London (CNSNews.com) - Annual statistics released by London's Metropolitan Police department have confirmed the British capital is in the midst of a serious crime wave, with a nearly 40 percent jump in street crime.
In 2001-02, police recorded more than 1 million total crimes and nearly 70,000 street crimes, a category that includes offenses such as muggings and purse snatchings. The street crime figure represents a jump of about 20,000 over the previous year. On average, there have been about 190 muggings per day in London over the past year.
In the same period, the number of rapes increased by 14 percent and both burglaries and car crime increased by about 5 percent.
Even the number of murders, a relatively rare crime in Britain, rose from 171 to 190, an increase of 11 percent. Crime detection rates fell slightly, from 15 percent to 14 percent. Londoners are about six times more likely to be mugged than New Yorkers, and statistics indicate that violent crime is on the rise across the country.
In February, London's top police officers were given six months to deliver significant improvements in preventing and solving street crime.
Home Secretary David Blunkett has warned that the national government could intervene if crime reduction targets are not met. London's figures are expected to be echoed by crime statistics released later this spring by Britain's other major cities.
Police are still at a loss to explain the dramatic increase in crime figures. Some authorities blame a rise in mobile phone ownership and theft, while others say some of the rise can be attributed to an increase in gang-related violence.
The Metropolitan Police have set up a special unit to handle black-on-black gun crime and have targeted street patrols to some of London's worse areas. Initial reports indicate that the programs have cut the crime rate in some areas, but it is still too early to tell if they have been entirely successful.
Police also acknowledge a problem with the proliferation of illegal guns. Handguns are banned under British law, but homemade or converted weapons have been increasingly popular amongst criminals.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin noted that an extra 1,500 officers were moved out of mainly residential areas and into central London to work on anti-terror patrols in the wake of Sept. 11.
"As a result, we reprioritised at the start of this year and diverted officers from other duties to tackle street crime," he said.
Godwin said that arrests for muggings had risen 35 percent and that the police were also catching more drug dealers and burglars.
"We have to look at why so many people, particularly young people, are engaging in crime and how we can work ... to prevent it," he said.
The figures were announced less than a week after the release of a report on community relations that said London police had lost some of the ability "to respond effectively to low-level crime and disorder." The study found a significant reduction in public confidence in the police.
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