The safety of Londoners will always be a top priority for me as Mayor. I am clear, as I start my second term, that I am absolutely determined to drive down violent crime across our city. The work happening to tackle violence is one example of the scale of the effort I have led to make London safer. Despite opposition by some of the Assembly, I have made the tough decisions year after year to increase City Hall funding to the police to a record level. As a direct result, there are now 1,300 more officers on our streets than would otherwise have been the case. City Hall funding has helped to create the Metropolitan Police Service Violent Crime Taskforce and Violence Suppression Units, which are hard at work pursuing dangerous individuals and getting deadly weapons off the streets.
Violent crime across London had started to go down before the pandemic hit and has continued to reduce. But we know levels of violence are still too high, and too many families are losing their loved ones. The Commissioner and I are determined to do everything we can to sustain the reductions in violence we have seen over the last year and drive it down still further. I am also determined to be tough on the underlying causes of crime. That is why I have set up England’s first VRU and why 110,000 young Londoners have benefited from projects funded through the Young Londoners Fund. I have also put more funding into specialist services supporting highly vulnerable young people caught up in crime, such as the pioneering County Lines Rescue and Response Service and the London Gang Exit Service.
I will continue with the same determination in all aspects of keeping our city safe, including bringing forward an updated Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy and refreshing Lord [Toby] Harris’s [Chair of the National Preparedness Commission] review into London’s preparedness for a major terrorist incident. Work is now underway on my new Police and Crime Plan, which will set out my agenda for the safety of London over the next three years. I look forward to working with the Assembly and the Government to achieve our shared goal of a safer London.
Good morning, Mr Mayor, thank you for your answer and congratulations on your re-election. You may remember some years ago that police in riot gear were dispatched to Hyde Park to break up what had been billed as a water fight and a free party, and it descended into chaos leading to a police officer and two members of the public being stabbed. As we emerge from lockdown, I am speaking to lots of young Londoners now who are receiving messages about big gatherings, getting together, wanting to exercise newfound freedoms that we are all hoping will happen soon. What specific work is being done to address these gatherings to make sure that they do not descend into violence; that London does not have a lot of - in some cases - illegal gatherings that then end up in violence?
Thank you for your question. I mentioned in the answer to a previous question the work being undertaken to address the concerns the Commissioner and I share about an increase in violent crime as lockdown measures are eased. Of course, it is perfectly understandable for young people to want to meet up, there is a pent-up frustration of being basically locked away for the last 14 or 15 months, but it has to be lawful and safe. The police are alert to safe, good, healthy physical activity in Hyde Park and other places and particularly criminality and antisocial behaviour. There is planning undertaken for Operation Summer Nights in relation to address the concerns you have. I think it may have been summer 2017, the Hyde Park incident you referred to, or 2018. But you are right, it was really alarming for many other users of the park as well as the police and others there.
Separately, the Violence Suppression Unit that has been working since the lockdown first began now covers all of London. We are talking about more than 600 officers. I have been out and about with some of them; I think you have as well. They are officers based in their communities who know, not just parts of a ward where there tends to be high violence, but they know individuals. They have built up a relationship, often a friendship, to get intelligence. That intel is something we did not have before. That intel is useful. But we are mindful of the issue you raise and we obviously do not want to advertise all the things we are doing. But we are well aware of the concerns.
Are there any conversations being had about specific events? For instance, the police have registered an objection to the We Are FSTVL, if it is to go ahead, because they believe that with very few festivals going ahead it will be a real magnet for drug gangs, for rival gangs, because they have no other outlet to sell drugs, etc. Are there specific conversations going on about events that may happen, to prevent those events, to police them in a different way? Are we looking at each individual event that we at least know of and what we can do about them?
Yes, without disclosing too much, on a daily basis there is a look at events coming ahead. I, for example, will receive on a daily basis events that have taken place in the last 24 hours, events taking place, but on a week-by-week basis. We have mapped out the summer basically of big events.
The other thing, not linked to your question, Shaun, but relevant, is Euro 2020. I have raised it publicly so I am not giving away any issues or casting aspersions. Historically, England versus Scotland is a challenge. That is just one example. But just to reassure you, a lot of work is taking place in relation to keeping our city - helping the recovery as we come out of lockdown - but making sure everyone is kept safe.
Over recent years, very recently, we have seen a lot of large disruptive protests in the centre of London. Often they can turn violent, we all know what has happened recently. But what is done in particular to make sure that central London - because obviously it is very attractive as you have said many times - does not become a no-go area? That we do not have protests just popping up that we are unaware of or unable to police?
Most protests are peaceful, lawful and safe, and the police are not involved in the protests. The key thing is for those organising protests to work with the police. As you and I both know, often you can have three or four protests in the same footprint, often with different points of view that can provide an additional challenge other than our city grinding to a halt. My key message to anybody who wants to protest is to work with the police. The police will not stop lawful, peaceful, safe protest. Work with the police. There are new regulations and new laws during a lockdown that people need to be aware of. But one of the great things about living in a democracy is people have a right to protest. We are not saying do not protest. But work with the police so you do not advertently or inadvertently break the law. It is really important that we respect the rights people have but also respect the need of our city to go about its business.