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Crime Up Sharply in England, Wales; Government Blames Victims

March 27, 1991

LONDON (AP) _ Property crimes increased sharply in England and Wales last year, and the government scolded citizens Wednesday for failing to keep a closer eye on their possessions.

Without greater vigilance, it warned, the crime rate could soar to U.S. levels.

The overall crime rate rose 17 percent in England and Wales in 1990. Ninety-four percent of the 4.5 million reported crimes were theft and other property offenses, the Home Office said.

The overall increase was the largest since 1974, when crime jumped 18 percent, the Home Office said. Violent crime was up only 4 percent, compared with a 12 percent rise in each of the previous three years.

In the United States, it is not uncommon for governments to blame increases in crime on social ills, but the British government didn’t take that tack on Wednesday. Police and government officials criticized crime victims.

″Today’s crime figures show that we are not becoming a more violent society but a more careless one,″ said John Patten, a Home Office minister.

Alan Eastwood, chairman of the Police Federation, said the great majority of crimes were ″opportunist thefts that could be prevented if there was greater public awareness to the problem.″

″There’s little excuse for people leaving property in unlocked cars, for example,″ Eastwood said.

The Home Office report included charts showing that citizens of England and Wales were less likely to be victims of crime than were citizens of Australia and the United States. However, they were not so safe as residents of Northern Ireland or Scotland, the report said.

Roy Hattersley, deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party, described the increase as ″horrific″ and said it showed that government crime prevention programs were just ″gimmicks and public relations.″

Twenty-eight percent of all crime involved cars: car theft was up 25.9 percent, and thefts from cars rose 22.9 percent.

Bicycle thefts were up 24 percent, burglaries rose 22 percent and store theft was up 12 percent for 1990.

Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, the Cabinet official responsible for law enforcement, urged citizens to heed the message of National Crime Prevention Week, which begins April 15: that private citizens can protect their property with a few simple precautions.

Hattersley agreed that many theft and burglary cases were preventable. But he said there were millions of families who could not afford to implement more costly crime prevention measures.

Speaking Tuesday at the launch of a Vauxhall Motors Partnership in Crime Prevention Initiative, Baker said insurance companies paid out $700 million on car theft claims last year.

″But if the costs are enormous, so is the scope for prevention,″ Baker said. ″One in five vehicles parked on our streets is left insecure; open opportunities for the most casual thief which can easily be removed.″

Based on 1988 figures, the Home Office said 29 percent of U.S. citizens suffered some sort of crime, followed by 28 percent in Canada and 27 percent in Australia. For England and Wales, the figure was 20 percent. The lowest rate on the chart, 15 percent, was for Northern Ireland.

The Home Office said Americans were four times more likely to be victims of violent crime than citizens of England and Wales, and Australian citizens were five times more vulnerable.

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