Page last updated at 14:26 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

'Regret' over gun patrol message

Sir Paul Stephenson
Sir Paul admitted the Met gave out the wrong message

Metropolitan Police used the "wrong language" to describe armed patrols aimed at tackling gun crime in London, Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson says.

A TV interview led to reports that the pilot scheme would lead to routine armed patrols, he told a Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) meeting.

Those in Lambeth, Brixton and Haringey, where the pilot is being tested, said they felt they were being demonised.

Top officers were also unaware of the "wrong message" going out, he added.

The controversy, which surfaced last week, led the MPA, the force's watchdog, to demand an explanation from the commissioner on the "unauthorised change in tactics".

The MPA criticised the handling of the issue, which had sparked serious concerns in communities.

The Met had no intention at all of introducing routine armed foot patrols on the streets of London or our estates
Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson

Last week police said that armed officers from the CO19 unit had begun pilot patrols in estates in north and south London, which Sir Paul stressed was a "small authorised extension" of routine policing.

The Met said the patrols were a temporary response to a 17% rise in gun crime over the past six months.

Sir Paul said: "I had, and the Met had, no intention at all of introducing routine armed foot patrols on the streets of London or our estates.

"I also do not believe that there is any current necessity to change or adjust our existing firearms tactics.

"There was a misjudgement that people did not see that by this small extension they were going to give a significant impression of a change to our style.

"That was a mistake and I regret it.

Armed police (Library)
The MPA heard community leaders were worried about being 'demonised'

"It was an error of judgement that led to this dramatic consequence".

He added that the officer who briefed the media was "unfairly exposed" and could not understand the underlying sensitivity of the issue.

MPA member Joanne McCartney said Haringey residents were worried that their neighbourhoods had been branded "no-go areas" and had been demonised.

She said: "My concern is that senior management in the Met did not know about this and you should have done.

"I want reassurances that this will not happen again."

Dee Doocey, a Lib Dem London Assembly member, said: "We are very used around this table of learning what the Met is doing from TV or journalists phoning us up for comments.

"But I did not realise until now you are in the same position."

Sir Paul said local borough commanders have been asked to reassure communities.

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