Condon starts with a promise of change

Paul Condon took over yesterday as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, paying a generous tribute to his predecessor, Sir Peter Imbert, but promising improvements and change.

Despite praising Sir Peter, as a 'commissioner of vision', and commending the 'brave and most dedicated' officers of the Metropolitan Police, Mr Condon made it clear that he saw much in the force that needed attention.

He promised to 'move the service forward' by improvement on three main fronts: safety and security for the people of London; the quality of life of the community; and public confidence in the force.

By emphasising the need for higher ethical standards and better quality of service, Mr Condon made it clear that boosting the poor image of the police is top of his agenda.

He said: 'It is no good if police officers turn up quickly to calls if, when they arrive, they are rude or under pressure or haven't got the time to spend with the people who have asked for help. It is not just speed of response, it is the quality of response - courtesy and the care that goes into dealing with people who need help.'

Mr Condon, 45, takes over the pounds 87,000-a-year post for a period of seven years, rather than the normal five. He will be in charge of 28,000 officers, 17,000 civilians, a pounds 1.5bn budget, a steadily rising crime rate and the lowest detection rate in the country.

Mr Condon's first years in office will see major upheavals in the police service: structural changes being piloted by the Home Office, and the reports later this year of both the Sheehy inquiry into police pay and rank structure and the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, is believed to have chosen Mr Condon because of his reforms over the past three years as Chief Constable of Kent, where he eliminated middle management tiers, devolved spending powers to local commanders and published performance indicators. He is widely expected to do more of the same with the highly bureaucratic and poorly performing Metropolitan Police.

Born in Bournemouth, Mr Condon joined the service at Bethnal Green, east London, in 1967 and, apart from an earlier spell as an assistant chief constable in Kent, has spent most of his career in London. Selected for accelerated promotion in 1970, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he studied jurisprudence. He is married with three children. Less folksy and more thrusting than Sir Peter Imbert, he is unlikely ever to be referred to as 'a copper's copper'.

The new commissioner's main operational success during his career was to bring order to the Notting Hill carnival when he was in charge of policing in west London in the late 1980s.

He said yesterday that he wanted improvements in a number of areas: the detection of crime and overall productivity; ethical standards; speed of response to emergency calls; the number of officers on patrol at times and in places which reassure the public; and the care paid by the police to victims of crime. He said he would only pursue changes after consultation and in the light of the reforms instigated by the Home Office and the Sheehy report.

Asked about the morale of the force in the face of public criticism and widespread changes, Mr Condon said that he had never known a time when police did not complain about morale. He said: 'I believe we have the best police officers now we have ever had. They face, every day, a tough task and they will get 100 per cent support from me, 100 per cent determination to help them with their difficult job.'

Mr Condon is expected to continue the Plus Programme of internal reforms begun by his predecessor which badly needs new impetus to reach the grassroots. He is also likely to accelerate the existing policy of devolving power to senior officers running the eight areas of the force. He also faces warnings from local CID officers that resources are being severely stretched and many crimes are not being investigated.

Mr Condon has said he sees the police as a public and social service; he maintains that society must accept limits to what the police can achieve.

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