Attacks up, but Condon defends street initiative

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The Independent Online
The number of muggings in London has increased by 1,000 in the past six months despite a high-profile police operation against street attacks, it was disclosed yesterday.

However, Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, described the initiative as a great success as figures also revealed a 75 per cent increase in arrests for muggings during the same period. In addition, the number of street crimes had started to drop in the three months to the end of January.

Operation Eagle Eye caused a furore among sections of the capital's black community when it was launched last August. It was directed largely at young black men, identified as the group who carried out most muggings. Community leaders believed that black youngsters were being criminalised.

Figures released yesterday showed that six out of ten people arrested in the operation were young black men. Seven out of ten of the victims described their assailant as a black male. Gangs of youths aged 14 to 15 are largely responsible for the crimes.

The initiative, which involves officers using video surveillance to target suspected muggers, was set up after the public identified the problem as a key concern.

Metropolitan Police figures showed yesterday that the number of muggings rose by 5.7 per cent in the first six months of the initiative. There were 18,398 muggings between August last year and this January, compared with 17,402 in the same period in the previous year.

Sir Paul yesterday denied this was a failure and argued that the police had now got the problem under control. He said that although the number of muggings had risen, the rate at which they were increasing had been cut dramatically. Police had predicted the figures would rise by 20 per cent unless action was taken.

"Any increase is disappointing, but in the context of what was happening, I think it has been a dramatic success," he said. He also pointed out that both the detection rate and the number of arrests had increased significantly.

In the last six months there were 2,586 arrests for mugging, compared with 1,474 in the equivalent period in 1994/95.

It also emerged that in November, December and January there was a decrease of around 1,000 - to about 8,000 - in the number of muggings reported compared to the previous year.

Sir Paul revealed that muggings were typically committed by gangs of between two and eight people of varying ages. The average age was around 14 to 16, but some were young as 11 or 12. Girls were sometimes involved, but usually in non- violent roles.

Questioned about the targeting of young black men, Sir Paul said: "It would be irresponsible not to acknowledge who is being arrested and who victims are saying are carrying out these crimes."