Is London Safe?
Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest cities, London offers an eclectic and unique experience to everyone. Vibrant, cosmopolitan and cultured, London has so much to offer and it is no surprise that it consistently ranks highly as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
However, like most other big cities, the UK’s capital does have its fair share of problems with crime. The rise in acid attacks, knifings and street robberies have all been widely documented with London Mayor Sadiq Khan coming under increased criticism for failing to properly tackle the issue. Crime has been growing at such a rapid rate that it was recently alleged that London had become more dangerous than New York.
Street crime in London has always been widespread with pickpockets, scam artists and muggers converging around crowded areas such as large events, tourist hotspots and the main public transport hubs. Tourists can be unfamiliar to the geographical layout of the city or to traditional London customs making them easy targets for criminals. London’s crowded areas may also become targets for terrorists.
The increased spate of knife crime has become a serious concern for many Londoners. Although largely attributed to gangland feuds, the office for National Statistics reported a record high of over 15,000 knife offences in the capital during 2019. Of those, there were 71 fatalities and 9,269 robberies at knife-point. Data released by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime stated that Westminster was the area with the most knife attacks followed by Kensington & Chelsea.
In addition, the use of acid and other corrosive liquids has been increasingly prevalent during robberies, burglaries and revenge attacks.Figures released by the NHS revealed that throughout the UK, one person is attacked with acid every three days with London recording the highest number of cases.
In recent years London has been plagued by criminal gangs riding around on mopeds. Often using stolen scooters the gangs typically target pedestrians snatching mobile phones, wallets and anything else of value. Usually operating in broad daylight in some of London’s most populated tourist spots these gangs have become increasingly brazen in their attacks. In response, the Metropolitan Police introduced tougher measures resulting in the number of moped crimes in London being decreased by over 50%. However in 2019, there were still 9,723 moped related incidents.
More seriously, London has recently been on the receiving end of a number of high profile terrorist attacks. In 2017 there were three major terrorism incidents in London, claiming 15 lives and injuring around 100 people. The repercussions of these attacks have led to the installation of barriers along some of London’s main bridges aimed to prevent vehicles from mounting the pavement. To offer public reassurance, an increased police presence is now evident at heavily populated areas.
The UK government has also pledged tougher jail sentences for anyone with links to terrorism and has increased resources for counter terror police. At the time of writing, the terrorist threat level throughout the UK has been reduced from Substantial to Moderate. This means that a terrorist attack is possible, but not likely.
It is no coincidence that increased crime throughout the UK can be correlated to significant government cuts to policing introduced in 2014. Warnings from a number of senior police chiefs on the impact of these cuts were ignored by the government resulting in a significant increase in crime. With an overstretched police force, a survey conducted by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime's Public Attitude Survey showed that public confidence in the Metropolitan Police had significantly fallen in the last two years.
Areas of Crime
Statistics released by the Metropolitan Police has highlighted Westminster as London’s most crime ridden area. Located in central London,Westminster boasts many of London’s most iconic venues with Buckingham Palace,Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus and the Houses of Parliament all coming under its jurisdiction. It also has some of the richest parts of London such as Mayfair and Belgravia.
One thing that London is well known for is the number of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras spread throughout the city. With the average Londoner being caught on camera around 300 times a day, London has often been referred to as the CCTV capital of the world. Between 2007 and 2010 London invested over £300 million on the installation and operation of CCTV units.
Today it is estimated that there are more than 600, 000 CCTV cameras dotted around London, with 15,516 cameras in operation in the Underground alone.These have been installed with the aim of deterring crime and antisocial behaviour. Recording criminal acts can help to identifying the perpetrators and use the footage as evidence in a court of law.
Staying Safe in London
As with any trip, it is always advisable to plan ahead. Here are some tips to help you stay safe:
- Plan your trip and always inform a trusted friend or relative of your itinerary so they know where you’re going
- Make a list of emergency contact numbers such as your consulate, your bank and anyone else you may need in times of an emergency
- Keep your purse or wallet close to your body and don't carry too much cash
- Only use licensed taxis or registered minicabs
- When using a cashpoint, check that no one is looking over your shoulder and that the ATM hasn't been tampered with. Cover the keypad so no one else can see your PIN number.
- Keep valuable items such as cash, jewellery and mobile phones out of sight
- Avoid walking alone at night and remain within well-lit main roads
- When out and about refrain from wearing headphones or being glued to your mobile phone – they drastically reduce your awareness
- Don't leave your bag or belongings unattended – this can invite criminals or lead to a security alert
- Don't accept drinks from strangers
In general, London is a safe city to visit however it does have its bad parts. In recent years London has experienced a lot of negative publicity regarding its rise in crime. Terms like ‘crime wave’ and ‘no-go areas’ has done little to improve its reputation. A number of high profile terrorist attacks have also dented the city’s image.
Nevertheless, with an estimated 600,000 CCTVcameras dotted around London, the UK authorities have invested heavily in their fight against crime. With additional promises to increase the number of police officers, substantial efforts are being made to tackle the recent upsurge. London is a city that must be visited at least once but as with any big city, it's worth taking sensible precautions and you should always remain vigilant.