Police recruits not allowed on streets of Waltham Forest due to lack of training

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.

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.

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.

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”.

In June, the borough’s police had to defend their use of stop and search after a scrutiny group pointed out almost nine out of every ten searches resulted in no further action.

The Waltham Forest Stop and Search group, which met on June 29, showed only 11 per cent of searches between January and May led to an arrest, fine, warning or similar.

A total of 1,496 stop and searches were conducted in the borough in May but, in almost 1,200 cases, nothing illegal was found.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter