Mayoral Election Issues: Crime and Policing

Police_sagar simkhada shutterstock_333009221-2Like any major city, crime is a big issue for London and one of the key areas of responsibility for the capital’s new Mayor.  The Mayor sets the strategic direction and budget for the Metropolitan Police though a body called MOPAC (Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime).

Since Boris Johnson was re-elected in 2012, fear of crime among Londoners initially fell, but has started to gradually rise since 2014.  At the same time, confidence in the police has moved in the opposite direction – initially rising then falling more recently, according to the Met’s own survey data[1].

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This fear of crime varies widely across the capital – from almost 50% of the residents of Newham, Hounslow and Brent to just 20% in Richmond.

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The data shows that there can be a disconnect between fear of crime and the reality. Analysis by Urbs shows that at borough level there is little relation between citizen’s perception of the threat of crime and the actual level[2].  Barnet and Bromley, for example, have similar crime rates, but Barnet’s fear of crime level is over 40% higher than Bromley’s[3].

At city wide level crime has fallen in recent years. Crimes identified by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime as priorities (these include murder, violent assaults, muggings, burglary, theft from cars and criminal damage) are down from a high of around 35,000 crimes to around 25,000 a year. Breaking it down we can see a steady decline from 2008 to 2014, but, despite monthly fluctuations, the line has been stubbornly flat since then.

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But a flat London-wide trend does not mean the same across the city.  Comparison of the latest 12-months with the previous shows some London boroughs, especially those close to the centre of the city, experiencing quite significant growth in these serious offences while many outer boroughs have enjoyed falls[4].

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Although the Mayor sets the budget and strategic direction, the job of policing London falls to the Met, one of the biggest police forces in the world.  The force employs 46,000 people – of which 32,000 are police officers – that’s 4 times bigger than any other English police force, and the best resourced in the country by officers per head of population[5].

While police numbers across England and Wales have been cut in recent years, the Met has managed to maintain its resource – with only neighbouring Surrey and Thames Valley having a better trend[6].  These 32,000 officers are not evenly spread across the capital.  Almost 14,000 work in London-wide and specialist operations, including those combating terrorism.  The remaining 18,000 are allocated across the 32 London Boroughs (The City has its own police force)[7].  However, this is not an equal allocation.

Westminster, with its high number of commuting workers, shoppers and tourists, not surprisingly has the largest number of officers out on the streets.  Westminster has 5.4 officers per thousand residents while Barnet has just 1.3. That’s not because Barnet requires little policing; on a measurement of priority crimes per officer, North London looks under-resourced, with 23 crimes per officer in Barnet and Islington, and similar numbers in neighbouring boroughs, compared to just 13 in Kingston or 17 in Merton.   

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Keeping London safe has been a mantra for most candidates during the campaigning.  In the wake of attacks in Paris they have talked about ensuring the Met is equipped to meet the threat posed by terrorism.  The strategic balancing act for the Mayor will be to combine this requirement with the public demand for more neighbourhood officers to deal with crime at a local level and to make them feel more secure.

Source data

[1] http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/metropolitan-police-service-recorded-crime-figures-and-associated-data

[2] http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/metropolitan-police-service-recorded-crime-figures-and-associated-data/resource/e831234d-2bde-4fff-8ab8-7e2e70f0677a

[3] Crime Rates; Barnet 61, Bromley 60.  Fear of Crime Barnet 40% Bromley 28%.  Source http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/metropolitan-police-service-recorded-crime-figures-and-associated-data/resource/e831234d-2bde-4fff-8ab8-7e2e70f0677a

[4] http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/metropolitan-police-service-recorded-crime-figures-and-associated-data/resource/e831234d-2bde-4fff-8ab8-7e2e70f0677a

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/police-workforce-england-and-wales-31-march-2015-data-tables

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/police-workforce-england-and-wales-31-march-2015-data-tables

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/police-workforce-england-and-wales-31-march-2015-data-tables

This report was produced in association with London Live’s special election programme, London Votes.