As pressure mounted on the government to act on the “national crisis”, Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said “there is some link between violent crime on the streets obviously and police numbers, of course there is and everybody would see that”.
“If you went back in history, you would see examples of when police officer numbers have gone down and crime has not necessarily risen at the same rate and in the same way,” she told LBC.
“But I think that what we all agree on is that in the last few years police officer numbers have gone down a lot, there’s been a lot of other cuts in public services, there has been more demand for policing and therefore there must be [more resources] and I have consistently said that.”
Ms May provoked fury on Monday when she said there “was no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers”, following a spate of fatal stabbings across the country.
In London nine people have been murdered in two weeks, and in Birmingham three teenagers were stabbed to death in the same period.
“We need much more resources from the government to invest in preventative services and policing,” the London mayor told Sky News.
“We have fewer police in London now in 2019 than at any time since 2003 – our population has grown by a million and a half since 2003.”
The prime minister oversaw budget cuts to police as home secretary and accused the Police Federation of “crying wolf” over the potential consequences.
Police forces across England and Wales have lost more than 20,000 officers since 2010, and serious violent crime has been rising since 2014 in many areas.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the prime minister “must start listening” to police chiefs, adding: “You cannot keep people safe on the cheap.”
Richard Cooke, chair of the West Midlands Police Federation, accused the government of “responsibility dodging” and called for more officers with greater stop and search powers.
“How can they ignore what is obvious to most of us – that the violence is out of control partly because there are simply not enough bobbies on the beat?” he wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor for the northwest, whose 17-year-old relative was recently stabbed to death in Birmingham, also criticised Ms May for denying any link between violence and cuts.
“I am aghast at what the prime minister had to say about police numbers – that there is no correlation between the number of police and the amount of crime. Of course there is, otherwise why would we have police at all,” he told BBC Newsnight.
“When you reduce police numbers by 21,000 – hundreds in pretty much every city – there isn’t the intelligence any more, there isn’t the neighbourhood policing any more, people don’t know where to go.”
The most recent police workforce statistics showed a small rise in officers – 0.4 per cent – but the increase was not seen in every force.
Former Met commissioner Lord Hogan-Howe called for 20,000 officers to be recruited to bring forces in England and Wales back to their 2010 strength, as he demanded that ministers “get a grip on the crisis”.
John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, told The Independent: “Until the government can come up with an effective strategy to combat this epidemic, the death toll will keep on rising.
“Policing has been stripped to the bone and the consequences are clear for all to see. This country is in the grip of a terrifying spiral of violent crime and both the police service and NHS are struggling to cope.
“What makes this more sickening is it was predicted. This is the true cost of austerity that we warned of but were ridiculed for doing so.”
A senior Metropolitan Police officer said he could not “magic officers out of thin air” amid calls to increase patrols in the capital following the murder of a teenage girl.
Meanwhile in Manchester, relatives of a 17-year-old boy who was stabbed to death said they were living “every parent’s worst nightmare”. Ms Dick said some of the increase in crime was being driven by the drug market, and agreed that middle-class recreational users have “blood on their hands”.
Several MPs, including a former Home Office minister, have called for the government to convene a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee to respond to the “national crisis”.
Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said rising violence must be “treated like a national emergency”.
Sajid Javid will chair a meeting of police chiefs on Wednesday, including chief constables from the areas most affected by knife crime.
The home secretary defended what he said was a record £970m increase in police funding for 2019-20 and said a consultation would start shortly on a statutory duty to prevent violent crime.