In February Cressida Dick announced that she would be resigning as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and eventually left in April. The politics of her departure festered intermittently for the rest of the year, with the outgoing head of the police inspectorate asked by a soon-to-be gone Home Secretary to produce a report, which, when delivered near the end of August, criticised Sadiq Khan’s handling of the affair.
The Labour Mayor has strongly defended his actions, including twice before a Conservative-led London Assembly police and crime committee, and given not an inch. A problem for his opponents is that Dick had few allies left outside of police ranks, including in national government. The muddled rules of political power and accountability where Met chiefs are concerned were once more exposed. As the year ends, with a new Commissioner, Mark Rowley (pictured), in place since September, that muddle remains – along with worries about what a hostile Tory government might do to change it.
Amid all this, in March, Mayor Khan published his new Police and Crime Plan to cover 2022 to 2025. Its four key themes were: reducing and preventing violence; increasing trust and confidence; better supporting victims of crime; and protecting people, especially the young, from being exploited or harmed. Tackling violent crime was named the top priority, with a reiteration of the multi-agency “public health approach” pioneered in Glasgow and taken up through the Greater London Authority’s Violence Reduction Unit from 2019, and emphasis placed on reducing reoffending, preventing hate crime and increasing the safety and the feeling of safety of women and girls.
The plan’s top line goals addressed concerns brought about by a string of shocking incidents in the preceding months and years that had contributed to a decline in public confidence in the Met and the eager characterisation of London by some politicians and elements of the media – typically those who simply don’t like the Mayor – as uniquely violent and “lawless”. The plan eschewed numerical targets for measuring progress, thereby aligning with the Home Office approach, and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime has been tracking how things are going.
In early September, just days before Rowley formally took the Met helm, 24-year-old, unarmed Chris Kaba from Wembley was shot dead in Streatham Hill by a police officer following a pursuit of the car he was driving, which was suspected of having been linked with a firearms incident in the preceding days. As the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) began its investigation, differing versions of who Kaba was appeared in the media.
In some early portrayals, he was characterised as a kind, fun-loving, “gifted rapper” and aspiring architect who was engaged to be married and soon to become a father. Then it emerged that he had spent four years in a young offender institution for possession of a firearm and more recently been convicted of driving without insurance and having a knife. Earlier this year he was served with a 28-day domestic violence protection order relating to his behaviour towards his girlfriend.
None of this is relevant to the facts surrounding his killing and On London has previously refrained from publishing any of those details for that reason. However, the contrasting framings of the sort of man Kaba was have now long been in wide and high profile circulation, and reporting them in this context illuminates the intensive politicking that has gone on around the Kaba case. That reflects badly on certain parties, both media and politicians, but also underlines the vital importance to public confidence, especially among black Londoners, of a thorough and credible IOPC investigation. Its findings are expected in the first half of next year.
Throughout 2022 a number of politicians and journalists have been at the forefront of depicting London as uniquely “lawless” and in the grip of a “wave” of violent crime, pinning blame for them on the Mayor. This both overstates the ability of any London Mayor to influence crime rates in the city – which rise and fall for a variety of reasons, most of them far beyond the control of City Hall – and misrepresents the crime statistics recorded by the Met and notified to the Home Office.
For example, the numbers of offences in the category of violence against the person with injury have changed little in London in recent years, with the exception of the Covid lockdown period, which accounts for a significant fall during that time. Moreover, London’s rate of violence against the person was the lowest of any region of England in the year to March 2022.
Earlier this month, Khan, accompanied by Rowley, told London Assembly members that London has continued to “buck the trend” on violent crime, citing encouraging figures about youth homicide, “knife-enabled” violent crime, gun crime and also burglary. He and Rowley, who had already set up an anti-corruption unit, promised an increase in neighbourhood beat policing. Watch out for that and for arguments about its roll-out and efficacy in 2023.
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