In a recent survey conducted to my constituents who live close to Hyde Park about tourism in central London many respondents highlighted the need for more police to be seen in the area such that London could be safer and promoted as such.
Whether it is Knightsbridge, Belgravia or Bayswater and the Edgware Road the perception of high and increasing levels of criminal activity undermines public confidence. This summer has again seen a raft of crime statistics from different organisations which need a team of detectives in itself to work out what is really going on.
But whatever is the truth of the matter my postbag, and I believe those of the majority of MPs, tell us that people up and down the country want to see more policemen on the beat rather than in patrol cars or at their desks filling in paperwork.
According to the Mayor of London in September police numbers are at an all time high in London. The rationale for this growth is for a more visable police presence on the streets to deter criminals and improve the quality of life by reducing not only crime but also the fear of crime. Backed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner this "idea" follows the success in New York under Mayor Guiliani which resulted in a dramatic fall in crime during the 1990’s. Yet in my dealings with the police service I have often been concerned at the lack of understanding about the importance of community values and I can hope that this current effort is developed as fully as possible.
As I say though statistics are often misleading. The figures of police officer strength in Westminster fell marginally between July 2002 to July 2003 from 1,538 to 1521, whereas area such as Newham and Tower Hamlets say substantial increases. During the summer a report entitled "The Economic Costs of Crime in London" published by a member of the London Assembly showed that Westminster, Lambeth and Camden are the most crime ridden inner boroughs and it calculated that the annual cost of crime was 12.1 billion pounds sterling, up 11% in the past year and calculated at 1,600 pounds sterling a year for every Londoner.
My recent survey highlighted people’e concerns that huge numbers of police are used for events such as the Notting Hill Carnival but nobody bothers to do anything about the beggers and rough sleepers around Harrods who prey on tourists and then abuse the local residental area. It is clear to me that tackling small crimes such as begging, grafitti and monor acts of vandalism results in a sense of a district or community that is under control rather than a lawless area where "anything goes". So the Metropolitan Police’s claim in its August performance newsletter that it is exceeding its targets for reducing burglary and gun related violent crime are to be applauded but are only part of the picture.
"Prevention is better than cure" is still a good motto in police activity but in July the Home Secretary shouted from his rooftop that crime detection was a disgrace. In his words the proportion of crimes that end with an offender being brought to justice has gone down from 28% to 23%. Considering that our prisons are overflowing it must be that our society is becoming more criminally minded despite the vast cost of social service provision.
Whether it is Belgravia, Soho or Covent Garden crime is an assualt upon a community and maintaining – or at times, restoring – that sense of a strong residential community is an important factor in the defeat of criminal activity. If the police can be encouraged more and more to be seen on the streets and link with the local community I am certain that life will improve in the heart of this wonderful city that we all love.