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MP Rushanara Ali in ‘slanging match’ with Deputy London Mayor over police cuts

PUBLISHED: 00:01 26 January 2013 | UPDATED: 08:39 28 January 2013

MP Rushanara Ali and Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh

MP Rushanara Ali and Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh

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A barrage of hostile condemnation was hurled at the Deputy Mayor of London and his police chiefs by East Enders over plans to withdraw Neighbourhood police teams from their localities and closing down police station front-counters.

Stephen Greenhalgh also came under fire from MP Rushanara Ali in a “slanging match”—while the London Assembly’s John Biggs, four Tower Hamlets councillors and community representatives also waded in at the People’s Palace public meeting in Mile End.

The MP was furious at plans to reduced neighbourhood police presence while the East End’s crime rose nine per cent—on top of the appearance of alleged vigilantes in Whitechapel.

“The community worries about vigilantes and women being harassed,” the Bethnal Green & Bow MP told Mr Greenhalgh. “Police numbers have gone down, but crime has gone up nine per cent in two years.”

The Deputy Mayor challenged her over the figures, claiming the rise was only 0.9 per cent—not nine per cent.

The MP rounded on him. “I got these figures from the Home Secretary,” she insisted.

“If you’re going to have a conversation with the public, it’s important you answer those concerns instead of having a slanging match about numbers.”

Mr Greenhalgh interrupted: “We’re not having a slanging match.”

But Rushanara kept up the pace. “People don’t have confidence that you can make changes when crime has gone up nine per cent,” she told him. The MP has now written to Boris Johnson and will “keep pressing on.”

London Assembly’s budget chairman John Biggs told the meeting: “Nine per cent rise in crime is pretty severe.

“These proposals to centralise will spell the end of neighbourhood policing as we know it.

“They will lose that local contact of knowing who the yobs are and where the grot-spots are.”

Tower Hamlets councillors also pitched in. Cllr Abdul Ullah, former London Police Authority member, said: “This gimmick means we’ll see more spit-for-spat vigilantes who are giving the East End a bad name.”

Labour Group leader Joshua Peck, who faces police closing counter services in his Bow West ward, told the Deputy Mayor: “You are being massively disingenuous to say this is an increase in neighbourhood policing. The ‘roving’ team will all be in Brick Lane on a Friday night and none will be in Bow.”

Condemnation also came from the Head of Tower Hamlets Safer Communities, Andy Banber, who carries out an annual survey of public concerns—anti-social behaviour comes out top every year.

But the most important issue was drug dealing which was “the ‘driver’ for vehicle crime, burglary and robbery.” He claimed there was nothing in the plans about “tackling drug-dealers who are fuelling crime.”

But the Deputy Mayor explained that Neighbourhood teams could best be used in more centralised roles to tackle serious crime such as drug-dealing.

Neighbourhood police stations also were not being used by the public, he pointed out.

“I’m being realistic making difficult decisions that aren’t easy,” he admitted. “Drugs and alcohol are key elements and we have to make sure officers can be deployed centrally to deal with it.”

Last Thursday’s meeting, one of 33 in each of the London boroughs being held this month and next, followed the decision to axe many front-counters, including three in Tower Hamlets at Poplar, Isle of Dogs and Bow.

Only 15 people a day on average walked into these three police stations, Mr Greenhalgh explained.

But the real issue was Neighbourhood police teams no longer based in their localities, to be centrally based and sent when and where needed.

The feeling was that Brick Lane was getting all the attention because of its widespread drugs problem.

The Met’s Tower Hamlets Borough Commander David Stringer revealed: “Drug dealing around Brick Lane is roughly twice the London average. We are arresting at least one drug-dealer every day.

“We had 175 officers who went into Brick Lane last month nicking a load of drug dealers—their premises are still closed.”

He wanted flexibility “to put resources where they’re needed.”

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