Yard chief: politi­cians have left us lag­ging be­hind the bad guys

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Mar­tin Evans and Harry de Quet­teville

BRI­TAIN’S most se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer says to­day that the Gov­ern­ment is leav­ing po­lice “ham­strung” in the fight against vi­o­lent crime.

Cres­sida Dick, the Com­mis­sioner of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice, says the Home Of­fice has “stepped back a lot” and needs to show “greater lead­er­ship”.

Ms Dick says the fail­ure to in­tro­duce laws which al­low of­fi­cers to use fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to catch “bad guys” has left her of­fi­cers “ham­strung”. She adds that the bat­tle against vi­o­lent crime would be eas­ier with fund­ing for more of­fi­cers.

She makes the com­ments in an in­ter­view with The Daily Tele­graph amid a de­bate be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and po­lice chiefs over the link be­tween cuts in fund­ing and ris­ing crime.

This week the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice in­ves­ti­gated its 120th mur­der of the year, three more than in the whole of last year. It prompted Sa­jid Javid, the Home Sec­re­tary, to urge Scot­land Yard to “get the sit­u­a­tion un­der con­trol”.

How­ever, Ms Dick says that the Home Of­fice, when led by Theresa May, left po­lice to fend for them­selves.

She says: “I do see a greater lead­er­ship role for the Home Of­fice than the one they have cho­sen to take re­cently. Three years ago there was a sense from the then home sec­re­tary that you, the po­lice, should trans­form your­selves and there are ar­eas where that is re­ally dif­fi­cult. It has got to be led.”

Ms Dick cites fa­cial recog­ni­tion cam­eras, which can scan live video footage and com­pare the im­ages against a list of of­fend­ers. The cam­eras have prompted con­cern among civil lib­er­ties groups and are not au­tho­rised by the Home Of­fice. Ms Dick says this gives crim­i­nals an ad­van­tage over her of­fi­cers.

It’s hard to dis­con­cert Cres­sida Dick, such is her air of steely calm, of as­sured pro­fes­sion­al­ism. It’s hard even to chal­lenge her, so en­gag­ing is her man­ner, so broad the smile that fre­quently an­i­mates her oth­er­wise pen­sive face. But when she is ac­cused of let­ting the streets of Lon­don be­come a bat­tle­field where mur­der­ers aren’t de­terred by her po­lice of­fi­cers nor bur­glars caught by them, her hack­les do rise.

“I think that is a fairly out­ra­geous way of putting it,” says the 57-year-old Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Com­mis­sioner. “I ab­so­lutely re­fute the idea that we are los­ing a bat­tle.”

Reg­u­lar grim head­lines can sug­gest oth­er­wise. We are talk­ing in a po­lice com­mand sta­tion in Lam­beth – a vi­o­lent bor­ough in a vi­o­lent city. In the days be­fore our in­ter­view, four men have been stabbed to death in south Lon­don. In the hours af­ter, there is yet more killings, bring­ing the to­tal so far for 2018 to 120, four more than the whole of 2017. “When Will It End?” a lo­cal pa­per pleads on its front page.

“I think there should be the out­rage there is,” she adds. “It ap­pals me that young peo­ple are killing other young peo­ple. It is dis­gust­ing and aw­ful.”

In the same breath she rat­tles off statis­tics about “record num­bers” of knives be­ing taken off the streets, of op­er­a­tions against the drug gangs re­spon­si­ble for much of the vi­o­lence, about re­duc­tions in moped crime. But she knows it is mur­der fig­ures that most shape per­cep­tions about what she calls “this huge seething city”. “We have,” she con­cedes, “had the most ter­ri­ble week”.

It is a cli­mate of crime in which young men make mu­sic videos brazenly boast­ing of hy­per-vi­o­lent ex­ploits, then post them on­line. Yet Ms Dick in­sists that po­lice still have the fear fac­tor for vi­o­lent crim­i­nals. “Ab­so­lutely we do. Pres­ence of po­lice, in­ter­ac­tion with po­lice, stop and search by po­lice, ar­rest by po­lice is ac­tu­ally a re­ally big de­ter­rent from be­hav­ing in the way they were.”

Such bullish words can ap­pear in­con­gru­ous com­ing from the 5ft 4in frame of a book­ish-look­ing woman known to all who are se­nior enough as “Cress”. But there is lit­tle doubt that Ms Dick – the daugh­ter of Ox­ford aca­demics – is re­spected within and with­out the force. She suc­ceeded Sir Bernard Ho­gan-howe (now Lord Ho­gan-howe), tak­ing up of­fice last April af­ter a two-year stint of­fi­cially work­ing “with the For­eign Of­fice”. It was not a move of her choice – af­ter 31 years work­ing through the Met, she was shunted off the counter-ter­ror (CT) job she loved by Ho­gan-howe.

She still talks un­self­con­sciously of the dis­tinc­tion be­tween griz­zled CT of­fi­cers “who re­ally un­der­stand things from a life­time of polic­ing” and the “su­per-bright, su­per highly ed­u­cated” peo­ple at the For­eign Of­fice. But it is lost on no one that she, a pri­vate school and Bal­liol Col­lege-ed­u­cated gay woman who might more eas­ily have slot­ted into the lat­ter covert world, has suc­cess­fully proven her­self in the male-dom­i­nated world of uni­formed polic­ing.

In the ac­com­plish­ment of that, she found a for­mi­da­ble cham­pion in Theresa May. So, it is a sur­prise to hear Ms Dick talk dis­parag­ingly about the Met be­ing hung out to dry by “the then Home Sec­re­tary” – about a fail­ure of “real cen­tral drive and lead­er­ship” from the May-run Home Of­fice mak­ing life “quite dif­fi­cult” for a po­lice ser­vice strug­gling to pivot from old-school in­ves­ti­ga­tion to dig­i­tal de­tec­tion. “Three years ago there was a sense from the then Home Sec­re­tary that you, the po­lice, should trans­form your­selves and there are ar­eas where that is re­ally quite dif­fi­cult I think… it has all got to be led.”

