Susan Hall is a member of the London Assembly.
The most recent spate of stabbings on the streets of London demonstrates that our city’s violent crime epidemic shows no sign of abating. With these tragic attacks happening on such a regular basis, it is easy to acclimatise to the ‘new normal’ and forget that it wasn’t always this way.
But violent crime in the capital has got worse over the past few years. Overall, knife crime has surged by nearly 50 per cent since September 2015, with knife crime with injury and robbery using a knife up 24 per cent and 39 per cent respectively. Tragically, the number of people murdered reached 100 by August this year; in 2016 there were 101 people murdered over the course of the whole year. Overall the murder rate is up 43 per cent since 2015.
The response to this crisis from London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, can be summed up in one word: complacent. There has been plenty of media coverage around Khan’s claim that it will take a decade to get to grips with this surge in knife crime, but even the Mayor will know that his claim is nonsense. Under Boris Johnson, knife crime started increasing in December 2009 but was falling again by November 2011. When teenagers were dying on our city’s streets, Johnson realised that his approach needed to be akin to a sprint, not a marathon.
Khan is just playing politics with this, albeit badly. The Mayor knows that he is proving incapable of getting knives off London’s streets, and he is simply trying to lower expectations by claiming that solving this problem will take so long. When and if, in 18 months’ time, crime is still going through the roof, Khan will be able to fall back on the erroneous claim he made last week. But Londoners, especially those living in the communities most at risk of knife crime, deserve a Mayor who will get on with the job rather than kicking the can down the road for political reasons.
Khan has a record of complacency when it comes to knife crime, with his solutions to this epidemic often coming too little, too late. Stop and search is a prime example. Like the Home Secretary, I believe that stop and search is an important police tool which can help to catch criminals and keep our vulnerable communities safe. When the Mayor came to office, London’s relatively low crime rates meant that he had the space to reduce the use of stop and search. But this was a complacent and short-sighted move which undeniably contributed to the subsequent rise in knife crime. Since then Khan has had to perform a screeching U-turn, announcing earlier this year that he was going to increase stop and search. However, there has only been a six per cent increase, which is hardly significant.
We have long called for a public health approach to knife crime, so I am pleased that the Mayor has finally set up a new violence reduction unit. But it is disappointing that it took the murder of hundreds of Londoners to spur the Mayor into action. Even now, the plans are at an embryonic stage and a paltry £500,000 has been committed to the project. Khan needs to be taking robust action right now – not in weeks, months or years.
It is clear to everyone that London needs more police officers on our streets. Given half the chance Khan will trot out the predictable and pre-scripted lines blaming the Government for the relative lack of officers, but in reality the Mayor has the means to get more cops on the streets and just hasn’t delivered. There are currently 29,685 police employed by the Met, but a recent FOI shows that the resources are already there for an extra thousand police officers. In February Khan announced an extra £5 million for training new officers – something we all welcomed – yet the recruitment drive didn’t start for a whole six months. As I alluded to at the most recent Mayor’s Question Time, where is the urgency?
While Khan could make more of the existing budget, there is no question that he could find savings within the Met to boost police numbers. The police inspectorate recently said that the Met is failing to spend taxpayers’ money efficiently and it is easy to see why. For example, the force spent £10 million on workshops which determined the ‘colour’ of police officers’ personalities. It’s time to cut the waste and use the money elsewhere; that £10 million could have paid for 166 police officers.
London desperately needs a Mayor who has the drive, energy and experience to get the knives off London’s streets. Khan’s complacency and track record of failing to get to grips with this crime epidemic shows that he’s simply not up to the job.