In London virtually every single crime type is down – everything including violent crime, car crime, vandalism, knife crime, youth violence, burglary, murder and robbery. It came down under my predecessor, and crime has fallen a further 13 per cent since I have been mayor.
The murder rate is the lowest we have had for decades. London has a reputation as one of the safest big cities on earth – and when you consider the huge demographic changes we have seen in the last 20 years, and the gap between rich and poor, you can see the scale of the accomplishment of the Metropolitan Police. They have done it by getting out on the street, by increasing the number of patrols, by giving the public the reassurance they want.
They have not been sitting behind their counters, in the station – like the Bill Bailey character in Hot Fuzz – reading thrillers and waiting for the public to come to them.
So when you have a choice between spending more money on police buildings or putting police men and women out on the street, most sensible people can see what needs to be done. We have 497 buildings in London that are owned by the Metropolitan Police, and of those only 136 of them are remotely accessible to the public – that is, open at any time, however briefly. And those 136 buildings are themselves used less and less frequently by the public.
The proportion of crimes reported at the front desk has fallen by 45 per cent in the past five years. Across the whole city we now have fewer than 50 crimes reported at stations after seven in the evening. People’s habits are changing, and the way they want to interact with the police is changing.
More and more are reporting crime online, and above all the public are making use of the central pledge made by the Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. If you report a crime, large or small, the police will come to you. We will come to your address – or to a place that you nominate. Surveys show that many people vastly prefer this service to what may be an intimidating experience in a police station, where the people who can overhear you may often include offenders reporting for bail. That is why we are today publishing the conclusions of the London Police and Crime Consultation, which has been running for some months. It has been a genuine consultation.
We have made changes to the original plans. We have kept some police stations and some front counters that might have gone – but overall we have been able to reorganise the building stock so as to keep a 24-hour station in every borough, increase the number of contact points, and above all increase the number of police officers by saving £60 million in annual running costs of the buildings.
London is unlike virtually any other part of the country in that we are now actively recruiting 4,500 more police in order to drive crime down further. Given the choice between buildings or bobbies, the public wants bobbies on the beat. They are right, and it is an argument that needs to be made time and time again across the public services.
People said we needed to keep all the ticket offices in Underground stations, because their mere presence was “reassuring”. We were able to argue that staff were more useful when they were out from behind the glass and where they could help the public – and indeed, crime has continued to fall on public transport.
These debates can be highly emotive, and no more so than in the case of fire stations and hospitals, where it is obviously possible to lead very fierce campaigns against closing buildings of any kind. But it is vital that we look at the facts that really matter. Can you keep reducing deaths from fire? Can you improve clinical outcomes? If so, you should be prepared to make better use of bricks and mortar. It takes courage to make these arguments, and they can be readily misrepresented. But the argument is there to be won. The London police are showing that you can cut expense – and cut crime too.