Britain’s counterterrorist strategy may be at risk as the police force is stretched to near “breaking point,” leading officers struggling to collect intelligence on terrorism, the former head of the Metropolitan Police has said.
Paul Condon, who headed the Met between 1993 and 2000, is the latest senior official to hit out at the government’s slashing of the police force, which has seen tens of thousands of officers cut in the past seven years.
Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a reduction of 20,000 offices back when she was home secretary in 2010.
While Condon refrained from pinning the blame directly on the Tory leader, he did say that the five-digit figure makes it difficult for officers to scoop up intelligence on terrorist plots from local communities.
“You can’t take out 20,000 street cops and 20,000 support staff and maintain all the contacts with the community which you give you the leads,” Condon warned, according to the Guardian.
The PM came under great pressure in the run-up to the general election in June to outline her government’s national security and counterterrorist plan after Britain was struck by four terrorist attacks in a span of just a few months.
Concerns were raised over whether authorities have enough resources to tackle crime and terrorism-related incidents after it was revealed that the perpetrators from at least three of the terrorist attacks had already been known to police and intelligence services.
But the Tory leader, who also faced calls by critics to resign over police cuts that left the country vulnerable to terrorism, dismissed the accusations, instead claiming that the number of police officers has increased and that the forces’ budget has been protected since 2015.
Her comments are at odds with Condon’s, however, who stressed the importance of neighbourhood policing, saying: “The security services and the police have been brilliant in foiling plot after plot after plot, but as we know the terrorists only have to get successful once and police forces up and down the country are stretched.
“They don’t have the numbers in the community where day-to-day they can be picking up the sort of street intelligence they want.
“They are doing an incredibly good job but they are stretched almost to breaking point. I have real anxieties about the resources. Certainly I don’t think they can take more operational cuts short term and they are under enormous pressure,” he added.
“I think they are right at the sort of edge of what is practical in terms of the sources they have available.”
Condon is the latest senior former police officer cautioning that national security is at stake because of government’s austerity policies.
Robert Quick, who led the counterterrorism effort from 2008 to 2009, told the Guardian that crucial information on people supporting Islamic extremist ideology was lost because of cuts.
“Counterterrorism funding is ringfenced but cuts to the general policing budget [have] impacted on neighbourhood policing teams in many parts of the country including London,” Quick said.
“This has reduced the capacity of the police to work in communities building relationships and trust to in turn generate community-based intelligence about persons of concern.”