London murder rate overtakes New York's

Forensic investigators examining the scene where a teenage girl was murdered in Tottenham, north London, yesterday.
Forensic investigators examining the scene where a teenage girl was murdered in Tottenham, north London, yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Surge in violent crime blamed on social media, police budget cuts, rules against stop-and-search

London is struggling to deal with a surge in violent crime that has made the British capital's streets more dangerous than those of New York.

Observers blame police budget cuts and rules that curtail stop-and-search, while the London police chief points the finger at social media for escalating disputes.

Thirty-seven people were found murdered in London in February and last month, compared to 35 in the Big Apple, for years known for its high homicide rates, figures from the London and New York police forces show.

Until February, the murder rate in New York remained higher.

The body count in London shows no sign of letting up: On Sunday, 20-year-old Devoy Stapleton was stabbed to death on his way home from a night out in Wandsworth, south London.

The next day, a 17-year-old girl was found dead with a bullet wound in the north London district of Tottenham.

In Walthamstow, east London, a 16-year-old boy was left fighting for his life with gunshot wounds.

And it is not just homicides that are blighting the British capital.

Latest government figures cited by the Daily Mail suggest you are almost six times more likely to be burgled in London than New York, and 11/2 times more likely to be robbed.

London also has almost three times the number of reported rapes as New York.

British media are calling for urgent action from Mayor Sadiq Khan. Mr Khan's office yesterday condemned a "violent scourge" on the city's streets and said that it was "working hard" to end it.

London's murder rate has grown by nearly 40 per cent in three years, while New York's has fallen by 87 per cent since 1990, thanks to increased police patrols under a zero tolerance approach instituted by then mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Both cities have populations of nearly nine million.

London police chief Cressida Dick said gangs were using online platforms to glamorise violence.

Disputes could escalate "within minutes" on social media, she said.

"There's definitely something about the impact of social media in terms of people being able to go from slightly angry with each other to 'fight' very quickly," Ms Dick told The Times newspaper last Saturday.

The government has paid £1.35 million (S$2.5 million) for a series of "#knifefree" advertisements on social media and digital channels aimed at 10-21 year olds.

The Daily Mail, however, noted that an order in 2014 by then Home Secretary Theresa May, now the Prime Minister, to reduce stop-and-search has coincided with a dramatic surge in knife crime.

That year, the rate of knife crime began to rise again for the first time since 2010, it said.

By last year, such offences across Britain had risen to 34,700.

Scotland Yard's head of knife crime, Mr Sean Yates, said part of the rise could be blamed on courts not enforcing a law that jails those caught with a knife twice.

But some argue that punishment can only ever be one part of the solution.

"Police can't just arrest or stop-and-search their way out of this problem; it has to be done in partnership with the communities," former London police superintendent Leroy Logan told the BBC.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'London murder rate overtakes New York's'. Print Edition | Subscribe