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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 05:19 GMT 06:19 UK
Can bobbies beat crime in London?
By Alison Freeman
BBC News, London

Street violence
Violent crime is said to be on the increase
As a Londoner it is easy to worry about crime.

It is a bustling city where we are constantly warned to keep an eye on personal possessions, hear horror stories about attacks on women who get into unlicensed 'taxis' and live day-to-day with the fear that our city could be the target of terrorists.

But according to crime figures released by The Metropolitan Police last week, crime in London is decreasing.

The tables showed that there were 45,000 less reported crimes in the capital in 2004/05 than the previous year and there were only two types of crime which increased - sexual offences and violence.

Londoners have always suffered more crime compared to others living in other cities
Dr Marian Fitzgerald
But Marian Fitzgerald, Visiting Professor of Criminology at Kent University, an expert on crime in London, says Londoners are still right to be wary of crime as her research shows they do suffer higher levels than people who live elsewhere.

"Even after the recent stabbing in Little Bookham, you are much safer living in the Surrey than say Southwark," she said.

"Londoners have always suffered more crime compared to others living in other cities because there has always been that extra pull on police.

"After 9/11 police were pulled out of the boroughs where they were located and patrolled the streets of central London to be a reassuring presence.

"We need to see a local presence at a local level for local people."

The Labour party says that in the past five years the number of police officers has increased in London by almost 5,000 to 30,283 and they have introduced three neighbourhood police teams in every borough.

Economic and social causes

The Lib Dems are promising a further 2,000 officers in London while the Tories say they would put almost 9,000 more police onto the streets as part of their crime policies.

But Dr Fitzgerald says throwing more bobbies onto the streets is not going to nip the problem in the bud.

She says that years of research have shown that economic and social factors are the key cause of violent crime, with the most deprived boroughs in London suffering the most crime.

Dr Marian Fitzgerald
Dr Fitzgerald says she a three-pronged approach will cut crime
In addition, while the country is not in recession and people have money to spend on alcohol in pubs and bars, Dr Fitzgerald says violent crime will always be prevalent.

"The main political parties claim that having more police on the beat is going to make a difference but the criminal justice system actually plays a very small part," she said.

She says she believes a three-pronged approach to cutting crime is the way ahead, after a World Health Organisation study of the causes and prevention of violent crime in the world's major cities.

The first level of this is early intervention with good anti-natal and early child care followed by a secondary level which targets teenagers who are likely to offend.

Dr Fitzgerald says the third level is the Criminal Justice System where sentences should act as a deterrent and where the cycle can be broken via education and access to services when jail terms are complete.

A Labour party spokeswoman said it had made 'significant progress' in tackling poverty, social exclusion, unemployment and low educational standards.

'Discipline and respect'

It said the Sure Start scheme for children aimed to reduce the risk of offending and that drug use and associated crime had been successfully targeted with every 1 spent on rehabilitation saving 33 in criminal justice costs.

A Lib Dem spokesman said the party supports the idea of a holistic approach.

The party says its policies would tackle truancy, match enforcement measures with activities for young people and give offenders payback sentences to 'earn back the respect of the community'.

A spokesman for the Conservatives said the party would focus on creating more discipline and respect in society, focussing on schoolchildren who could be sent to 'turnaround' schools if they are persistently disruptive.

They would bring an end to early release from prison, clearer sentencing with specific minimum terms and create 20,000 more prison places with more education and rehabilitation on offer.