New police recruits are arriving in Waltham Forest with so little training that they are not allowed on the streets for weeks in case they endanger themselves or others.

Borough inspector Marcus Walton told Waltham Forest Council’s communities scrutiny committee on Tuesday, October 13 that training now only lasts around eight weeks, “most of which is done online”.

This compares to the 36 weeks he received when he joined in the 1980s and means new officers are “not even allowed to leave the station” for their first two to three weeks.

The need to properly train new officers is so great that he said there were “close to 20 officers” who had been taken off Waltham Forest’s streets just to train others.

'The risk to police is too high'

He said: “The risk to police - to colleagues that are going out there with them and our reputation and their own safety - is too high.

“Some of them (would) get themselves into trouble or end up saying something inappropriate or reacting inappropriately because they have not been given appropriate training.

“That burden is pushed back to local officers. We have had to take close to 20 officers off the streets to work with those new officers to try to start off skilling them.”

Inspector Walton said Waltham Forest police currently had around 50 new officers and that the rush to recruit was “part of this magic 5,000 officers across the country we are getting”.

This may refer to Boris Johnson’s pledge to recruit 20,000 frontline officers, made shortly after he was elected in 2019, when it was estimated 5,000 would be added in London alone.

Read more: Waltham Forest officers questioned over stop and search success rate

The issue of officer training came up during a discussion of stop and search in Waltham Forest and how to tackle the problem of unconscious racial bias.

Figures presented to the committee showed black residents were disproportionately more likely to be searched than their white counterparts but less likely to have something illegal on them.

Inspector Walton also shared some positive results with the committee, such as the number of murders falling by a fifth in the last year.

In June, the borough's police had to defend its use of stop and search after a scrutiny group pointed out that almost nine out of ten searches in the first five months of the year resulted in no further action.

At the meeting this month, Inspector Walton noted there was a "positive outcome" in over a fifth of searches in north east London in the last two months of last year.

Cllr Elizabeth Baptiste (Lab, Valley) said it was “a major concern” to her that “black young men in particular are targeted unnecessarily”, asking if it could be linked to shortened training.

Inspector Walton said: “In the 35 years since I joined the police, I can count on one hand the officers where I thought ‘I do not want to work with you, I do not like your attitude’.

“Thankfully all of those people have long since retired. When I joined it was a different era and those people needed to go.

“I do not honestly know of anybody I know who consciously goes out looking to target (black people) but then there’s an unconscious bias that we all have to challenge.

“Police officers often reflect the unconscious views of society but we do all we can to make sure they can make the right decisions.”

Asked how Waltham Forest Police addresses recruits’ unconscious racial bias, he said the station held “discussion groups”, talks from “external speakers” and visits from “youth groups”.

Update 27/10/20:

Following the publication of this article, the Local Democracy Reporting Service was contacted by a Metropolitan Police spokesperson.

They said the Met has "had to adapt" due to the pandemic and that new recruits receive eight weeks of "close ‘on the job’ tutoring by experienced officers" when they arrive at stations. 

They added: "Recruits remain closely supervised and supported throughout the remaining 18 months of their probationary period.

"Building on this, in January 2021 the Met will further strengthen our training for new recruits through the launch of three new training courses, all externally accredited by one of four London Universities that the Met is partnering with."

Regarding concerns about race, they added that the Met does not believe it is "failing to provide an appropriate service" to any group of people.

They said: "Nor do we believe the Met and our officers are prejudiced, ignorant, and thoughtless and carry out racist stereotyping.

"But that is not to say there are no areas for improvement. Of course there are, as there are in all organisations and institutions today.

"We recognise the concerns and anger some members of our communities have about how we police London and we continue to engage with Londoners on how to increase public confidence."

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