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U.K. Terror Attacks Have Led To Calls For More Police On The Streets

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're following news this morning of a terrorist attack in Iran. Gunmen stormed the Parliament building in Tehran. ISIS is now claiming responsibility. Meanwhile, the spate of terror attacks in the U.K. has raised questions about the effectiveness of that country's police force. Since 2010, British government cuts have seen the number of police on patrol drop by about 20,000. Many are now calling for more police on the streets. Among them is Peter Kirkham. He's a former detective with the Metropolitan Police Force. He says the cuts have had a real impact.

PETER KIRKHAM: There is community intelligence being lost. The officers around communities, seeing what's going on, picking up people that are behaving strangely or going off the rails, for terrorist or any other reasons, they're not there. So there's - the opportunity to maybe pick up signals - warning signals earlier has gone.

MARTIN: Although, we should note, you talk about the cost of community policing, that you don't have as many people on the ground in those communities getting to know people and gleaning intelligence. But some of these attackers were already known by British security.

KIRKHAM: Known can mean a lot of things. Most of these individuals are not known to the extent where they've committed serious, criminal offenses, terrorist or otherwise. So they can't be arrested and imprisoned. And so there's about 20,000 estimated by the police and the security services that are around the periphery. They're friends of friends. They're people that were seen to visit them, but we don't know why. They're people that have just been said to be getting a bit more radicalized, not enough to do anything other than have a good look at them to see if there's anything more that could or should be done.

And when there isn't, the community policing sort of angle is where some monitoring could be done informally, and that - at the moment, with no community policing in lots of areas or no effective community policing, they're just let back out into the community. Unless someone else happens to pick the phone up and let us know that things have changed, there's nothing that can be done.

MARTIN: Theresa May, the prime minister, has said she has no plans, though, to bolster the police force at all. And government officials say that crime, since the police force has been reduced, is actually down.

KIRKHAM: She keeps quoting the crime is down. We dispute that. The facts do not support that. What has changed is the type of crime. Loads of cybercrimes and frauds are not even counted in the official statistics. But we would say that crime has changed, not gone down.

MARTIN: You were the chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police, and I imagine you must still have contact or relationships with people who serve. Can you tell us, especially in the wake of these last two attacks, what it is like to be a police officer in the U.K. right now?

KIRKHAM: Policing in the U.K. at the moment is fraught. We have got a situation where there is way too much to be done that just cannot be achieved by the number of officers that there are. I am in awe of my former colleagues. They are being dragged from pillar to post when there's something like London Bridge happens or something like Manchester happens, for a week, two weeks, three weeks.

They have all their leave cancelled, and they're doing back-to-back, 16 or 18-hour day shifts. They're on the point of collapse. That cannot be sustained for any length of time. After the election, the new government must reverse the cuts to at least some extent.

MARTIN: Peter Kirkham is a former chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police in the U.K. Thanks so much for talking with us.

KIRKHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.