Stephen Greenhalgh is the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and is seeking the nomination to stand as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London in May next year.
Last week I accompanied the Mayor and Bill Bratton, the New York Police Commissioner, on a visit to a high-tech intelligence hub that protects Wall Street from criminal and terrorist attacks.
The visit underlined a shared commitment to invest in technology to strengthen frontline policing. The NYPD and Microsoft worked together to develop a Domain Awareness System that aggregates and analyses huge amounts of public safety data in real time. Analysts are notified of any suspicious packages or vehicles and the police can then search for suspects using CCTV images and licence plate readers.
Both London and New York are great, global cities that have become much safer in the last twenty years. In 2014 both cities had their best year on homicides since the 1960s. London’s murder total was just 92 in 2014 – half of what it was in 1991, when London had 2 million fewer residents. New York has seen even more dramatic reductions in homicide – down from 2,245 in 1992 to 333 last year.
Both cities face similar public safety challenges.
The challenge for a future Mayor of London must be to keep crime coming down on dramatically reduced policing budgets, as well as to protect Londoners from emerging crime and terrorist threats. I believe that ensuring the police find time to prevent crime is the key to success. Both London and New York share a story of success in tackling smartphone theft which was plaguing both cities just two years ago.
In London we have seen smartphone thefts and robberies drop by 40 per cent in a year, meaning over 20,000 fewer victims – similar trends were observed in New York. Crime prevention like this requires problem-solving analysis, partnership and a prevention focus that designs out the crime. Metropolitan Police analysis in 2014 found that mobile phones made up 71 per cent of items taken in thefts and that Apple iPhones accounted for 50 per cent of all phones stolen in this way.
The Met developed strong links with UK phone recyclers and co-authored the UK Recyclers Charter. The exchange of information with Cash Converters and CEX, two major retailers dealing with second hand goods, produced significant results.
However it was the Secure Our Smartphones (SOS) alliance with other cities like San Francisco and New York that put pressure on the industry to update their security features and protect their customers. The Mayor joined the SOS initiative in August 2013 and that month he hosted a meeting with the CEOs of all domestic phone manufacturers.
Shortly afterwards Apple’s Activation Lock feature on their ioS7 software was introduced. This was the industry’s first ‘kill switch’ and a gamechanger. Other manufacturers soon followed their lead, making stolen mobile phones far less attractive to criminals. In the year to the end of September 2013 there were 51,530 thefts and robberies involving a smartphone in London – roughly 140 every day. The following year, from October 2013 (the first full month after the release of Activation lock) until October 2014, the number of phones stolen had reduced to 31,297 or 85 a day.
The monthly average for phones stolen has more than halved since August 2013 and ranks as one of the largest annual drops in a single crime type ever recorded.
The public want the police to focus on crime prevention. Peel was right: it is the absence of crime and disorder that the public want. A Populus poll for my Reform pamphlet on the Police Mission in the 21st century, co-authored with Blair Gibbs, showed that respondents in London were most likely to say that “preventing crime” was the most important part of the police’s role. In London preventing crime came above investigating offences. Preventing crime is the smart way to fight crime, which requires the Met to get “cops on the dots” so that criminals have to think multiple times before committing a crime.
Solving crime hotspots and designing out crime rather than constantly responding to events is the key to keeping crime coming down. Burglary continues to come down in London. There were 74,890 residential and commercial burglaries in London in the year to end January 2015, which is a fall of 14 per cent. Burglary is now at a 40 year low – the lowest level since 1974. Burglary has been cut because of a focus on preventing burglaries and stopping repeat victimisation. Since November 2012, the Met has been running a ‘proof of concept’ trial with three traceable liquid providers in five London boroughs involving 5000 homes. The trial sites have seen an 84 per cent reduction in burglary with the average across areas being 55 per cent. The ambition is to deliver this to 440,000 homes through joint investment with boroughs.
Other preventative measures include target hardening (“cocooning” and “alleygating”) and the use of predictive crime analytics.
Cities need to leverage all the data that they have – crime, demographic, housing, environment data sets – and also to plan and grow in a way that designs out crime in the future. Big data analytics can deliver new insights into crime hotspots and offending behaviour. However there does need to be more data-sharing across all agencies. They need to “dare to share”.
The challenge is to make crime prevention sexy. Digital technology can also be a force multiplier for preventative policing. It was analogue technology that drove cops from neighbourhoods into panda cars kitted out with radios. There was a move from the golden era embodied by Dixon of Dock Green neighbourhood beat policing to Robocop response policing. Once again the Met are putting thousands more cops back into neighbourhoods with the ability to file crime reports and take witness statements on the move without having to go back to the police station.
Predictive policing could make these officers much more preventative and focus resources yet further. Four pilots of predictive analytics are running in the Met using four different software platforms and we will be looking to roll out one technology in the summer.
If we get this right, this will herald an era of 5,000 “Digital Dixons” in neighbourhoods who will each have tablets or smartphones enabling them to patrol with purpose in those areas where and when crime is likely to happen.