Condon launches crackdown on muggers

Operation Eagle Eye: Rising levels of street crime the target as Metropolitan Police chief's controversial initiative hits the capital
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The Independent Online
A controversial police operation to target muggers was launched in London yesterday as new figures revealed the number of reported crimes in the capital has dropped by seven per cent in the past year.

The Metropolitan Police's new campaign against street crime, called Operation Eagle Eye, caused a furore last month after Sir Paul Condon, the force's Commissioner, appeared to link mugging with race.

But yesterday Sir Paul rejected suggestions of insensitivity and racism to declare it was time to "put fear into the hearts of muggers".

The force's annual report showed that there had been a 16 per cent increase in muggings last year and figures for the first half of this year suggest street crime will rise to a record 40,000 incidents in 1995.

While the force reported that the total number of crimes had dropped to 837,205 offences in the year ending March 1995, it also revealed an increase in violence, street robbery and racist attacks.

Operation Eagle Eye will concentrate on a small number of repeat offenders - possibly 2-3,000 - who are believed to be responsible for about 75 per cent of all street crimes.

Tactics will include an increased use of informers, undercover operations and intensive surveillance, information technology, improved offender profiling, more use of closed-circuit television in known trouble spots and crime prevention education.

Another tactic will be the use of a "victims' bus". This will involve taking small busloads of victims into areas where muggers are believed to be active to try to identify their attackers.

Sir Paul sparked a furious reaction when, in a letter to community leaders, he said "very many of the perpetrators of muggings are very young black people". He has since supported this statement with unpublished surveys which show that victims report that 70 per cent of the offenders are black and 60 per cent of people arrested for street crimes are black.

Yesterday he insisted a major campaign was necessary, saying: "Robbery has emerged as a significant problem and the figures suggest a small number of black kids are disproportionately involved in this particular problem. We are not prepared to say that this problem is so sensitive that we are not prepared to do anything about it. This operation aims to put the fear back where it belongs - on the muggers."

Earlier in the day Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, supported the initiative and said "political correctness" should not deter people from the facts. But many community leaders believe that, by bringing up the question of race in connection with a specific crime, Sir Paul has labelled all black people.

Bernie Grant, Labour MP for Tottenham, said: "The police are treating this offence differently and race tagging the crime of mugging. Race is not discussed when operations take place against burglars."

The Met's annual report revealed that the number of crimes solved rose by 13 per cent to about 180,000, although that still means that the vast majority of offences go unpunished. The drop in the total number of reported offences is largely due to a fall in car crime and vandalism.

Other trends and figures:

t Offences of violence rose by three per cent to 42,000 although 90 per cent of victims suffered slight or no physical injury. The number of homicides increased by eight to 174.

t The number of sexual offences recorded fell by one per cent to 6,820, although there was a sharp increase of offences of gross indecency with a child, up about 100 to 318.

t The number of cases of child stealing rose from 26 to 81.

t Professional involvement in fraud is giving cause for concern, with a survey of cases under investigation revealing 77 involving solicitors as suspects and 181 more where other professionals, such as accountants and surveyors, were involved.

t Despite the success of the anti-burglary offensives in 1993, the decline in the number of break-ins only fell by one per cent last year.

t Of the 1,277 new officers in 1994 there were 69 black people - 5.4 per cent - and 315 women.

News analysis, page 13

Leading article, page 14