Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 56 - 59)



  Q56  Chairman: Can I open this session by referring all present to the Register of Members' Interests. Mr Livingstone, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to the Select Committee in our inquiry into policing in the 21st century. Obviously London's role in policing is absolutely crucial. In your view, does the Police Service in London have the appropriate structures and capacity for dealing with the challenges of the 21st century, in particular counter-terrorism and in preparation for the Olympics in 2012?

  Mr Livingstone: We have just reached the end of an eight-year programme of expansion going from 25,000 uniformed staff to 35,000 and a big 4,000 of those have been PCSOs who were not in anyone's thinking ten years ago. Sir John Stephens made changes and Sir Ian Blair made even more substantial changes and, under the threat of terrorism that arose after 9/11, those were absolutely essential. I think, now that we are seeing the falling crime figures on the back of rolling out Neighbourhood Policing, you can begin to see—there will still be some changes but this is broadly the structure that is important—the huge specialist operations tackling terrorism but a return to neighbourhood policing that is giving us the raw intelligence on who gets in and out of trouble. For decades kids could get into vandalism, petty crime and not be identified by the police. Now, half a dozen kids hanging around on a street corner, the neighbourhood officer walks by and knows them by name and they know they are known. If I can give one specific example: we introduced 21 teams of 18 PCSOs in the outer London boroughs around transport modes, particularly targeting the buses, and crime by under-16s has fallen 19% in the 12 months following. So, all those academics, Home Office and Treasury people who told us for decades that putting police on the streets was a waste of money, I think, have been demonstrated to be wildly wrong. Clearly, we are putting in place now the structure for the Olympics and, bearing in mind the venues remain afterwards, it is a permanent legacy for policing because they will always be doing high-profile events and they will always be a target for terrorism.

  Q57  Chairman: The evidence given to us so far by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who has just finished his major inquiry into policing, is to look at the better use of police resources rather than more police officers. In fact, Sir Ronnie told the Committee that the days of the large increase in police officers was over, but you have promised additional officers. Have you had a chance to look at the proposals that Sir Ronnie has put forward?

  Mr Livingstone: I think it is absolutely right. I asked Sir John Stephens to give thought to how many police are needed to police London, and after about a year of looking at this he came back and said, "I need 35,000 uniformed officers." We have now achieved that. We are still looking at new initiatives. We are looking at the moment at expanding some of the neighbourhood police teams in a project with the Ministry of Justice and what we call "neighbourhood pathways" in those wards in London that bear the brunt of returning criminals from the prison system. We think that perhaps increasing police in those areas will help prevent some of them falling back into crime. We will continue to be tweaking at this, but I think the 35,000 is broadly right. We have plans for some expansion next year, but clearly, having taken about 40% of the increase in total policing numbers nationally over the last ten years, I do not expect to be able to do it again.

  Q58  Mr Clappison: Mr Mayor, violent crime is a big problem for many Londoners. Twenty-eight per cent of Londoners say they are very worried about violent crime, compared with a national average of 17%. I was supplied yesterday with some statistics from the House of Commons library which showed that since you became Mayor total violent crime has gone up every year, except for last year when there was a change in recorded statistics and the figures were not comparable. Do you accept that crime is now higher than before you became Mayor and that London is a more violent city?

  Mr Livingstone: I absolutely reject that. We had, with some oscillations up and down, basically a 50-year increase in crime that started in the 1950s. It peaked nationally, I think, in 1999; it peaked in London in 2002-03. Since that time we have had a 21% reduction in overall crime. The murder rate is down 28%, gun and knife enabled crime are both down by over 20%, rape is down by over 25%, and that is against a background where we add to the figures. In one year recently there was an increase in what is labelled "gun crime", but it was mainly the use of CS gas. There was an increase in sexual crime when we reclassified it so that flashers were included in the sexual crime figures; we will see an increase in violent crime where we amended the figures to include spitting; so the figures, if anything, are being expanded all the time. There would be something seriously wrong if we put 10,000 extra officers on the street and you do not get a cut in crime.

  Q59  Mr Clappison: These are figures that have come from the House of Commons library. They put total violent crime together and they show that it has gone up every year since you became Mayor and that it is now higher than before you became Mayor. Do you accept that violent crime is higher now than when you became Mayor or are they wrong?

  Mr Livingstone: They are, clearly, completely different to my figures. I have to say, I have always trusted first now Lord Stephens and Sir Ian Blair to bring to me figures that they were confident in. They are fed into the Home Office figures, and, I repeat, crime continued to rise until 2002-03; since then it has fallen by some 21% overall and violent crime has fallen by more than the average. We can swap our figures. It might be perhaps the Committee needs a group of statisticians to boil down the figures. It might also be from 2 May people will have less interest in inflating the figures.

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