For the first time, the city of London has surpassed New York in terms of murders committed thus far this year. While violent crime rates in developed countries generally sink, it is true that there is a relative surge in London, when you consider data from recent years. In fact, the murder rate in the capital has grown by 40% in the last three years, a particularly poignant symbol of this being the shooting of five people in a 24-hour period last month. Moped crime has also risen by 50% in the last year in London, with an average of 60 moped incidents reported every single day.
There is clearly an issue to address here, and as is to be expected, many are calling upon the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, to do something. Many others go beyond a call to action, and actively blame him for spending time on pet projects such as campaigning for junk food advertisements to be banned from the city’s public transport, or for the fight against “hate crime”. The rhetoric of blame is easy, and so it is no surprise that populist movements and tabloids use it to further rouse public outrage, and also unsurprising that the populist consensus regarding a concrete solution to a rise in crime is distinctly vague. In the case of the relative crime surge in London, what is this blame really worth? What can Khan do to alleviate crime?
An effective approach might be to first examine a solution that has worked to alleviate such violence, and work from there. In fact, intervention for a long-term solution by the authorities has reduced murder rates for the continent’s former murder capital by 60% – of course, it is Glasgow. Founded by Strathclyde Police in 2005, the SVRU (Scottish Violence Reduction Unit) was put to work in Glasgow. Its main aim was not a short-term solution to the problem of consistent, atrocious violence across the city, but a long-term answer with which to keep the violence at bay.
This has come in the form of a variety of projects, particularly focused on the development of individuals who are likely to commit violent crimes, thus being the only sanctioned police body to take “a public health approach to violence” – violence is seen by the SVRU as akin to a disease, which can be cured, according to the official website. Employers can contact the SVRU to express that they would like to take on a reformed individual for at least a year’s paid employment. This initiative, like the Street & Narrow street food project, is meant to put would-be violent criminals on a better path, by keeping them occupied with something that might interest them, and benefit them in the short-term for the good of their futures, as well as the future of Glasgow. The project was such a success that it was rolled out nationally just over a year later.
Back in London, this is where Khan could have some influence. He cannot appoint the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, but what he is able and bound to do (by the 1999 Greater London Authority Act) is promote social development, and a “public health” approach to violence in the city, although it may seem lenient, has proven itself as a highly effective solution, and it is certainly within his power to put this to the Metropolitan Police, given that he chairs the Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime. He cannot control the operations of the city police, but as of 2012 he can set their budget, performance targets, and – crucially – their priorities.
Khan is not so omnipotent as his most vocal of critics often claim him to be, for convenience’s sake. But he does have a wealth of ways in which he can influence the policing of the city and its suburbs, especially on such a dire matter as the deadly crime wave. Khan, as London mayor, is required to set out his goals for bodies such as the Metropolitan Police in strategic plans. In the coming months, we should expect him to provide a skill-building solution – clearly, stop-and-search alone does not work.