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Police merger: Hackney chief Simon Laurence to step down when borough merges with Tower Hamlets

PUBLISHED: 12:06 12 February 2018 | UPDATED: 18:00 12 February 2018

Simon Laurence

Simon Laurence

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Hackney’s top cop Simon Laurence will step down ahead of the borough’s police operation merges with Tower Hamlets.

Sue Williams, borough commander of Tower Hamlets, will assume responsibility for Hackney in November. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA ArchiveSue Williams, borough commander of Tower Hamlets, will assume responsibility for Hackney in November. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Archive

Ch Supt Laurence, who began working in Hackney in June 2014, will go on to head the Met’s response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in March, he told the Gazette this morning.

Tower Hamlets borough commander Sue Williams will then assume responsibility for both boroughs.

The Met’s current 32-borough model will be replaced by forming 12 larger basic command units (BCU) that will share buildings and resources in a move that will save £73 million. It comes as the Met is faced with the pressure of saving £325m by 2021/2.

BCUs will each deliver the same core local policing functions – neighbourhoods, emergency response, CID and safeguarding, which was previously dealt with centrally.

“If we look at our country colleagues they have far bigger geographical areas, more than 10 times the size,” said Ch Supt Laurence.

“I think it’ll be a real positive step and I don’t see there will be a change in how quick we respond to incidents.”

Hackney police's HQ, Stoke Newington police station in Stoke Newington High Street. Picture: Isabel InfantesHackney police's HQ, Stoke Newington police station in Stoke Newington High Street. Picture: Isabel Infantes

Police officer numbers across the Met are expected to fall to 30,000 by April, and the combined numbers of officers in Hackney and Tower Hamlets will reduce over time. But Scotland Yard hopes any detrimental effect will be mitigated by increased efficiencies and economies of scale.

“We have been able to keep police numbers at 32,000 whereas other forces across the country have lost up to 25pc officers,” said Ch Supt Laurence.

“The Met has done everything they can to protect police numbers, and that’s what some of these changes are about, with the closure of front offices.”

He continued: “Currently in Hackney we have a 7pc rise in crime, and I’m sorry to keep comparing – but the Met are behind the rest of the country in crime. If we look nationally it’s up to a 20pc increase in crime.

“That points to a whole host of things. The reporting and recording is certainly up, but where it is in comparison to the British Crime Survey is getting closer, which tends to suggest that’s a truer reality of the recorded crime.”

In terms of emergency response, Ch Supt Laurence believes there should be more officers available to deal with 999 calls.

Smoke billows from Grenfell Tower in Kensington the day after the fire that killed 71 people. Hackney's police borough commander Simon Laurence will head up the Met's response to an inqury into the blaze. Picture: Rick Findler/PA ArchiveSmoke billows from Grenfell Tower in Kensington the day after the fire that killed 71 people. Hackney's police borough commander Simon Laurence will head up the Met's response to an inqury into the blaze. Picture: Rick Findler/PA Archive

“Down near the border with Shoreditch and Bethnal Green there won’t be an artificial boundary and officers will cross-deploy,” he said.

“If in Tower Hamlets they are dealing with two critical things at once Hackney officers can start to help out as they will become one large response team.”

While it is theoretically possible that officers in Clissold Park could be called eight miles away to the Isle of Dogs, which would take a 30-minute drive, it would be “very rare”.

“I wouldn’t want people running across the whole two boroughs,” he said.

So what’s the feeling on the ground among officers?

“I don’t hear negative comments about it,” said Ch Supt Laurence.

“We all have trepidation with change and it would be natural the officers have thought of how it will work and how it will affect them.

“I think they will see little difference, to be honest, and there will be more assistance when things are really busy. I remain positive about that.”

Hackney “has a special place in his heart”, but it is a “real privilege to be asked to take over such a high profile role” at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

“I’ve been the longest serving borough commander and I’ll certainly be the last borough commander here,” he said.

“The officers at Hackney are brilliant. There’s this real ‘can do’ attitude. The only downside, which is a positive, is they want my officers elsewhere in the Met because they are so good.”

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