More needs to be done to tackle gangs in London, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe told an audience at Lewisham College.
He said: “If I was to pick out one thing we’ve got to do more about, it would be young people and gangs…They are very challenging. We haven’t got all the answers, but you do need to have the conversation.”
The public meeting comes after the Guardian and London School of Economics presented the preliminary findings of Reading the Riots, their extensive research into early August’s events, which showed that police resentment was an influential factor in the riots earlier this week.
Residents of Lewisham, Greenwich and Southwark attended the event, a first in a series of monthly meetings inspired by similar events held during Hogan-Howe’s tenure as Chief Constable of Merseyside police. Present also at the meeting were the police commanders for the three boroughs.
He detailed the progress made in the Met’s Operation Withern, targeting those who took part in the riots, which has so far seen 3,208 people arrested and 2,002 charged.
At the meeting, Greenwich councillor John Hills, and others spoke of their concern that Safer Neighbourhood Teams may be reduced or even discontinued in future, despite Hogan-Howe’s assurance that it will be maintained.
Jeremy Burton, borough commander for Lewisham, also reassured locals that there are currently no plans to close Brockley police station, which has been threatened with closure in recent years.
When questioned on community engagement in the wake of the riots, Hogan-Howe set out his own robust stance, saying: “Over the years the service has got a little confused about whether it’s a police service or a social service. I know where I stand.”
He acknowledged that the police can only do their job with the trust of the public and said: “It’s not about being aggressive.”
One resident questioned the lack of accountability in the police force after figures show 300 deaths occurred in police custody since 1998.
Hogan-Howe said there is an established process involving the IPCC and Crown Prosecution Service in such cases. “I’m not sure it’s fair to say that officers are not held to account,” he said.
Anthony Scully, chair of the Sydenham-based Friends of Home Park group, praised the “stellar” work of SNTs. He also asked about the continuing investigation into the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan in Sydenham, which led to allegations of police involvement in the crime.
Hogan-Howe said another force would be asked to review the case, admitting Morgan’s family would not be reassured by another investigation by the Met.