Spike in violence due to change in the nature of crime, says minister
The comments came as London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it could take 10 years to turn round the capital’s violence problem.
A Home Office minister has blamed a change in the nature of crime, rather than cuts in police numbers, for the recent spike in gang-related violence in London and other cities.
Victoria Atkins’s comments came as London Mayor Sadiq Khan admitted that it could take 10 years to turn round the problem in the capital, where 116 homicides have been recorded this year.
Speaking after the fatal stabbing of a man in Anerley, south London, on Sunday, Mr Khan said that local leaders need to be more successful in lobbying the Government for more money for policing.
And he warned that children as young as primary school age are now carrying knives and joining criminal gangs.
We've got to be more successful in lobbying this Government to invest in policing London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Mr Khan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Home Office’s own officials, in a leaked document, said there is a link between police officer numbers going down and crime going up.
“The cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee published a scathing report two weeks ago talking about the link between a cut in police resources and the increase in crime.
“The most senior police officers in the country have said it’s naive to think there’s not a link between cutting police numbers and an increase in violent crime.
“We’ve got to be more successful in lobbying this Government to invest in policing.”
But Ms Atkins said that an intensive Government review had shown that “the claim about police numbers isn’t supported by the evidence of previous spikes in serious violence”.
“In the late 2000s there was a similar spike in violence and there were many, many more police officers on the streets in that day and age,” she said.
Ms Atkins told Today: “We are all, I think, realising that the nature of crime is changing.
“Of course, violence has been around as long as human beings have been around, but we have seen – and the Met Commissioner herself has talked about – the ways in which gangs are much more ruthless than they used to be.
“The levels of violence which doctors are now seeing in A&Es show that incidents which before perhaps wouldn’t have resulted in fatalities now are resulting in fatalities.
“Gangs are behind the vast majority of these murders, and the gang leaders are using social media to communicate … using mobile communications in a way that 10 or even five years ago simply wasn’t possible.
“We and the police and others have to face up to the reality that criminals are changing their crime types and we have to be able to tackle that.”
Ms Atkins played down the argument of National Police Chiefs’ Council chairwoman Sara Thornton that political concentration on hate crimes like misogyny were distracting stretched forces’ focus away from core policing priorities.
She insisted that that the launch of a Law Commission review of hate crime did not alter the fact that policing priorities were a matter for local chief constables and police and crime commissioners to determine.
Mr Khan said he was following a strategy pioneered in Glasgow to tackle knife violence and gangs, which was initiated in 2005 and is now showing results.
Police were working “collegiately” with councils, the NHS, social services, the education system and the Government in a way which gave him “confidence” that the problem would be solved, he said.
But he added: “It will take some time. I know that because of the lessons we’ve learnt from places like Glasgow, where it took them some time to turn this round.
“To really make significant progress can take up to 10 years, a generation. They saw in Scotland what we are seeing in London, which is children in primary schools thinking not only is it OK to carry a knife, but it gives them a sense of belonging in joining a criminal gang and it makes them feel safer and they see nothing wrong in getting involved in this sort of behaviour.
“On one hand, we’ve got to be tough in relation to enforcement. That’s why we’ve got officers as part of the violent crime task force doing intelligence-led stop and search, taking knives off our streets, guns off our streets, making arrests.
“At the same time, on the other hand, we’ve got to give young people constructive things to do, investing in youth centres, youth workers, after-school clubs.”