Police are asking Kingston Council not to pay them for extra officers because too many other positions are unfilled.

For three years from April 2015, the council paid £400,000 a year, with former London Mayor Boris Johnson committing to match the figure, for 12 officers to be stationed in Kingston town centre.

The then-Conservative administration wanted to help curb anti-social behaviour and crime in the area.

The Liberal Democrats were accused of cutting the numbers of police after the 2018 local elections – they say the cash was not included in the budget set by the previous administration, but the Conservatives say money was set aside.

But chief superintendent of the south west London Basic Command Unit (BCU), Sally Benatar, said she “wouldn’t support” any plans for a council to fund police officer posts.

She said falling numbers and difficulties in hiring the “extra” officers under the scheme, would mean they would not be new staff, but just officers diverted from other areas.

Chief Supt Benatar said: “I need to make decisions as to where to hold vacancies in the workforce in order to make best use of resources to manage operational demand.

“While we are working hard as an organisation to reduce vacancies and recruit officers, I would not want to fill any additional funded posts by moving officers from core roles elsewhere on the BCU.

“This would limit my ability to use resources flexibly to manage the wide range of policing demand, which of course includes the policing of Kingston town centre.

“For these reasons I wouldn’t support a plan by the council to fund additional police officer posts at this time, for Kingston town centre or elsewhere.”

Former leader of the council, Kevin Davis, said this was not the case when the scheme began – before the BCU system was introduced.

He also pointed to figures from October 2018, which show more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all crime reported in the borough took place in Grove ward, which covers the centre of Kingston.

But current leader, Liz Green, defended not renewing the funding, and said recent data show other areas in the borough like Chessington and Norbiton are experiencing slower response times to 999 calls – meaning limiting existing officers to the town centre would be counter-productive.

Cllr Green said: “With police officer numbers across London now at their lowest level for 20 years and crime rates rising, the Conservative government and the Labour Mayor of London must each shoulder some of the blame for budget cuts and falling police numbers.

“I have raised both the number of police officers and the appalling response rates in Kingston directly with Sadiq Khan, who is in charge of funding London’s police, and with Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

“We must make sure people feel safe in our borough, but using council money to pay for policing in one specific area is not the answer.

“We need sustained pressure on the government and the Mayor to pay for more police officers.”