Both want more police, tougher prison sentences, airport-style scanners and surveillance cameras. Neither offers any real solution to the problem of crime against young people.
New Labour’s Ken Livingstone and Tory Boris Johnson are trying to outdo each other in their war on London’s young people.
The two front-runners for London mayor both praise former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s so called ‘zero tolerance’ policing in the 1990s that amounted to cleansing the streets of poor people.
Livingstone, who sets the Metropolitan Police budget, said, ‘For years people have talked about the policing revolution in New York under mayor Giuliani, but London now has its own policing revolution to be proud of.’
Boris Johnson, his Tory challenger, wants to introduce Giuliani’s ‘crime mapping’. Areas with high crime would be tackled New York style so that ‘we can bring pressure on the police, and even on me as mayor, to tackle the problem’, he said. In effect police would swamp neighbourhoods that have ‘high crime’ statistics.
So starts the electoral competition for tougher and tougher measures aimed at young people.
Both candidates feed the fear that crime is out of control. Yet London is one of the most policed cities in the world. There are now 31,000 police officers in the capital – with a further 5,000 promised – the highest ever.
It is estimated that in 2004 there were around 500,000 surveillance cameras in private premises across the city – that is one camera for every 15 people.
Added to this are 10,524 ‘crime cameras’ in public spaces – costing an estimated £200 million. Yet these cameras do not help to solve crime.
The east London borough of Hackney has the highest number of these cameras (1,484), while its equally deprived neighbour, Waltham Forest, has one of the lowest (under 100).
According to police figures the crime clear-up rate in the two boroughs are nearly the same – 22 percent compared to 20 percent.
Now Livingstone wants police to get tougher with young people on buses. The mayor has introduced ‘bus squads’ – gangs of police who raid buses to stop ‘anti-social behaviour’. Under his rules those caught ‘misbehaving’ have their free travel passes taken away.
Not to be outdone, the Tory challenger upped the ante with the promise that he would install ‘live feed CCTVs’ broadcasting to police mobile phones. Johnson declared that teenagers could get their passes back by performing ‘community service’.
Both parties support ‘stop and search’ – also known as ‘sus’ laws. Under these laws, the police can stop anyone under ‘reasonable’ suspicion that they could commit a crime. Those who refuse police orders could land in jail.
Police can use ‘restraint techniques’ on those they search. This includes an officer placing his foot on that of a youngster’s, grabbing their wrists, forcing their hands into a teenager’s pockets, and removing any ‘religious’ clothing.
Those who live in so-called ‘crime hotspots’ face a higher risk of random searches. According to home office figures, there were 840,000 stop and searches in 2004-5. In 2007 this jumped by 37 percent.
Around 64 percent of arrests in these searches were under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Only 5 percent were for possessing an offensive weapon.
If this surge of policing is supposed to cut crime, why has it failed to tackle the growing problem of the killings of young people? The problem of youth crime cannot be solved by more police and laws, or by tougher prison sentences.
According to the home office’s own research, it is poverty that breeds crime. The government lists the causes of crime as ‘troubled home life, poor attainment at school, truancy and school exclusion, drug or alcohol misuse and mental illness, deprivation such as poor housing or homelessness and peer group pressure’.
Yet under New Labour these problems have become more acute. It is now easier to be excluded from school, particularly in academies, which New Labour is promoting. Meanwhile poverty – with all its associated problems – is growing.
Children are being targeted to boost police arrest figures. According to Paul Cavadino of the children’s charity Nacro, ‘For some time we have suspected that the police have been targeting younger children and less serious crimes in order to reach their targets of ‘offences brought to justice’. Our analysis now shows that this is the case.’
Ken Livingstone is now promising more ‘zero tolerance’ policing in schools. He will set police onto deprived estates where ‘they will gather intelligence and deal robustly with offenders’.
Both the Tories and New Labour are holding up the most vulnerable in our society as scapegoats in an attempt to outrun each other in the gallop to the right.
But a ‘policing revolution’ will not solve the problems faced by young people – nor will it tackle the disturbing spate of teenage killings. It will only guarantee deeper despair, anger and alienation.
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