Cuts to police numbers in focus as UK seeks new ways to stem violence

The opposition Labour government says the Conservative-led government has cut 21,000 police officers since 2010.
The opposition Labour government says the Conservative-led government has cut 21,000 police officers since 2010.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's government unveiled a new violent crime strategy on Monday (April 9) after a surge of stabbings and shootings in London, but sought to brush off a leaked document suggesting cuts to police numbers were a contributing factor.

Interior minister Amber Rudd promised to do "whatever it takes" to tackle a wave of violence that has pushed the capital's murder rate - at more than 50 this year - higher than New York's.

The strategy, backed by £40 million (US$56 million) of funding, aims to steer young people away from crime and tackle violent drug-dealing gangs.

The government has rejected criticism that the increase in crime is a result of years of cuts to police funding, despite a leaked document from Rudd's own ministry highlighting this as a cause.

The document, drawn up in February and revealed in The Guardian newspaper, notes that resources dedicated to serious violence have been squeezed and this "may have encouraged offenders".

It says this was "unlikely to be the factor that triggered the shift in serious violence, but may be an underlying driver that has allowed the rise to continue", adding in summary: "Not the main driver but has likely contributed."

The opposition Labour government says the Conservative-led government has cut 21,000 police officers since 2010.

Ministers say the rise in robbery, knife and gun crime is due to improvements in police recording as well as a shift in drug dealing, towards more violent crack cocaine markets.

Rudd told the BBC she had not seen the leaked document, but rejected any attempt to make the issue "a political tit-for-tat about police numbers", adding: "This is a complex crime and you cannot arrest your way out of this."

The new strategy includes laws targeting offensive weapons, including action to stop knives being sent to residential addresses after they are bought on the internet.

Rudd will also call on social media companies to do more to rid the web of violent gang content.

There are funds for new "community projects" for young people and a coordination centre targeting national drug dealing networks, the interior ministry said.

"As a government we will never stand by while acid is thrown or knives wielded," Rudd was due to say in a speech in London.

"I am clear that we must do whatever it takes to tackle this so that no parent has to bury their child." London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has devolved powers over policing, announced he would host a summit with political leaders on Tuesday, as he faced pressure to act over the crime spike.