Police cuts not fuelling rise in violent crime, says Rudd

Police cutbacks cannot be blamed for an increase in violent crime, Cabinet ministers Amber Rudd and Sajid Javid have insisted as the Government launched measures to tackle the problem.

Critics said cuts to police numbers could not be ignored but Home Secretary Ms Rudd said the evidence did not support the suggestion that the reduction in officers is linked to the problem.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Ms Rudd and Prime Minister Theresa May were "ignoring their record" and there were 21,000 fewer offices than in 2010.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the Home Secretary said figures suggested the number of bobbies on the beat and instances of violent crime were not linked.

"As we confront this issue, I know that the same arguments and criticisms will emerge," Ms Rudd said.

"One is the contention 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'd seen in decades."

National figures show police in England and Wales registered rises of a fifth in offences involving knives or sharp instruments and firearms in the year to September.

Communities Secretary Mr Javid told BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "If you go back a decade, serious violent crime was a lot higher than it is today, but so were the police numbers."

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told the same programme: "We have seen knife crime increase in 39 of the 43 police forces across the UK.

"It's not just about austerity but I think when the Home Secretary sticks her head in the sand and suggests that losing 21,000 police officers off our streets doesn't have an effect, then I think that's a very naive position."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey said: "It's nonsense on stilts for the Home Secretary to argue lower police numbers don't matter in the fight against serious crime and she knows it.

"Amber Rudd's desperate defence of police cuts is a crude attempt to shield the Prime Minister from blame.

"It was Theresa May who so enthusiastically culled police officers."

Ms Rudd is launching a Government strategy to tackle violent crime, which will include a challenge to social media companies to do more to rid the web of gang-related content.

The Home Secretary is expected to call for platforms to spell out explicitly that such material is forbidden on their sites.

She will also emphasise that stop and search is a "vital" tool and announce ministers are looking at extending the powers so police can seize acid from suspects carrying it in public without good reason.

The issue of stop and search is politically sensitive because Mrs May, when she was home secretary, announced major reforms to the way the power was used.

The recent spate of violence has prompted scrutiny of a sharp reduction in stop and search activity, with use of the powers at the lowest level since current data records started 17 years ago.

Reforms were introduced in 2014 to ensure the tactic was used in a more targeted way following criticism over the number of stops of black and minority ethnic individuals.

The scene of one attack in Tottenham last week (Victoria Jones/PA)
The scene of one attack in Tottenham last week (Victoria Jones/PA)

Announcing the consultation on extending stop and search powers to include acid, Ms Rudd said: "Stop and search is a vital policing tool and officers will always have the Government's full support to use these powers properly."

Mr Javid defended the Government's record, saying: "When Theresa May was home secretary, what she wanted to do was rightly make sure that when stop and search powers were used that they were used within the law."

Ms Rudd will set out the Government's wide-ranging blueprint on Monday, aiming to tackle the "root causes" of serious violence.

Plans for the strategy were first announced in October but it has been finalised against a backdrop of calls for action after a spate of fatal stabbings and shootings in London.

Today we've announced plans to introduce new laws to make it harder than ever before to purchase and possess offensive weapons like guns, knives and acid: https://t.co/YotUxPzu32pic.twitter.com/JJnYp2aRkV

-- Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) April 8, 2018

Ms Rudd revealed that a new Offensive Weapons Bill will be introduced within weeks.

It will include a new offence of possessing acid in a public place, prevent sales of acids to under-18s and stop knives being sent to people's homes when bought on the internet, following concerns that age verification checks can be sidestepped online.

The proposals will also make it illegal to possess certain offensive weapons like zombie knives and knuckle-dusters in private and introduce a new "two strikes" regime, meaning criminals repeatedly caught with acid will face an automatic custodial sentence.

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