London to Crack Down on Street Crime
LONDON (AP) _ Scotland Yard, promising to give ``streets back to hardworking and law-abiding Londoners,″ said Friday it will take hundreds of officers off traffic duties to focus on terrorism and tackle the British capital’s spiraling crime rate.
The redeployment comes as Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government faces increasing pressure to crack down on crime _ one of its key election pledges.
Police commissioner Sir John Stevens described the redeployment of his forces as ``radical″ but necessary.
Street crime in London has skyrocketed, with 19,248 robberies reported between September and November 2001, up more than 100 percent from the 8,614 robberies during the same period the previous year.
Much of the crime wave involves a massive rise in the theft of mobile phones _ with more than 700,000 stolen in Britain last year, the government says.
Blair was confronted with the statistics in the House of Commons Wednesday by the leader of the opposition Conservative party, Iain Duncan Smith.
``Muggings are up by 40 percent,″ said Duncan Smith. ``Assaults are up by 20 percent, and mobile phone thefts, are up by a staggering 371 percent.″
The Metropolitan Police’s plans include a new 500-strong squad to target street crime in ``hot spot″ areas.
More than 315 traffic officers, more than half the total number in the force, will be redeployed to help man the squad.
To give police extra ``eyes and ears″ against terrorism, 160 traffic wardens will be give extra training and moved into central London, allowing police from outlying areas to return to their normal duties.
Home Secretary David Blunkett, the minister responsible for law and order, denied the plan was a panic measure.
``It is a temporary measure to get us over the hump, to get us back on to track,″ he told Independent Television News.
Government statistics show that crime in London is becoming more violent. Muggings involving a firearm have risen by 53 percent, from 435 during the six months ending November 2000 to 667 during the same period last year. Handguns have been banned in Britain since 1997.
The number of murders with a gun jumped by nearly 90 percent during the same time, from 16 to 30.
By contrast, New York City had 640 murders, many of them gun-related, last year. In addition, thousands were killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.