Terrorism is putting an “unsustainable” strain on British police, the head of the UK’s largest police force has warned.
Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the four terror attacks to hit London so far this year had an impact on the entire force.
“Every single response requires a huge amount of officers in the immediate aftermath and a huge investigation,” she told LBC radio, speaking one week since the Parsons Green attack and on the six-month anniversary of the Manchester bombing.
“That puts a strain not just on counter-terror police but neighbourhood officers, and all our officers and staff.
“In the long run, if we continue with this level of threat – which is what people are predicting – this is not sustainable for my police service.”
Ms Dick said she agreed with the warning given by Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), who detailed how the response to terrorism was impacting other areas of policing.
Without giving details of what areas might have to be cut, the Commissioner said “hard choices” would have to be made on priorities if funding and resources are not increased to cope with the terror threat.
“We will always want to answer emergency calls…but we will have to make some very hard choices,” she added.
“We’ve got emergency calls going up, we’ve got crime going up nationally and in London - violent crime is a particular problem.”
Acid attacks and moped robberies are among the crimes on the rise this year, while police also deal with a high proportion of safeguarding activities including child protection, mental health, domestic violence and missing people.
Ms Dick said she was among high-profile policing officials who are “engaged in a conversation about funding with the Government” so the response to all areas can continue.
The Home Office announced an extra £24m of funding for counter-terror policing in the wake of last week’s attempted bombing on a Tube train in Parsons Green.
But Ms Dick said that although the funds would help covering current operations, the counter-terror budget would be reducing in real terms in the coming years.
Ms Thornton said that only 5 per cent of the Government’s total counter-terror budget was spent on policing, and that budget is set to be cut by 7.2 per cent in the next three years.
She warned that terrorism does not take place in “isolation” and prevention relies on the whole policing system, adding: “Every time there’s a terror attack, we mobilise specialist officers and staff to respond but the majority of the officers and staff responding come from mainstream policing. This puts extra strain on an already stretched service.
“In the response to the Manchester attack, three quarters of the resources deployed came from mainstream policing.
“This disrupts the daily work of policing on which the public rely, it creates backlogs of incidents in our control rooms and results in a slower response to the public.”
Ms Thornton said that with the number of officers down to the lowest level since 1985 and crime up 10 per cent in a year, “flat cash settlements” are not enough to deal with the extra pressure.
Her comments came after experts including the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation called for police to use “conventional” criminal offences that can be more easily proven to detain suspected terrorists.
Max Hill QC told The Independent that some of the perpetrators this year’s terror attacks were previously “operating at a low level of criminality”, adding: “I think that people like that should be stopped wherever possible, indicted using whatever legislation, and brought to court.”
Several of the terrorists who died in London and Manchester were known not only to the security services but to police, for crimes including domestic violence, drugs and links to gangs.
Ms Thornton said much of prevention work happens at a local neighbourhood level, where constables and Police Community Support Officers are key to gathering intelligence.
“Withdrawal from communities risks undermining their trust in us, at a time when we need people to have the confidence to share information with us,” the NPCC head added.
“Experts tell us that the spate of attacks in the UK and Europe are a shift not a spike in the threat, which will take 20 or 30 years to eliminate.
“This new normality necessitates an open minded dialogue with Government about how we respond; and our resources have got to be part of the conversation.”
Her call came as police continued to question four suspects held in connection with the attack in Parsons Green.
Ms Dick said the device that sent a fireball hurtling through a packed Tube carriage, injuring 30 people, was “very, very dangerous”.
“It partially detonated, it had a large quantity of explosives and it was packed with shrapnel, so it could have been so much worse,” she added.
“Different [terror] tactics will be used by different people at different times and we have to be ready with everything.”
British security services are already monitoring around 3,000 suspected Islamist extremists classed as imminent threats, while there is a wider pool of around 23,000 people that have previously appeared on their radar.
Six terror attacks have been foiled in recent months, amid warnings that the defeat of Isis strongholds in Syria and Iraq could increase the risk of terror attacks in the UK.
With supporters now unable to travel to join the so-called Islamic State, the group has been attempting to incite increased atrocities around the world and issued detailed instructions on how to carry out massacres.
The UK’s terror threat level was raised to “critical” following the Parsons Green bombing but has since returned to “severe”, meaning further attacks are considered highly likely.
The Government said it “will do what it takes to keep families, communities and our country safe”.
A Home Office spokesperson added: “That is why we are increasing funding for counter-terrorism by £3.4bn and the Home Secretary announced £24m in extra support for CT (counter-terrorism) policing in addition to the £707m already committed for this year.
”We have also protected overall police funding in real terms since 2015 and we are sensitive to the pressures on police forces across the country.
“We are engaging with them on the demands they are currently facing.”