Britain’s largest police force have warned there has been steep increases in gun and knife crime in the capital over the past year, adding that years of budget cuts may at least be partially responsible.
The Metropolitan police said gun and knife crime rose 42% and 24% respectively and that recorded crime was up across virtually ever category, in figures released two days after Cressida Dick took over as commissioner.
In a briefing on Wednesday, Martin Hewitt, the force’s assistant commissioner, sought to pin some of the blame on cuts to funding. “It would be a naive answer to say that if you cut a significant amount out of an organisation, you don’t have any consequences,” he said.
Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the Met has made £600m in savings and has to find a further £400m by 2020. Hewitt said other factors impacted on crime figures and conceded that the force could also work more efficiently.
Previous rises in some crime types have been recorded, with some explained away by the Met as statistical anomalies because of changes in how they are measured.
However, Hewitt said this was no longer explained the rise in London, saying there were “genuine increases” in virtually every category of crime. Overall, crime in the capital was up 4.5% to nearly 774,737 offences, with 16.72% counted as solved, down from 18.8% the previous year.
The biggest concern is the rise in violent crime. There was an increase in young people carrying knives, Hewitt said, with only a quarter of those carrying a blade linked to gangs. The Met suspects the increase is partly down to people increasingly believing in the need to carry a knife for self-protection. Hewitt said on a recent school visit to a class of 10-year-olds he asked who knew someone who carried a knife and three-quarters said they did.
This week alone there have been three fatal stabbings in the capital: in Northolt, in the north west, Mile End in the east and Plumsted, in the south-east.
Hewitt said: “Young people carrying knives are doing so for a variety of reasons including status, criminality and self-protection but only around a quarter are affiliated with gangs. There is a phenomenon of people feeling that you need to carry a knife to be safe … The problem comes when you then get a confrontation.”
Incidents of a gun being fired were up 28% to 306. The Met said it believed availability of guns had increased. Similar increases in violent crime were being seen nationally, and Dick’s predecessor Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe had already warned in January that that “the warning lights are flashing red”.
The Met is expected to face more big cuts if the government changes the way police forces are funded, with a switch expected with money flowing from urban to rural forces.
The estimated effect on the Met’s annual £3bn budget ranges from a £100m to £700m reduction.
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said he would fight any further cuts. His team said the latest crime figures backed that stance.
Sophie Linden, deputy mayor for policing, said: “These figures are deeply disturbing, and a stark reminder of the enormous pressure our police are under every day … The growing scale of the challenge revealed by this worrying data makes it more important than ever that the government provides the funding the Met needs to keep Londoners safe.”
Hewitt said the crime rise did not have a simple “causal link” to the “significant amount” of money taken from the Met as part of cuts imposed on all forces under the government’s austerity programme.
He added that while the figures were up compared with last year, London was safer now than a decade ago.
The Met has held officer numbers at 31,000, but admits it has fewer detectives than it needs and, as the force that protects the capital, has extra demands and costs. Other pressures are the rise in cybercrime and an explosion in sexual abuse cases after the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Only 40% of calls to the Met were about crime. In 2016-17 it dealt with 50,000 reports of people missing and 61,000 calls regarding mental health. Some in policing feel they are picking up the pieces from the retreat of the state as other services are cut.
Also on Wednesday, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary of England and Wales highlighted “some areas of serious concern”, drawing attention to several problems faced by Britain’s largest force. HMIC said the Met’s performance was substandard in key areas including child protection and ethical practice.
It said the London force also faced a shortage of detectives, needed improvement in “ensuring its workforce behaves ethically and lawfully” and did not actively seek out intelligence on corrupt activities.
HMIC’s inspector for London, Matt Parr, said: “I am satisfied with some aspects of the Metropolitan police service’s overall performance, but there are some areas of serious concern about its effectiveness that the force needs to address.”
The Met was found to be requiring improvement in its effectiveness at keeping people safe and reducing crime. Its efficiency and legitimacy were rated as good.
In contrast, the next three biggest forces, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, were good in every category, with the West Midlands force earning an “outstanding” mark for efficiency.
Parr said the Met faced “particular challenges because of the threats to London, and because of the size and complexity of the organisation”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Police reform is working, with the latest ONS figures showing crimes traditionally measured by the survey have fallen by a third since 2010 to a record low, with over 370,000 fewer violent crimes a year.
“Every violent crime is a significant concern and this government is taking action to tackle it and keep our communities safe, including through actions set out in our Modern Crime Prevention Strategy. Last year, we banned zombie knives, extended our work with retailers to prevent underage sales of knives and supported police in a week of action where they seized more than 1,200 weapons and made 300 arrests.
“We know there is more to be done. We will continue to work with the police, retailers and voluntary groups to tackle knife crime and ensure support is available for victims of gang violence and exploitation.”