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Violent criminality bounces back to pre-coronavirus levels

Violent criminality has climbed back to pre-coronavirus levels prompting warnings from London’s mayor and Birmingham’s police commissioner that it could escalate further as the pandemic crisis hits the economy.

Sadiq Khan told the Guardian he believed there was “a real risk of violent crime spiking as lockdown is eased” and demanded ministers make good shortfalls to police and youth services budgets to head off the perceived danger.

The Labour mayor said he feared there could be a repeat of “the last decade of government austerity, where ministers decimated police and youth services – causing violent crime to rise in London and across the UK.”

Seventeen homicides have been recorded in the capital in July, the highest monthly total this year and two more than last year, while all recorded violent crime climbed back above the average in June, again for the first time this year.

In the last few days, a murder investigation has been launched after a 32-year-old man was stabbed to death at a party in Hounslow, west London, in the early hours of Thursday morning. A few hours earlier, on Wednesday evening, a man died following a fatal shooting in Enfield, north London. Five others were injured in shootings that took place in three separate incidents on Friday night.

David Jamieson, the police and crime commissioner for West Midlands police, which covers Birmingham, said crime had come “bouncing back” after lockdown had eased but added that his principal concern was about the months ahead.

Data from West Midlands shows a similar picture to London, with violent crime in June at its highest monthly level in at least 12 months and 17% higher than June last year – and particular concerns loom about an upsurge in gang activity. “It almost feels like the criminals are playing catch-up,” Jamieson said.

The crime commissioner added: “My greatest concern is the trajectory; I am worried that it won’t plateau at this level” fearing the impact the crisis will have in a city with a disproportionately young population.

“I have profound concerns that we will have a mass of younger people who are unemployed who become available to do things like crime. I’m also concerned about children who have missed masses of their schooling – for some children six months of their education has been lost,” he said.

Criminologists warned against interpreting too much from a month or two worth of data, but went on to warn that the looming economic pressures are likely to heavily impact young people unless politicians act.

Prof Tim Newburn, of the London School of Economics, said: “If you put together the educational dislocation with the more than once in a generational economic downturn, you cannot be comfortable about the likely future trends for crime. Any serious politician, or police officer, should be concerned”.

Projected shortfalls in business rates and council tax income because of the Covid crisis means that London’s mayor believes that he will have to make savings of nearly £500m across all his budgets, and in “the reasonable worse-case scenario” around £45m from the Met police’s budget this financial year.

The equivalent shortfall for West Midlands police is estimated to be £10m on a budget of £600m, caused also by extra spending on personal protective equipment (PPE) for officers, plus laptops and other equipment for home working.

Ministers had promised at the beginning of the pandemic crisis in March that the government would provide police forces and councils with “whatever funding was needed” – although police bosses say they are yet to see that promise made good.

Khan also believes youth services are in crisis, highlighting UK Youth research that shows that 72% of youth services nationally say they need access to emergency funds. In the capital, a third are at risk of closure unless they are bailed out.

City Hall’s own research also suggests that a third of 18- to 24-year-old employees in London, excluding students, have either lost their jobs or been furloughed, compared with one in six older adults – a disproportionate economic impact that could push some closer to the drugs trade to generate income.

Khan issued a political challenge to central government and called on ministers to step up and help. “During the last decade of government austerity, ministers decimated police and youth services – causing violent crime to rise in London and across the UK.

“Now they’re cutting these services again – by refusing properly to refund the Met police, local councils or City Hall for the money spent dealing with Covid-19, or the lost income as a result.”

The government said it had provided financial support to City Hall – principally so far in the form of £1.6bn in emergency funding for Transport for London – and that it stood ready to help the police.

A government spokesperson added: “We have given London an unprecedented package of support and been clear that police forces across the country will get the financial backing they need to see them through the coronavirus pandemic.”

Ministers have already allowed police forces to use £84m of a £168m grant originally intended meet a Boris Johnson pledge to increase police numbers to spend instead on coronavirus-related pressures.

Read the original article at The Guardian

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