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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 18:11 GMT
The war against muggers
West Midlands Police beamed faces of known street robbers on to their Birmingham headquarters
Police have used unusual methods to catch muggers
After the shocking case of a woman shot in the head by a man just for her mobile phone, BBC News Online's Tom Geoghegan looks at how police are trying to tackle the problem of mugging.

The popular image of a mugging victim is an elderly woman with a handbag.

But statistically youths aged between 14 and 17 are actually the most likely victims - and offenders.

Schools are being targeted by police fighting a sharp rise in street robbery.

Increased use of mobile phones has been blamed for the dramatic hike in muggings, which in some areas has been as much as a third in the last year.

Personal Safety
Carry bags close to you
Cover up jewellery and phones
Put house keys in your pocket
Avoid dark alleys or parks
Walk facing the traffic
Mark property
Note serial numbers of phones and laptops
Do not fight back

On New Year's Day, a 19-year-old was visiting her family in Walthamstow, north London, when a man approached her in the street and held a gun to her head.

Police think he had already taken her mobile phone before he shot her.

Muggings in London rose by 31% in the year up to September 2001. Two of the boroughs named in the summer as the worst in the country for muggings were in the capital - Lambeth and Hackney.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman told BBC News Online: "Street robbery is continuing to grow.

"This increase has matched the increase in mobile phone ownership.

"Some areas have as high as 50% of robberies involving mobile phones."

Playground police

The Met's Safer Streets Campaign, which co-ordinates the work of newly-formed street robbery police teams in the London boroughs, has been stepped up.

Officers have visited schools to educate the pupils about personal safety and label their phones.

Police in Southwark have even stationed police officers at secondary schools in order to address issues such as robbery.

But Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has bucked the overall trend, by halving street robbery in the student areas in south Manchester.

A lot of street robberies are by schoolchildren on schoolchildren and can be almost aggravated bullying

Det Supt Vincent Petrykowski Greater Manchester Police

In the 12 months before April 2001, police officers reduced muggings there by 54%.

Detective Superintendent Vincent Petrykowski, who heads the campaign, told BBC News Online: "Compared to other Metropolitan forces, we're doing it extremely successfully.

"There's a huge range of activities and we split emphasis between the victim, the offender and the locations where the robberies were likely to take place."

A central plank of the initiative was increasing awareness of personal safety among school pupils, who account for a third of all mugging victims in Greater Manchester, and university students.


Det Supt Petrykowski said: "A lot of street robberies are by schoolchildren on schoolchildren.

"It can be almost aggravated bullying as opposed to the stereotypical image of someone running up and grabbing an old lady's handbag.

"So we've tried to do a lot of preventive work with schoolchildren."
Met Police officers on patrol
Met Police have made mugging a top priority

More than 200,000 primary and secondary school children were visited by police officers who gave advice in "hawk talks".

Other forces have tried different approaches.

West Midlands Police took the unusual but successful step last year of beaming the faces of known street robbers on to their Birmingham headquarters, in an effort to track them down.

Chief Inspector Bill Fitzpatrick, of Strathclyde Police, told BBC News Online an increased police presence on the street had helped to keep robbery levels under control.

Contrary to popular belief, police do not advise mugging victims to fight back, but hand over their bag or phone and call 999.

The Met Police spokesman added: "Your personal safety is more important than your property."

See also:

16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Sharp rise in violent crime
02 Jan 02 | England
Woman shot for mobile phone
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