The Magazine

London on One Mugging a Day

The British crime invasion.

Apr 22, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 31 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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But there is a great deal of paper work. In response to charges of racism, the police abandoned a stop-and-search program. Predictably, street crime soared, so much so that newspapers serving the black community demanded the reinstitution of stop-and-search. The government obliged, but ordered the police to prepare a written report of each such maneuver, including the reason that prompted them to stop the suspect, and give one copy to the suspect, presumed to wait patiently for this addition to his library, and file one copy at the station. By one estimate this would add up to five million reports every year, assuming that the cops are not deterred by this silliness from stopping anyone. It is difficult to imagine Giuliani splitting the difference between those who want the laws enforced and those who are concerned that the civil rights of potential crooks be preserved by burying the police under a mound of paper.

All of this has a cost, a portion of it measurable. House insurance in high-burglary areas is twice that of safer ones; car insurance costs are half-again as much. Private police now patrol some of London's tonier streets. Burglar alarms and other devices are absolutely required in London homes and flats, although the police, harassed by false alarms due to technically deficient homeowners or the poor quality of telephone lines, are reluctant to respond to such calls for help.

Whether this dreary record of a government that pledged to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" in an effort to appease both the harried middle class and the left wing of the Labour party will cause London to fall victim to New York's onetime disease remains to be seen. Those who can remember the days of David Dinkins and his police commissioner Ray Kelly (the latter now reinstalled in that post by Mayor Bloomberg) will recall that tourists shunned the city, and major corporations, unable to attract executive talent to its dangerous streets, left in droves.

London remains a lovely city, with a proliferation of new, trendy restaurants now filling the one gap in its attractions for the urban-inclined. But it is now a city to be visited with a New Yorker's onetime alertness to footsteps behind you on a dark street. The Brits knighted Rudy Giuliani in recognition of his heroic performance on and after September 11. Perhaps their new knight can don his armor and advise them how to deal with out-of-control thugs.

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).