Amber Rudd has come under fire after her new blueprint to curb violent crime neglected to mention cuts of more than 20,000 police officers since 2010.
The 114-page serious violence strategy failed to make more than a passing reference to police resources, as the government faced questions over a recent surge in violent crime, which has resulted in more than 50 killings in London since the start of the year.
The home secretary also said she had not seen a leaked Home Office document, which threatened to overshadow the launch of her much-hyped strategy by suggesting police cuts had “likely contributed” to rising violence and “encouraged” offenders.
Ms Rudd doubled down on the government’s belief that better collection of police data was the main driver of increased gun and knife crime, while the final draft of the strategy contained no mention of police numbers, prompting speculation it had been removed.
Official figures reveal that the number of police officers fell from 143,734 in 2010 to 123,142 in 2017, while they dropped to 121,929 in September – the lowest number since comparable records began in 1996.
Speaking at the launch event in London, Ms Rudd said: “One of the contentions is that there are not enough officers on the streets. The evidence, however, does not support this.
“In the early 2000s, when serious violent crimes were at their highest, police numbers were rising.
“In 2008, when knife crime was far greater than the lows we saw in 2013/14, police numbers were close to the highest we’ve seen in decade.
“And the head of the Metropolitan Police [Cressida Dick] has said she does not believe the recent spike in attacks is due to cuts to police budgets either.”
Asked why police numbers were not mentioned, Ms Rudd said: “In terms of pressure on officers, I have recognised there is additional pressure on officers all over the country, and the reason for that is there is more crime being reported.
“Not just what some people call traditional crime but actually crime in areas where they actually weren’t looking for before – in areas [such as] modern slavery, areas of child sexual exploitation, in the areas of domestic abuse.
“All these areas are increasing reporting to the police.”
She said she had not seen the leaked document as “whoever has got this, the news channel, has not sent it over to us” but acknowledged it “had something to do with the Home Office”.
Social media and drugs were identified in the strategy as the key drivers of bloody violence on Britain’s streets, with the emergence of “county lines” drug operations and the ability for gang rivals to taunt each other on sites such as Facebook and Youtube.
The report found soaring smartphone use had created “an almost unlimited opportunity for rivals to antagonise each other and for those taunts to be viewed by a much larger audience for a much longer time period”.
“This may have led to cycles of tit-for-tat violence,” the strategy said.
Social media companies were warned that they must no longer be “passive hosts” and must do more to rid the web of violent gang content, the report said.
The document noted that while overall offending continues to fall, homicide, knife and gun crime have increased since 2014 across virtually all police force areas, with a shift towards younger offenders.
It also pledged to crack down on county-lines operations, where vulnerable young people are used to run drugs to rural areas.
The new crackdown will also:
* Set out tough restrictions on online sales of knives following concerns that age verification checks can be sidestepped;
* Make it a criminal offence to possess corrosive substances in a public place;
* Reveal plans to consult on extending stop and search powers so police can use the tactics to seize acid from suspects carrying it without good reason;
* Make it illegal to possess certain weapons, including zombie knives and knuckle-dusters, in private.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it was “shocking” that ministers had produced a lengthy document on serious violence without even mentioning police resources.
She said: “The Tories have been in denial on crime and on the effects of their own cuts to police funding. The government still buries its head in the sand, and even Home Office analysis linking police cuts to rising violent crime is ignored.
“The fight against knife crime and other serious violent crime requires a coordinated approach across government. This must include greater resources for the police.”
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, welcomed the promise of urgent action but said the Home Office must face up to the realities of cuts to police budgets.
She said: “The Home Office cannot continue to avoid the questions about police resources.
“It is alarming that the home secretary says she did not see analysis by her own officials that police resources may be affecting the level of violent crime. Something must have gone very wrong within the Home Office for that to be the case.
“It is hugely important for the home secretary and for ministers to see all of the evidence before they reach policy conclusions and discrepancy between the leaked analysis and the final document on police resources raises real questions about how the Home Office is using evidence.”
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