Since the 1970s crime has been high on the political agenda and so it remains in London’s mayoral elections. The three dominant candidates claim to have answers to the problems faced by our communities, which, we are led to believe, are so great that even government ministers seek solace in wearing stab-proof vests.
The governance of crime has changed in the last decade with legislation placing greater emphasis on community responsibility, partnerships, and policing. Since 1998 London’s boroughs have been engaged in consultations to identify key local issues. This bottom-up influence on crime strategies challenged the previous autonomy of the Commissioner, who only had to consider the whims of the Home Secretary. It was a belated response to the desires of the socialist, New Urban Labour movement in the Thatcher years, demanding local autonomy. This challenged the centralisation of crime governance, and was supported by the then leader of the Greater London Council, himself a radical socialist.
Step-forward-the-same Ken Livingstone who now supports London’s Police Authority adds an additional layer of centralised bureaucracy. As the incumbent, Ken has a head start over his rivals, having funded additional police resources. He intends to increase police numbers if re-elected, although research into the impact of increased foot patrols questions the patrols' effectiveness in reducing crime. He boasts a six percent reduction in crime across all of London. If Ken is responsible for reducing crime, could he not also be held responsible for other increases, for example, the rise in gun and knife assaults among the young?
Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson, announced that he will chair the Police Authority and cut red tape, allowing the police to return to the streets. Yet, the bureaucracy and red tape hindering the constable is necessary for criminal justice. This was reinforced by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, introduced as measures to improve police integrity and transparency. His intention to hold the local police Borough Commander to account, seemingly ignores the vibrant compulsory Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships that may also share the blame for failure.
One candidate who understands the problems of policing of London is Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick, who ignored the law on cannabis and declared a drug free zone in Brixton, to the consternation of local residents. Although in fairness that wasn’t his intention, it’s just what happened. As mayor of London I am certain he will be able to work closely with the same Commissioner he tried to professionally assassinate whilst still serving as one of his Deputies.
Perhaps we should return to an earlier time when crime was so important it transcended political spin and reflected the real desires of local people. After all we now have in place 32 boroughs working in partnership with key local agencies trying to deliver strategies that reflect the desires of the local communities. They don’t need centralised strategies pandering to political ego.
Robin Fletcher is the Postgraduate Programme Leader for Criminology with Forensic Psychology at Middlesex University. He specialises in crime governance in London.
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