January 7, 2009
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Yesterday I wrote a story for Londonist, in a slightly sneering fashion, about the introduction of extra police onto the suburban rail network. Rail crime is already pretty low; will 50 extra police across the entire system really make any difference? Um. Yes, as it turns out. But not the difference intended.
Arriving at Hither Green station this morning, I was met by the sight of seven coppers milling about and a knife arch that was slowly gathering cobwebs (this is the second time I've been past a knife arch and not been made to walk through; clearly teeny white women are not worth bothering with. Bet it'd have been a different story had I been a black male 'youth'). And, for the first time ever, I had to show my ticket to one of three station staff standing at the entrance to platform 5.
Me [pulling off glove with teeth]: This is a first, isn't it?
Man from Southeastern: Yeah.
Me [through glove]: Anything to do with all the police?
MfS [would clearly rather be in the office, in the warm]: Heh, something like that…
So, what's the upshot of Boris's new Neighbourhood Policing teams? Delays getting onto platforms (god only knows what would happen if tickets start being checked manually during rush hour), cold staff, bored police and probably some poor kid feeling racially harassed. And I certainly didn't feel 'reassured' by the presence of the police – my first reaction was 'god, has something happened?' before I remembered the 'initiative'. And if I hadn't written about it, or caught it on BBC News last night, I would have been seriously concerned that I was walking into the middle of a criminal shakedown. There's no signs to let the commuting public know about this sudden explosion of police presence and to warn us that occasionally we'll see a bevy of plods.
In fact, it's only now that I realise there's a 'hub' at Lewisham station – which explains why, over the last few months, I've sometimes seen a trio of police in high-vis jackets standing around. I'd always thought I'd stumbled across the aftermath of an arrest which made me feel a bit alarmed. Apparently they were just there to reassure the public. Clearly, it's not working quite so well as they'd have hoped…