Ex-Met chief links po­lice cash cuts to rise in knife crime

Lord Blair fears that the pos­i­tive im­pact of lo­cal polic­ing is now ‘fad­ing’

The Observer - - News - Mark Townsend Home Af­fairs Edi­tor

The wave of knife crime may be linked di­rectly to the po­lice bud­get cuts in­sti­gated by the coali­tion govern­ment and con­tin­ued un­der Theresa May, a for­mer head of Scot­land Yard has sug­gested.

Speak­ing to the Ob­server af­ter a week in which five peo­ple were stabbed to death in Lon­don, Lord Blair said the fact that vi­o­lent crime had risen along­side a re­duc­tion in po­lice fund­ing may not be a co­in­ci­dence. In 2010, when the Con­ser­va­tives came to power with the Lib­eral Democrats and be­gan cutting spend­ing, the cap­i­tal had 4.1 of­fi­cers per 1,000 Lon­don­ers, but by 2016-17 the ra­tio had dropped to 3.3 of­fi­cers per 1,000, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from city hall.

The to­tal num­ber of of­fences in­volv­ing a knife or bladed in­stru­ment recorded by the Met­ro­pol­i­tan po­lice in the year to March 2018 rose to 40,147, a seven-year record.

Blair said: “Crime is clearly an in­di­ca­tor of so­ci­etal health, par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent crime. We know that crime just about peaked in 1993 and went on go­ing down un­til some­thing like 2010 to 2012, and then started to go back up again.

“One of the things that a statis­ti­cian al­ways looks for is to see whether a change in be­hav­iour is a co­in­ci­dence or whether there is cau­sa­tion. It does seem odd that the cut in bud­get for polic­ing by 20% coincides with a sig­nif­i­cant rise in crimes of all sorts. Is it co­in­ci­dence or is it cau­sa­tion?”

His com­ments fol­low warn­ings by MPs last week that po­lice cuts may have “dire con­se­quences for pub­lic safety”. Trust in the po­lice, said a re­port by the pub­lic ac­counts com­mit­tee, is “break­ing down” as forces struggle to re­spond to crime be­cause of govern­ment cuts.

Am­ber Rudd, a for­mer home sec­re­tary, an­gered se­nior of­fi­cers by claim­ing that po­lice cuts were not to blame for the surge in knife crime.

Blair, who as Met com­mis­sioner be­tween 2005 and 2008 tried to find “last­ing so­lu­tions” to youth vi­o­lence, also warned that the pos­i­tive im­pact of neigh­bour­hood polic­ing was “prob­a­bly fad­ing un­der the pressure of fi­nance”.

More broadly, he warned that the threat of an emerg­ing far right and its di­vi­sive dis­course should be viewed extremely se­ri­ously.

“At the end of my pe­riod of of­fice the far right had done what the far right al­ways does, which is break up into lots and lots [of fac­tions].

“But what we have now is a nas­ti­ness with the English De­fence League and so on. Which I imag­ine is of deep sig­nif­i­cance to those who are con­cerned about the in­tegrity of the Bri­tish state,” said the cross­bench peer.

Blair is chair of trustees at the Woolf In­sti­tute, which is af­fil­i­ated to Cam­bridge Univer­sity and aims to en­cour­age tol­er­ance be­tween peo­ple of dif­fer­ent be­liefs. He said that the in­sti­tute planned to carry out re­search into the ef­fects on Bri­tish so­ci­ety of this in­creas­ing po­lar­i­sa­tion.

Among other ini­tia­tives the in­sti­tute, which has just cel­e­brated its 20th an­niver­sary, is build­ing a “UK in­clu­siv­ity in­dex” to mea­sure and map lev­els of in­tol­er­ance in dif­fer­ent parts of Bri­tain. “It will be what we can do to as­sist peo­ple to un­der­stand what po­lar­i­sa­tion means, what in­clu­siv­ity means,” said Blair.

Blair, who be­came the coun­try’s most se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer shortly be­fore the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Lon­don on 7 July 2005, said the bomb­ings – which killed 52 peo­ple and wounded more than 700 – had led him on a per­sonal jour­ney into faith and “re­li­gious iden­tity” that be­gan with at­tempt­ing to un­der­stand what mo­ti­vated the four sui­cide bombers.

How­ever, he said that el­e­ments of the me­dia had pre­vented a proper de­bate con­cern­ing Islam and its true mean­ing. “Some of the coverage of Islamic mat­ters has been ap­palling, look at some of the fuss about sharia law,” he said.

On an in­ter­na­tional scale, Blair said those who dis­missed the role of re­li­gion in global af­fairs needed to have a re­think.

“We have to ac­cept that the idea that re­li­gion is no longer im­por­tant is com­pletely de­ni­able at the be­gin­ning of the 21st cen­tury. Re­li­gion is one of the key flash­points that we have, and events that hap­pen in Syria as we know play out on the streets of Lon­don or else­where.”

Lord Blair says far right’s di­vi­sive emer­gence must be taken se­ri­ously.

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