James Hart: They won't come quietly. City police resist the long arm of the merger

Will the Square Mile's own force surrender territorial responsibilities to the Met? Not if its chief can help it
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The Independent Online

"Neighbours," as the soap theme goes, "everybody needs good neighbours. With a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend."

The words have a poignancy for James Hart, Commissioner of the City of London Police. He has a very large and ambitious neighbour in the shape of Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. And with the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, pressing for mergers among the UK's 43 police forces, Sir Ian has dropped heavy hints that he would quite like to take over some, if not all, of his smaller neighbour's operations.

But Hart - himself a former Met officer who worked closely with Sir Ian when they were both inspectors - is ready to fight his corner. Unlike many of the heads of the 43 forces, he did not refuse to submit detailed plans to the Home Secretary by the review's pre-Christmas deadline. In stark black and white - and in great detail - he put the case for the 880-strong City of London force to remain independent.

"When I first came here in 1998, I thought we would just be policing another part of central London," he explains. "But it is very different. And it justifies a dedicated police force."

Hart's argument is clear. The policing issues in the City are unlike those facing any other UK force because the City is unlike any other area. Geographically it is tiny, little more than the colloquial Square Mile, set in the midst of the Met's sprawling patch. In population terms - when you talk about permanent residents - it is also tiny, the equivalent of a large market town. But in terms of the hundreds of thousands of workers, the scores of high-profile financial and professional firms and institutions based there, and the prestige that these bring to London and to Britain, the City is a gigantic place and a gigantic policing job.

"Our job is not the same as conventional territorial policing," says Hart. "It is about the confidence that people have to do business here."

His argument is emphasised when you take in the view from his homely office, converted from a flat above the City's main police station, in Wood Street EC2. Below are the offices of US bankers JP Morgan, while the Japanese investment firm Nomura and City stockbrokers Collins Stewart Tullett are a stone's throw away.

City police are rarely called out to burglaries, and Asbos are almost unheard of. Instead, Hart spends a lot of his time meeting business leaders to talk about security and how best to evacuate offices in the event of a terrorist alert. Contingency plans of this kind have been stepped up since the bombings of 7 July, one of which was in the Tube near Aldgate station in the City.

"I could spend my whole working week in seminars," says Hart. "We've held a lot of briefings about the business response to an incident."

He has warned that further attacks are inevitable, and has been criticised by some for scaremongering. But on his City patch, they would rather be safe than sorry. Firms have been queuing to sign up to Project Griffin, giving company security officers police training to help in the fight against terrorism. The much-criticised "wall of plastic", where checkpoints have been set on all major roads into the City, is now seen as a success. Hart points to a fall in crime rates for three years on the trot, an improved detection rate and the rollout to other forces of the automatic numberplate recognition system used by the City police.

At the same time, he says, City officers work closely with the Met so Londoners do not notice the difference between the forces. "If people thought they got a different type of policing in High Holborn than in the Strand, that would be an issue."

The level of co-operation with the Met - and with the British Transport Police - was shown in the response to the 7 July bombings, where all three forces worked together under one command. The only major wrinkle was the jamming of mobile phones, which, some claimed, was a decision taken by the City police without consultation.

Hart denies this: "It was a command decision to take down one of the networks as there was a problem about communication among the emergency services."

But it is this "territorial" policing, of which he is so proud, that the Met appears to be eyeing up. In a speech last year, Sir Ian talked about various options for reform, mentioning a potential takeover of the City police in which the Met would assume some of the smaller force's responsibilities. A takeover is logistically difficult, requiring an Act of Parliament, but a re-assignment of duties might find favour in the Home Office.

This would leave the City police as a specialist in "economic crime" - the modern parlance for fraud. It already has the largest such squad in the country and, in the past four years, it has been revamped to become the de facto national fraud squad.

Hart's expertise in this area has led him to be seconded to the fraud review now being run jointly by the Treasury and the Attorney General's office. On top of this, one of the ideas floated in the police reform debate is for City officers to take over much of the Met's fraud investigation work, in exchange for the Met getting territorial responsibilities in the City.

Hart won't be drawn on this plan but says he can see problems in creating an official national fraud squad - in terms of the time and money needed to set it up. "A more successful approach could be if we could set up a network of lead forces, with the City a centre of excellence in economic crime," he says. "I don't want to pre-empt either review, but if the City police were asked to take a leadership role, then so be it."

Hart claims he hasn't discussed any of this with his old friend Sir Ian. "We've both been pretty busy, but when we get a moment, I'd like to invite him for a glass of wine."

As the song says: "That's when good neighbours become good friends."

BIOGRAPHY

BORN

10 September 1947.

EDUCATION

Kingston College; City University.

CAREER

1966-83: Surrey Police - various ranks to Inspector.

1983-89: Metropolitan Police - Chief Inspector. Postings included Heathrow airport, New Scotland Yard and Notting Hill.

1989-94: Chief Superintendent. Divisional Commander, Wandsworth, then head of Diplomatic Protection Unit.

1994-98: Surrey Police - Assistant Chief Constable.

1998-2002: City of London Police - Assistant Commissioner.

2002 to now: Commissioner.

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