She men­tions pa­ram­e­ters for the use of bio­met­rics – unique phys­i­cal

‘In the most se­ri­ous crimes, we get our man, so if they be­come a fugi­tive we will find them even if they go abroad. And we do’

‘If I had more of­fi­cers, I would put them out on the street, and put them against vi­o­lent crim­i­nals. I think that it would have an im­pact’

and be­havioural char­ac­ter­is­tics that can be used for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion – as an area re­quir­ing the kind of na­tional, po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship ut­terly at odds with the frag­mented, lo­cal struc­ture of the British po­lice and its dif­fer­ent forces. And, to lis­ten to her, the May-era prob­lems have not dis­ap­peared un­der Sa­jid Javid. “I think the Home Of­fice has stepped back a lot… I do see a greater lead­er­ship role for the Home Of­fice than the one they have cho­sen to take re­cently.”

Her com­ments will re­open the de­bate about whether polic­ing in the UK would be bet­ter off with a sin­gle, na­tional force. “That,” she says, “might make some things eas­ier. But th­ese are big po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions.” She laments, for ex­am­ple, dif­fi­cul­ties with “in­te­gra­tion of in­tel­li­gence data­bases – how you do that in such a po­lit­i­cally dis­persed and gov­erned sys­tem is hard”.

Nor is it a mere bu­reau­cratic prob­lem. She com­pares the Met’s undis­puted na­tional lead­er­ship role on counter-ter­ror op­er­a­tions (“The sys­tem is ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous”) to the more mud­dled li­ai­son be­tween lo­cal forces and the Na­tional Crime Agency in tack­ling gang­sters (“The struc­tures we have over­all prob­a­bly don’t serve the fight against se­ri­ous or­gan­ised crime as well as they should”).

How­ever, it is in tech­nol­ogy where she feels na­tional po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is most sorely lack­ing. She would dearly love to press ahead with greater use of fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­niques, that can au­to­mat­i­cally pick faces out of live video footage and com­pare them against lists of known of­fend­ers. The tech­nol­ogy is con­tro­ver­sial, not least be­cause it cur­rently has a high fail­ure rate. But Ms Dick’s com­plaint is about to­day’s shaky po­lit­i­cal frame­work un­der­pin­ning its use, putting her of­fi­cers at a crit­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage against “the bad guys – or­gan­ised crim­i­nals and hos­tile states”.

“We are find­ing our­selves quite ham­strung by a quite com­plex reg­u­la­tory sys­tem, a quite com­plex le­gal frame­work,” she says. Those “bad guys”, by con­trast are “fill­ing their boots with this tech­nol­ogy as we speak. I am very keen that the law keeps up with tech­nol­ogy and I don’t feel that we are work­ing in a tremen­dously en­abling en­vi­ron­ment at the mo­ment”, she com­plains.

But she is clear that the Met is mak­ing great strides in other ar­eas. Thou­sands of mo­bile de­vices have now reached of­fi­cers on the streets. Of­fi­cers lead­ing op­er­a­tions can now down­link footage from he­li­copter cam­eras live to their phones. “We are mov­ing re­ally fast,” says Ms Dick.

In­deed, she has no doubt that the ubiq­uity of CCTV footage, bio­met­rics, com­mu­ni­ca­tions data and the like could al­ready al­low po­lice to iden­tify of­fend­ers “in one day rather than 24 days”. The vast avail­abil­ity of data means that po­lice now “hardly rely at all” on wit­nesses and con­fes­sions.

And as the trails of data we all leave be­hind grow larger, cer­tain crimes will be­come ef­fec­tively im­pos­si­ble to get away with. Kid­nap is al­most there. “The Met is the world leader in kid­naps,” she says, “be­cause we use tech­nol­ogy re­ally well… it is very hard to kid­nap some­one in this coun­try and get away with it. In the most se­ri­ous crimes we get our man, so if they be­come a fugi­tive we will find them even if they go abroad. And we do.”

Yet ditch­ing old-school meth­ods has its down­side. Less than 5 per cent of bur­glar­ies end with a charge. Ms Dick is clear. “If we have got no CCTV, no foren­sics at all, then we will, rel­a­tively early on, say ‘Sorry – we are not go­ing to get a suc­cess­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion’.”

She pri­ori­tises vi­o­lent crimes, but does not at­tribute the rise in vi­o­lence ex­clu­sively to re­duced po­lice num­bers. “How­ever, I do think there is a link. If I had more of­fi­cers I would put them out on the street and I would put them against vi­o­lent crim­i­nals, and I think it would have an im­pact.” To lis­ten to her, the case for greater po­lice fund­ing is now unan­swer­able, but she is not shrill about it. That is not her way. Her view on cash is sim­ply the con­sid­ered as­sess­ment of a pub­lic ser­vant who ap­pears supremely ca­pa­ble, who speaks her mind and whose log­i­cal, joined-up think­ing should of­fer the Met a de­cent chance of trans­form­ing not just crime statis­tics, but the force it­self.

Cres­sida Dick, above, says po­lice can still de­ter vi­o­lent crim­i­nals; top left, Met foren­sics of­fi­cers erect a crime scene tent af­ter the fa­tal stab­bing of a man in south-east Lon­don last Sun­day

A po­lice CCTV con­trol room, above, part of a raft of new tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, that Ms Dick says must form a part of mod­ern polic­ing


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