Council leader criticises Sutton’s lack of frontline policing, despite increased officer numbers

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Police officer numbers in Sutton are a worry as more and more local officers are moved to other areas to deal with demand, said the council leader. Ruth Dombey admitted she shared concerns over the overall decrease in police in the borough. She attributed this downward trend to the rise in police abstractions, which moves officers out of the borough to deal with demand.

When asked by Councillor Sam Martin at the first full council meeting of the year if she shares the concerns that police abstractions are taking police away from Sutton, Cllr Dombey responded: “I most certainly do.”

Police abstractions refer to when police officers assigned to a borough are called to assist in other parts of London, and occasionally the UK. Cllr Dombey told the council: “When our frontline officers are called away to other parts of London, that means our neighbourhood officers, who should be patrolling our streets have to backfill.”

She then cited data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) website, which showed that police abstractions in the borough have more than doubled in recent years. This has risen to a point where over a fifth of police time is spent outside the borough.

While abstractions in Sutton were around 8% in 2021, they shot up to 21% in 2023. Furthermore, in the last quarter of 2023, that figure rose to a 25% abstraction rate. 

Cllr Dombey added: “We recognise we now have more police officers. We were without a town centre team for too many years but we now have that team and I know the Met are doing their best to recruit. 

“The number of officers in our borough has gone up, but with this level of abstraction, we actually have fewer police hours from police officers in our borough than we had before. Sadly we believe it is the result of the decision taken by the Mayor of London, due to a lack of Home Office funding, to put together the Sutton police force with those of Croydon and Bromley.

“What that has meant is that too many of our police officers are being pulled away to issues in other boroughs, particularly in Croydon and Bromley, when in fact we need them here patrolling our streets.”

Sutton Police moved to the basic command unit model in 2018, following a cost-cutting decision by the Mayor of London. This forced Sutton to come together with Croydon and Bromley police teams to form the largest geographical area in London.

Cllr Dombey’s criticism of this model followed on from an initial question by a young member of the public named Joseph Dean. He asked her: “In light of the recent attacks against young people in Sutton, what reassurances can the council give young people that they are taking action against such crime, and what do the Council intend to do to maintain our borough’s status as one of the safest in London?”

Sutton has one of the lowest crime rates in London, a regularly features in the bottom five. According to the latest statistics, it also has a crime rate that is 21% lower than the national average.

These stats and the relative lack of headline news coming out of Sutton, mean it is often cast as one of the capital’s safest boroughs. However, a December which saw the tragic killing of 17-year-old Ilyas Habibi at Sutton station and a further stabbing in Wallington on Christmas Eve has made some question this claim.  

On a recent community forum meeting for the Wrythe, Hackbridge, and St Helier areas, Met Inspector Tom Haji-Savva admitted that officers were present in the area 20 minutes before Habibi’s murder on Tuesday 5th December and that he and his fellow officers were frustrated by this news.

Haji-Savva and another Met colleague told the forum how the force had been particularly stretched in the last couple of years due to an abnormally high number of public order call outs. He gave the recent Israel/Gaza protests and royal events as examples.

Savva also highlighted how Sutton police have made an effort to improve their communication with the public. This was recognised by Councillor Luke Taylor during the council meeting.

He praised the police’s response since December and highlighted their improved communication around the sharing of their recent activity and successes in terms of number of arrests.

When approached for further comment, Cllr Dombey told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Residents are understandably concerned about recent events in the borough and we share those concerns.“We want our dedicated police officers who know the borough well to police our streets, intervene when needed and provide reassurance and visibility. 

“Following the new Metropolitan Police Turnaround plan we have been encouraged that they are focusing on community policing, we know that having police officers familiar and embedded in local communities who know the local area provides reassurance to residents. 

We urge the Met to deliver on their promise of delivering more local policing. Sutton is one of the safest boroughs in London – I am determined to keep it that way.”

When approached for comment, Superintendent Lewis Collins, from the local policing team in Sutton, responded: “2023 was an incredibly busy year for the Met with the King’s Coronation, several weeks of Just Stop Oil protests and a number of large pro-Palestine demonstrations in central London. 

“Senior officers meet regularly to discuss how to make the best use of our resources and to ensure we minimise the impact of these significant policing operations on local communities. 

“Our New Met for London plan puts communities first and we are increasing the number of local officers and PCSOs to make sure we are delivering our best ever neighbourhood policing response.”


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