Scotland Yard’s conviction rates for the most serious offences of rape and murder have fallen sharply in just two years, as the number of police officers protecting the capital dipped below 30,000 – its lowest for 15 years.
The rate for murder, which once stood at nine out of 10 solved, is now one in three unsolved. The clear up rate for rape has declined in two years, from 13% to 7%. The fall in sanction detections, comes as violent crime is rising.
But on top of this the Guardian has learned that the number of officers in the Metropolitan police has fallen below the symbolically important 30,000 mark, for the first time since 2003.
Former Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe warned that was the level at which police would struggle to keep London safe. In July 2017 Hogan-Howe said: “My judgement would be that if you drop below 30,000 officers that would be challenging, particularly as the city gets bigger.”
London has seen more than 60 homicides so far in 2018, a rate of killing faster than last year. In 2015-16, the sanction detection rate for murder, the measure by which the police count a case as solved, was 93%. Last year it was 66.67%. The number of murder teams, which once was 30, now stands at 17 – in part a decision made as London’s homicide rate fell.
The number of rapes reported to police has increased, that is seen in part due to an increased willingness by victims to trust the criminal justice system after suffering a devastating attack.
Academics say barely one in 10 attacks is even reported to police.
The fall in Met numbers led London mayor Sadiq Khan to demand an urgent meeting with the new home secretary, Sajid Javid. London’s population continues to grow, heading to 10 million by 2030, and a sustained and elevated terrorism threat drains resources from across the Met, and not just its specialist counter-terrorist resources.
Khan said government cuts were making London less safe. “This is a national problem that requires a national solution,” he said. “That means the government urgently investing in our police forces and restoring the funding for the services that provide alternative paths away from crime, such as youth services.
“I have done what I can, with unprecedented additional funding for our police and for youth services. But unless the new home secretary listens where his predecessor fell short, there is a real risk that police officer numbers could remain under 30,000 – and fall dangerously and significantly lower than that – in the capital.”
Len Duvall, Labour member of the London assembly, said the fall in clear up rates was also down to cuts. He said: “These figures are a damning indictment of the government’s prolonged unwillingness to adequately fund our police services.
“We know that in the face of budget cuts and rising crime the Met has been forced to adjust its priorities, putting a greater focus on tackling more serious, violent offences. What we’re not seeing is that translating into more of those crimes being solved, in fact the rate of charges and cautions for those offences is going down.”
Since 2011 the Met has cut £600m from its budget and has £300m more in savings to make.
The Home Office indicated in February there would be no more money for the Met, and said: “There is more money and more officers for each Londoner than anywhere else in the country. The mayor is accountable to the London public for police performance and is empowered to raise the precept to increase funding for the Metropolitan police by around £43m.”
The Met attributes the fall in solved murders was due to several factors. It said: “Detectives are working around the clock to catch those responsible for each murder and using all resources available to them. An added level of complexity is being seen in the murders involving teenagers and young men. Many of them involve groups of young people – so establishing exactly what part people have played in the attack is challenging, what we then face is people who do not necessarily want to speak out. The reasons for that are many and complex.
“Since the start of this year until 1 May, 114 people were arrested in 51 homicide investigations and 65 charges, relating to 62 people.”
Of the fall in solved rape cases the Met said: “Sanction detection rates for rape are of concern to the [Met] and we continue to work with our partners to improve our practices, safeguard victims, build their confidence, and bring more perpetrators to justice.
“On average, a rape case can take 12-18 months to investigate and come to court so many of those from 2017/18 are still proceeding through the criminal justice system.”
The Met’s deputy commissioner confirmed the fall below 30,000 and said
they hoped to be above that level by autumn. Craig Mackey said: “By the autumn of this year, the Met will be back to 30,000 police officers, from our current total of around 29,700. However, our effectiveness is not determined exclusively by officer numbers. It is about how we use the officers we have, as well as the overall number.
“The Met is currently running a substantial campaign to recruit morepolice officers. Our plan and budgets mean we will grow to more than 30,500 by the summer of 2019.”
Policing in London is the responsibility of the London mayor and Home Office.