The Metropolitan police of the future could have fewer officers on the beat but would be better equipped to fight cybercrime and more officers would carry Tasers, its new commissioner has said.
Entering her second week as Britain’s most senior police officer, Cressida Dick said her highest priority as the head of London’s police service would be reducing violent crime in the capital, particularly knife and gun crime.
Dick, 57, the first woman in the role of Met commissioner, inherits the top job at a time when the service has been affected by huge budget cuts. “I think the Met needs to be well funded, and I will make the arguments for that,” she said. The service has made £600m of savings already, and could be facing further cuts of £400m or more.
As a result of the slashed budgets the force might well have fewer officers on the beat at the end of her five-year term as commissioner, she said, “but it could be as effective if not more effective, through the use of technology and different ways of working”.
Speaking to reporters at Lewisham police station in south London on Tuesday, Dick said the service needed to modernise, adding that another of her priorities would be equipping the Met to tackle cybercrime and to use data analytics to identify suspects “in a way we can’t quite do at the moment”.
“I would like to see data and the digital world [be] more of an advantage to us than it is to the criminal, and I’m not sure that’s entirely true [at present],” she said.
She said she expected that more officers in future would carry Tasers, describing the weapon as “a very good piece of equipment” that has saved lives.
However, in a separate interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she rejected the suggestion that PC Keith Palmer, who was stabbed to death in the Westminster terrorist attack last month, would necessarily have been able to protect himself if he had been carrying a gun.
The commissioner, who is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge, joined the Met in 1983 as a constable, becoming the national lead for counter-terrorism and rising to the level of assistant commissioner for specialist crime before retiring in 2015 to take up a senior role at the Foreign Office.
A calm and confident operator despite her diminutive stature, she is highly regarded inside the service and well liked by the rank and file.
Dick said another of her aims would be “to focus on the people who work in and for the Met … I want them to feel that they will be supported and that they have the freedom to make decisions and see them through. If they are done with good intentions … they will have my visible support and that of the senior leaders.”
She said she was in favour of senior policing leaders gaining experience outside the force but expressed misgivings about a government consultation on the possibility of civilians applying for chief constable roles, saying she thought there should be “some limits” to opening police services to outsiders.
The Home Office proposal would fundamentally change the role of the chief constable, according to Dick. She said: “They are the person who is called to account for the operations of their force constitutionally and legally … I want to be open-minded but I can absolutely see why many colleagues may not think this is a wise thing.”
Figures released last week by Scotland Yard showed a marked jump in violent offences in London in the past year, with gun crimes up by 42% and knife crimes by 24%. Dick said she had not yet formulated a theory as to the reasons behind the rise but said she wanted “more outrage” across the capital about the fact that many young people feel it necessary to carry knives. She called on Londoners to help spread the message of the dangers of carrying weapons.
“The root problems behind why people might be carrying knives go way beyond the police service,” she said. “I think this will be one of the themes of my commissionership. I won’t have the police service as the place where all of society’s ills are laid out and blamed on us.
“We have done some fantastic things in London to improve safety and this is another one where we just need to really pull together.”
Dick told reporters she wanted to “reset” the relationship between the police and the media, after new restrictions on contact were introduced following the Leveson inquiry. In a day packed with interviews to television, radio and local and national press, she revealed that she does not have a TV at home and does not have time to watch police dramas.
Her partner, Helen, is a response team inspector at a police station in a busy south London borough, she told the London Evening Standard, adding: “I am a very happy person, I have a lovely life, very privileged.”
She also said that, unlike her predecessor Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who was criticised for driving a £65,000 Range Rover, she was using a Met pool car and had voluntarily asked for a £40,000 pay cut from her offered £270,000 salary because “I don’t need that money, my family do not need that money, and this is a time of austerity and the Met is under pressure.”