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banner Friday, 14 April, 2000, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Livingstone backs Met recruitment drive

Ken Livingstone: Will back police recruitment drive
Ken Livingstone has pledged to throw his support behind a drive to boost police numbers in the capital if he is elected London mayor next month.

The independent candidate assured Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens of his backing for the recruitment drive during talks at New Scotland Yard on Friday.

Mr Livingstone and Sir John met for an hour, during which the Brent East MP said the main topic was the problem of recruiting and retaining officers.

Mr Livingstone said he would seek to recruit an extra 2,000 officers "as a first step" if elected, though he added that the figure might have to be upgraded to 3,000 because of the rate of decline in police numbers in the capital.

He said a key task for the mayor would be to restore police morale which had been undermined by criticism sparked by the failure of the murder inquiry into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

'Opitimism' about mayor

After the meeting, Mr Livingstone said: "What I want to do if I am elected mayor is very quickly have a major drive, backed by the mayor, to get people to join the police and to end the period of demoralisation there has been in the post-Lawrence period."

"There is a real optimism among the police, from bobbies on the beat right up to the top, about the arrival of a mayor for London."

The recruitment drive package would include increases in allowances paid to help officers cope with London's high living costs, he said.

The question of who Mr Livingstone would appoint to chair the new Metropolitan Police Authority did not arise, he said: "We talked about the problems faced by the police, not the problems faced by the mayor."

There was also no mention of the policing problems caused by demonstrations against bodies like the World Trade Organisation, said Mr Livingstone, who has previously suggested he would not welcome the WTO to London because of the extra policing workload that protests would impose.

He added: "Sir John has the highest reputation for integrity and effectiveness and I am looking forward to working with him to achieve his vision of making London the safest capital city in the world."

"I am particularly concerned about the recent rise in violent crime in London. The Met's number one priority must be to crack down on violent robbery, drug dealing and racist thuggery."

Blair backing 'hurts Dobson'

A new poll suggests Tony Blair's backing is damaging Frank Dobson's campaign
Labour's candidate Frank Dobson attacked Mr Livingstone's plans, saying there were "at odds with his record, which show him to be a mayor that would be soft on crime and do nothing to tackle the menace of drugs on London's streets".

Mr Dobson added: "I will be tough on crime in all its forms, from so-called petty offences through to ensuring London is not open to terrorists."

"It is one of the biggest issues raised with me on the doorstep. I am committed to fighting for a safer London and I have pledged to cut street crime within two years."

Last week Mr Dobson was forced to halt mid-way through a speech on his own plans to a Police Federation conference, when officers heckled and slow handclapped him.

Mr Dobson also dismissed poll findings suggesting that backing from Prime Minister Tony Blair was counterproductive and actually damaging the Labour candidate's campaign.

According to the poll in the London Evening Standard newspaper, 19% of people said they were less likely to vote for Mr Dobson because of Mr Blair's backing compared to only 9% who said they were more likely.

Mr Dobson insisted: "I am the Labour Party candidate, I am proud of what Labour has done for London but I know there is more to do, which is why I want to be mayor."

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