Increased crime in London worries British officials

Visiting Giuliani recounts New York turnaround

February 17, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Street crime has increased so sharply in this once-peaceful city that pedestrians are more likely to be mugged here than in New York, British officials say.

The increased lawlessness has been particularly noticeable this year, with a spate of high-profile assaults, carjackings and killings making headlines. Last week's visit by Rudolph W. Giuliani, well known here for the tough line he took against crime as mayor of New York, focused the government's attention on the problem.

At a flurry of meetings with the British home secretary, the mayor of London and the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police force, Giuliani described how as mayor he transformed New York from a city where people were afraid to walk the streets to a place where crime had fallen 52 percent by the time he left office in January.

But it remained unclear, even as officials embraced Giuliani's message, how appropriate the lessons of New York are to London. The cities have roughly equal populations, but London, after years of budget cuts and attrition, has 26,000 police officers, compared with New York's 41,000. While the police commissioner here is appointed by the home secretary and is accountable to both the national and the London city government, the commissioner in New York answers only to the city's officials and has a much freer hand to pursue his programs.

On Thursday, the home secretary, David Blunkett, reacted to the most recent crime figures - which showed a more than 37 percent increase in street crimes in London during the past year, to 57,710 from 41,953 - by issuing a stern warning to the police force. He gave police officials six months to achieve a steep reduction in violent street crimes and two years to make heavy inroads into the problem of crime in general.

Most of the increase comes from the theft of mobile telephones in street muggings, the police say. But other kinds of crime are on the increase, too. Reported burglaries increased 3.6 percent last year from 2000, according to the most recent statistics. Crimes involving automobiles, including carjackings, increased 3.8 percent, and crime in general rose 6.7 percent.

Perhaps most worrying in a city where guns are still relatively few and killings relatively rare, 26 murders occurred in London last month, four of them shootings.

Since Sept. 11, officers who would ordinarily be fighting crime in the city's neighborhoods have been assigned either to help support the greatly increased security operations in Parliament and government buildings, or to patrol central London and the business districts on days when the security threat is deemed particularly high.

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