Crime rates in the capital seem set to be a central issue as campaigning for May’s mayoral election ramps up, with Conservative contender Shaun Bailey already electioneering under the strapline “For A Safer London” and the hashtag #MakeLondonSafe.
However, Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick this week told LBC radio listeners that the capital could be seeing “some of the tide turning”. And deputy commissioner Sir Stephen House told the London Assembly’s police and crime committee on Thursday that the numbers of victims aged under 25 injured by knife crime had fallen by eight per cent in the 12 months to November 2019, continuing the downward trend of 2018. The figure for over 25s had fallen by eight per cent too.
Knife crime with violence overall had reduced by 23 per cent in two years, and the Met’s focus on violent crime was seeing reductions in other categories of violent crime too, Sir Stephen said – in domestic abuse homicide, moped offences, acid attacks and in crimes where guns were fired, which he said had reduced by 47 per cent since 2017.
The meeting nevertheless came in the wake of new figures showing a further rise in the capital’s murder rate, with Sir Stephen confirming a total of 149 murders in 2019, including 25 teenagers. The total went up from 135 in 2018, and is the highest recorded murder rate in London since 2008, with fatal stabbings almost doubling since 2014.
Reports this week revealed reducing homicide rates overall in England and Wales, from 774 murders in 2018 to 650 this year, with reductions in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
Facing tough questioning from Conservative assembly member Tony Arbour, Sir Stephen rejected suggestions that the Met was failing compared to police services outside the capital. “There is nothing that I’m aware of that is being done in other force areas that we are not doing in London,” he said.
A recent Sunday Times story suggesting that “stop and search” tactics had not been effective in countering knife crime in London was also wide of the mark, he said. The tactic had seen more than 4,000 knives taken off the streets in the past year, and could be effective even when nothing was found. “Stop and search is a deterrent, an expression of police presence on the streets and the rule of law,” he said.
Four hundred new officers a month were now being recruited, with police numbers up to 31,000 with additional funding from the Mayor, deputy mayor for policing Sophie Linden told the committee. The Met is forecasting more than 32,000 officers being in place by the end of this summer.
“It will take time to get on top of all violence,” Sir Stephen conceded, citing the impact of events including last October’s Extinction Rebellion protests, which he said had diverted officers from policing elsewhere in the capital as well as drawing in officers from 35 forces across the country, including Scotland, at a total cost of £21 million.
With Green Party Assembly Member and mayoral candidate Sian Berry questioning the tactics and suggesting the Met had failed to facilitate lawful protest, Sir Stephen said the approach was “a proportionate approach to an unlawful protest by thousands of people”.
The Met accepted the High Court decision overturning a “Section 14” attempt under the Public Order Act 1986 to ban further protests after a week of “severe disruption”, he added. “But we don’t think the legislation gives us the power we need to keep London operating as it should. The protests were in the main unlawful and we reacted appropriately. We will change our practices, but they will not be changed to facilitate unlawful protests.”
Susan Hall, the new leader of the Conservative group at City Hall, pledged support for the Met. “The vast majority of Londoners supported the idea of Section 14,” she said. “If you find that you can’t put that in or want something similar you will absolutely have political support from the majority of us going forward.”
Photograph: Omar Jan.
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