London's know-your-bobby crime fight

London's top policeman has launched a five-year plan for fighting crime in the metropolis and improving the public image of a police force heavily criticized for having drifted out of contact with the community.

Sir Kenneth Newman, newly appointed commissioner of ''the Met,'' is moving hundreds more constables back onto the beat with orders to stem burglary and street crimes. He also wants local police units to establish close relations with the people they serve, partly to restore public confidence but also as a means of obtaining more information about potential crime.

Sir Kenneth, a lithe and unsmiling professional who came to prominence as chief of police in strife-torn Ulster, described his measures as ''first aid'' and indicated that more reforms will follow.

But he rejected demands that London's police be made accountable to local councils. Constitutionally, ''the Met'' is accountable only to the home secretary.

Sir Kenneth has turned to United States models in his attempt to raise crime-prevention standards and to achieve a higher score in apprehending criminals. Programs in Detroit, he said, had reduced burglary by 20 to 30 percent. London police officers have already been to Detroit and studied the techniques in operation.

Key points in Sir Kenneth's blueprint for policing London include:

* More foot patrols.

* Fewer police for controlling demonstrations.

* Concentration on preventing street crime and burglary.

* Better management and backup facilities, including computer records.

One of the most notable of Sir Kenneth's changes is the switch of controversial special patrol groups (SPG) to antiburglary duties. The SPG has been heavily criticized in the past for using rough crowd-control tactics. Sir Kenneth also wants to encourage the setting up of local citizens' groups as a means of heading off serious crime. But he ruled out ''vigilante methods'' advocated by some citizens as a way of preventing burglary and mugging.

He said his approach had been tested in south London, where there had been a great improvement in arrests of burglars and street robbers. In the borough of Lambeth street robberies had decreased by half, he said.

The new police chief's prescription was given a warm welcome by Home Secretary William Whitelaw, who has borne the brunt of political criticism for the relatively poor crime prevention and detection record of ''the Met'' in recent times.

It was not so warmly welcomed by the Labour opposition, which wants London police to be more publicly accountable. London is unique in Britain in that its police force is not controlled by fully constituted local or regional committees.

Introducing his new approach, Sir Kenneth admitted ''a growing problem for the police in the decline of positive cooperation from the public.''

Witnesses were reluctant to come forward either because of apathy or fear of reprisals.

The police chief also conceded that some specialist police units in London had grown too large, at the expense of ''ground cover'' in local areas.

To make more constables available for foot patrols, he is cutting the size of specialist units and streamlining central management techniques. He is also getting a modest increase in the total number of police available for deployment in the metropolitan police area.

The stress in future, said Sir Kenneth, would be on the battle against crime at neighborhood level.

His emphasis is seen as a major policy reversal after nearly two decades during which ''the Met'' has been cultivating elite squads operating from central command offices.

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