Leading Article: An Eagle Eye out of focus

It has been a great month for white muggers. These days, thanks to Sir Paul Condon, they have the advantage of surprise: few of us now expect a young white man to steal a handbag.

No doubt, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner did not intend to make the Fagins of the Nineties still more elusive. Yesterday, the purpose of his controversial remarks - that the overwhelming majority of muggings in London are committed by young black males - were made clearer. His comments were designed to prepare the way for a blitz on street crime.

The campaign is laudable, the manner in which it was prepared for badly misconceived.

By singling out black people as the major culprits, he stereotyped a whole community, encouraging white people to think of all young black males as potential muggers while at the same time putting black people on the defensive. His approach has damaged relations between the police and the black community, with most of the community's leaders refusing to discuss the issue with him. In polls prior to the controversy, 90 per cent of black people said that they did not trust the police: Sir Paul has only made that problem worse. Meanwhile Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has compounded the initial mistake by emphasising the culpability of young black males.

It is easy enough to understand what Sir Paul's thinking must have been when he made his remarks. The figures, which he has yet to publish and which are in any case of questionable validity, had convinced him that most muggings in London are committed by young black males. He wanted a clampdown along the lines of the well-regarded Operation Bumblebee, which targeted known burglars.

But Sir Paul had a problem. Facing a long hot summer, he was obviously worried that his officers, focusing their attention on black males, would be accused of racism. "Operation Eagle Eye", if badly handled, could provoke civil disturbances. His comments were an attempt to pre-empt trouble, by providing a sound statistical rationale for his force's actions. In the event, his judgement left much to be desired. Far from spotlighting the problem of mugging, his remarks focused attention on the responsibility of the black community.

Sir Paul could have handled it in a different way. He should have concentrated on the costs of street crime: the fear among people who dare not go out at night, the surrendering of neighbourhoods to criminals. He could have called in community organisations, including those representing Afro-Caribbeans, and described the plight of victims among them. We would all have been on his side.

The crime statistics show the merit of this approach. There is, it is estimated, a narrow group of 2,000 people who make their living from mugging. By contrast, the victims (40,000 people are expected to be mugged this year) reflect a broad community. In principle, Operation Eagle Eye is an excellent idea: in practice, it has been badly mishandled.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star