As someone that has lived and worked in London my entire life, I share the concerns that have been expressed to me in recent weeks about a surge in violent crime across our capital. Whilst Bromley remains one of London’s safest boroughs, it’s important that everyone has confidence in our local law enforcement and feels safe in our community.
When I chat with residents about this subject, I am frequently asked the same questions. Why has crime risen in London? What is the Government doing to tackle this problem? And what measures have been put in place locally to help prevent crime? I therefore thought it would be useful if I tried to answer these queries as openly and factually as possible in the paragraphs below.
If you look at the crimes traditionally measured by the Independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, crime across the country is actually down by a third since 2010. According to the ONS, there were 5.8 million offences last year, the lowest rate on record, down from a 1995 peak of 19 million. However, violence in some of our cities, including London, is rising.
We must also bear in mind that the number of crimes recorded by police forces has increased. Much of this is due to continued improvements in recording practices, as well as victims showing a greater willingness to come forward and report certain crimes like child sex abuse and domestic violence. That being said, we need to look closely at those areas where other offences are on the rise, taking steps to adapt to the changing patterns of crime and address its root causes.
Policing in London is a devolved issue, meaning the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has ultimate responsibility for it. He oversees the Met’s budget, sets its priorities, and holds the Commissioner to account. He is able to move funds around within the broader Greater London Authority (GLA) budget, and also has the power to raise taxes to fund our services in London.
Without wanting to get drawn into political point scoring, it is a fact that since he became Mayor, knife crime has risen, year-on-year, by 24%, and gun crime 34%. It is also a fact that under Boris Johnson’s tenure as Mayor, crime fell by 18% - with knife crime reduced by 20.9% - all with the same budget and roughly the same number of officers. We need to ascertain exactly why that is and look to alleviate the pressures that exist.
There are significantly more officers in London per person than there are in the rest of the country (there are approximately 284 people in London per officer, compared to 533 nationally). In fact, a quarter of all police officers are in London. However, our city’s population is growing exponentially, and the threats it faces, particularly from international terrorism and organised crime, are becoming more diverse and intensifying.
It is true that police funding decreased between 2010 and 2016, but the previous framework was simply not sustainable given the health of the nation’s finances at the time. During that period crime fell (a reminder that this is far more complex than a basic question of cash) and many police forces themselves identified that efficiencies could be found, especially in terms of remodelling back office services.
Police budgets have been protected in real terms until 2019/20, and will indeed increase by around £450 million this year if locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) use the new precept flexibility. The National Crime Agency’s (NCA) budget has also been protected, and it’s receiving a £200 million investment to enhance its digital and investigative capability. In terms of counter-terrorism, the Government has committed to increase spending in real terms by 30% over the course of this Parliament, from £11.7 billion to £15.1 billion. This will allow us to recruit an additional 1,900 officers (a 15% increase) at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
Specifically in London, we receive over one and a half times the average funding per head of the population. The Met will receive more than £2.5 billion in funding in 2018/19, and according to Home Office data, it has £240 million of reserves to draw on. As was announced in the recent Police Funding Settlement, investment in our capital will rise by £42.9 million in 2018/19.
With crime tragically claiming the lives of more than 50 people in London already this year - including Dami Odeyingbo in Chislehurst this January – we need to do more, across all levels of government, to understand what factors are driving this sort of violence so that we can prevent it happening in the first place. It has become very clear to me in the work I’ve done on this issue – both as Chair of Parliament’s Justice Select Committee, and as co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for London – that we can’t prosecute our way out of this problem. We need to go deeper, adopting a holistic approach that focuses on early intervention and prevention.
The Government set out on Monday a £40 million Serious Violence Strategy, which the Home Office has been working on for some time. Amongst other things, it identifies the changing drugs market as a key driver of this increase in violence, and includes a £3.6 million fund to support the development of a new National County Lines Co-ordination Centre, which will help police forces share intelligence with each other. A further £11 million over the next two years will create a new Early Intervention Youth Fund; more money will be made available for community groups and projects that are working to tackle knife crime and gang violence; and a national anti-knife crime media campaign will be launched.
In cases where we are unable to prevent the crime from happening, robust sentencing needs to be in place to act as an adequate disincentive, something the Justice Committee recommended in its report - Draft Sentencing Guidelines on bladed articles and offensive weapons – last year:
The Government has introduced a mandatory minimum sentence for anyone caught in possession of a knife for a second time, as well as a new offence for threatening someone with a knife in a public place or school. On top of this, it is currently consulting on new laws around dangerous weapons, including knives, guns and acid, to ensure the police have the powers they need to clamp down on those carrying weapons.
Across the Borough we have witnessed a recent spate in residential burglaries, particularly prevalent in Chislehurst. I am concerned that this appears to be a professional operation that is increasingly employing threatening, intimidatory tactics, and have requested our local police force to make every possible effort to apprehend those responsible and engage widely with the community. It is also a matter I raised in the Commons on 13 March:
Bromley already has a dedicated burglary squad that has been working in the area since last May, and I have made it very clear to our local team that I will assist them in any way I can as they carry out their investigations. In the meantime, detectives released additional CCTV images of the perpetrators yesterday, calling on anyone who has further information to get in touch:
As many residents are already aware, the Met announced in February a number of changes to the way policing will be delivered across the capital, and in the next few months we will be moving to a new operating model in Bromley which will see the Bromley Police Force merged to create a new Basic Command Unit (BCU) with Croydon and Sutton.
Over the last five years my main concern with regards to policing has not been one of funding or manpower, but rather distribution, with the majority of officers serving in high crime, inner city areas. Clearly, a consequence of this is that suburban boroughs lose out with less police provision, something that can be to the detriment of our community. I believe this latest decision is both premature and illogical, and I fear it will only worsen the current situation.
Both Bromley Council and I have raised our concerns directly with the Mayor. Indeed, I wrote to Sadiq Khan in February, but to date have not received the courtesy of a response. A copy of my letter, which sets out the proposals in greater detail, can be found at the bottom of this page. I contacted the Mayor’s office again at the beginning of this week requesting a meeting, and trust I will receive a more positive reply this time around.
Further announcements about the merger will be made in due course, but New Scotland Yard have confirmed that officers will continue to operate from Bromley police station and that every ward in Bromley will continue to have two full-time officers and one dedicated PSCO.
I’ll continue to liaise closely with Bromley Police, the Commissioner for the Met, Cressida Dick, and Ministers at the Home Office to ensure addressing these concerns remains high on the agenda. I am in fact meeting with the new BCU Commander, Chief Superintendent Jeff Boothe, on Friday, at which I will certainly be urging him to prioritise the burglaries we have witnessed in the area. I will also be looking for further opportunities in the Commons over the coming weeks to raise again other local concerns, including on things like moped crime.
More generally, we need to do everything we can to support our bobbies on the beat and create a long-term strategy for tackling violent crime in our capital. That includes learning from the successes of other cities, including Glasgow, which not too long ago had some of Europe’s worst crime statistics. This must be a bipartisan effort.
I’ll continue to post updates on my website and via social media as often as I can, however if you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.