With all the hiring and firing going on at London’s City Hall last week and with more to follow over the coming days it will take sometime yet to get a clear steer on what a Boris Johnson mayoralty will mean for London. The one thing that we can say for certain is that crime will be top of the agenda.
Mr Johnson is keen to get his hands dirty in the running of the police. Along with taking over the chairmanship of the Metropolitan Police Authority, he has also promised to ensure borough commanders hold monthly public meetings. Perhaps most interestingly, Mr Johnson has pledged to bring in New York-style crime maps within the first few months of his tenure.
Just a week before the London election, I attended a meeting where Mr Johnson, flanked by Tory leader David Cameron and shadow home secretary David Davis, outlined its virtues. London will be a laboratory with the rest of the country following should the Tories win nationally. This could be the first step in revolutionising police accountability, allowing the public to pinpoint crime incidents within their neighbourhoods.
Knowledge is power, and crime mapping can help change the relationship between the police and residents. It shows where crimes occur and how well the police and the council are doing in tackling it. So how might this new policy work in practice?
Let’s take Arnal Crescent, a small street in my ward. Like many streets within inner-London housing estates, it is lucky enough to possess a well-organised and vocal residents’ association. But it is not without its problems and crime is the biggest concern.
Residents complain about groups of youths convening in the communal areas of the estate. Anxiety is heightened further by stories of gang fights, burglaries and muggings.
Fear of crime
However, a glance at police data reveals that crime in my ward is the lowest in the constituency and almost half that of the average London level. And, if residents were to attend the local Safer Neighbourhood Team meetings they would be told that the street is considered safe and receives regular patrols. So where does the concern come from?
Part of the problem is that crime data is locked away from the public. The information gap can often mean that perceptions differ from reality. Without accessible data, crime-ridden areas may be perceived as safe while safe areas may be blighted by fear of crime.
Imagine how the introduction of crime maps will change the interaction between police and the public. At Safer Neighbourhood Team meetings residents will be armed with the information they need to take the police to task. Residents will be vigilant with eyes on the street in areas they know have been experiencing problems. And, in the case of Arnal Crescent, the focus moves away from concern in the local street and fear of crime is reduced.
Crime mapping is a policy which is highly relevant for today’s society. It offers real empowerment to residents and challenge to local police. It is early days in Mr Johnson’s mayoralty and with only indirect influence over the police it is unclear how far Mr Johnson’s reforming instincts can go. But, what is clear is that crime mapping is something he is determined to push through.
Perhaps the real question is whether Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Ian Blair will give it his full support and do everything he can to make it a success.