for police budgets, so the cuts imposed by the Conservatives wouldn't produce "an obvious immediate change." Moreover, published crime figures typically cover a period 12 — 18 months prior to their publication.
"Before they were enacted, and ever since, many current and former senior police have warned the government they were cutting budgets to the point crime will inevitably rise in years to come. The consistent response was we were ‘crying wolf' — but now we see crime has kept going up, and they can't lie about it anymore. We were telling Theresa May exactly what would happen, and it has," he laments.
Police Federation rep on @bbc5live accuses the government of talking "rubbish" and dragging policing levels back to the eighties. Expect Theresa May to accuse him of "crying wolf".— Rachael (@Rachael_Swindon) December 3, 2017
It's not merely police officers themselves who are noticing the impact of cuts, Mr. Kirkham suggests — criminals see the lack of police on the streets, and by definition recognize they're getting away with more and more.
"No one's about to stop them, no one's challenging them, no one's taking note — and criminals realize this. If you look at the criminological literature, the overwhelming consensus is it's not the punishment deterring most criminals, it's the threat of getting caught. If you reduce the chances of that, not only do habitual criminals keep committing the same offenses, they start pushing boundaries," Mr. Kirkham told Sputnik.
Cuts to police budgets are also affecting the innocent in significant ways. In December, a rape trial collapsed after it was revealed police had failed to hand over evidence that exonerated the accused.
Student Liam Allan, 22-years-old, had been charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault, in a case that took two years to reach trial. He faced a possible jail term of 12 years if convicted — in the event, the prosecution was dropped after a mere three days of proceedings, when prosecutors acknowledged a computer disk containing 40,000 text messages revealed his accuser had pestered Allan for "casual sex."
Last week, student Liam Allan was cleared of 12 counts of rape and sexual assault when police handed over 40,000 text messages between Alan’s accuser and her friends, revealing that the alleged victim had pestered the man she accused of rape for “casual sex.”#metoo #MeTooWhatNext— Mind Trumps Love (@mindtrumpslove) December 21, 2017
In the aftermath, prosecution barrister Jerry Hayes accused police of "sheer incompetence," a charge enthusiastically taken up by the media — although his suggestion the country's criminal justice system was "not just creaking, [but] about to croak," received less coverage.
Mr. Kirkham is resolute — the trial fiasco was not the product of police ineptitude, but instead a symptom of the UK's "policing crisis," an environment in which "corners are routinely cut, and mistakes made." Moreover, he fears this will not be a "one-off" — "there will be more cases like this to come."
"Experienced detective constables have been lost, siphoned off into higher priority areas, such as anti-terrorism. In their place, uniformed PCs have been posted to units way outside their experience. The cops involved in this prosecution shouldn't have been examining sexual offenses, but they were compelled to, without adequate support or supervision, and on top of already utterly ridiculous workloads," he suggests.
Police officers are also doing much more administrative work, due to the sacking of backroom staff. The loss of this support in some areas has been absolutely "devastating," particularly in the Central Investigation Department (CID), which is "almost literally collapsing" as a result.
Bordering the Breadline
Mr. Kirkham notes while police pay isn't "brilliant," it's not "breadline — yet." Still, it is steadily decreasing every year — but beyond personal financial motivations, and indeed officially-mandated reductions to police numbers, UK law enforcement ranks are dwindling due to the toxic working environment budget cuts have created.
"They're burning officers and their families out, and people are leaving due to stress. Cops leaving mid-service used to be unheard of, now when someone leaves others follow their lead, because they see colleagues leaving for better money and less hassle. I know of people who've left to become train drivers — if you want to find an experienced cop in Victoria, you're much more likely to find one in the drivers' cabin of a train than outside the station," he alleges.
Given the deleterious impact to police forces, officers and the public, why did — and indeed does — the government pursue such a ruinous policy? Particularly as, Mr. Kirkham suggests, the cost of policing is "miniscule" in the scheme of things?
Some have theorized cuts to various public services enacted by the Conservatives since 2010 are a stealth means of imposing privatization further down the line. Mr. Kirkham acknowledges that may have been the "original idea," but it appears to be off the agenda now — or, at least, for the time being.
"If that was still their plan, by 2015 at least the prospect would've been reflected in green and white papers and manifesto commitments, and we'd already have some legislation. Instead, there's been nothing — May might have realized it's a non-starter with the public and police alike. Whoever thinks it's possible to privatize the police is talking complete b******s. You can't do that, as the history of Police Community Support Officers [PCSOs] proves," he rails.
PCSOs are uniformed civilian police support staff in England and Wales, created in 2002. They have a modicum of the powers normal police officers can exert, but cannot conduct official searches, or arrest suspects, — and, as Mr. Kirkham notes, "they can't sort out a riot, or conduct a murder inquiry."
"They have a place in a properly staffed police service, but unless they've got sufficient support, they're a terrible idea, and a waste of money. If you could have three or four PCSOs for the price of a single cop, then maybe they'd make sense, but you don't — you maybe get five for the price of four. All they do is create work for police — when PCSOs get sent to major incidents, no one respects their authority, so they just call the police, creating more work for actual officers," Mr. Kirkham told Sputnik.
Despite his skepticism, recent years have in fact seen an ever-greater role for private companies in British policing. In 2015, the UK's first private police force was created in Stoke-on-Trent, as Staffordshire Police struggled unsuccessfully to cope with budget cuts of £22.9 million over five years.
Similarly, in Frinton, Essex, cuts led to the closure of the local police station, leaving residents' nearest station over 12 kilometers away. Inhabitants now pay £100 each annually for the privilege of private security firm AGS patrolling their streets. There are also plans for a private service, My Local Bobby, to patrol wealthy London neighbourhoods such as Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia.
Many, such as campaign group We Own It, are extremely concerned about such developments, given the history of outsourcing to private security companies in the UK. For instance, security at the London 2012 Olympic Games was outsourced to G4S, who promised to provide 13,000 members of security staff — in fact, during the event G4S were short 3,000 staff, and the government was forced to deploy the military to fill the gap.
Despite this, G4S' services were retained by Lincolnshire Police, to provide staff for the force's control rooms, the nerve centers taking and directing emergency calls. Later that year, five workers — including the control room manager — were suspended after it was revealed the quintet had made over 600 bogus calls in order to meet their target of answering 92 percent of calls within 10 seconds or less.
"No one seems to be able to get through to this mad woman that she's putting public at risk. It's more and more obvious to people who understand policing that it's in crisis. It's a slow-motion collapse. For some reason, when the NHS runs out of money, it gets bailed out — the police don't enjoy the same apparently limitless financial support. This needs to change, and urgently," Mr. Kirkham concluded.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Peter Kirkham and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.