- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2002

LONDON Scotland Yard, the world-famous Metropolitan Police of London, has begun its biggest recruitment campaign ever. With crime rates in Britain at the highest levels in a decade and the capital being compared to New York in the 1980s, the force seeks to hire 3,400 officers during the next nine months.
"We are recruiting absolutely flat out," Scotland Yard's chief, John Stevens, said in an interview. "We had an increase of 1,000 last year and another 1,600 this year. We have to beef up our anti-terrorist squad by 600 officers because of September 11."
The aftermath of the terrorist attacks last year in New York and at the Pentagon was a "very difficult time" for the London police force, which put 2,500 officers in the city's center. As a result, street crime elsewhere in the British capital went up by an astonishing 35 percent before Christmas, so "we transferred traffic officers into streets," Mr. Stevens said.
Government statistics show that the overall number of offenses in England and Wales rose by more than 6 percent during the previous year. Thirty-eight of the 43 police jurisdictions there have seen an increase in the total number of crimes. On average, about 850 more crimes were reported every day than during the previous year.
Although street crime is at its lowest level in 13 months, the big picture reverses a long-standing trend of falling crime, which began in the early 1990s, with the number of offenses rising only once, in 1999.
Faced with the two most serious problems New York endured during Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's term, crime and the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Stevens sought his advice this year and said he was "very helpful." But during the meeting in February in London, the Scotland Yard chief said he realized that "we are very differently resourced."
"New York has 40,000 police officers, and we have just over 25,000. There has been an acceptance that London has to have more police officers, but we can't change that overnight."
The recent figures have dealt a blow to the Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who vowed to crack down on crime during his first election campaign in 1997.
Last month, Mr. Blair promised the first major overhaul of the British criminal justice system in more than a century in an attempt to balance the rights of defendants with more rights for victims.
"It's a miscarriage of justice when delays and time-wasting deny victims justice for months on end," the prime minister told an international crime conference in London on June 18. "It's perhaps the biggest miscarriage of justice in today's system when the guilty walk away unpunished."
Mr. Stevens, whose agency will be at the forefront of the reforms Mr. Blair proposes, said the British criminal justice system is "extremely poor, overloaded and overstretched." He added that "everybody: lawyers, administrators, the courts and the police" is in favor of the changes.
He said urgent action was needed to end "revolving-door justice," in which criminals shuttle between the police, the courts and the prisons like they're in "a game of pass the parcel."
The government's plans include scrapping the centuries-old "double jeopardy" rule, which prevents those acquitted of crimes from being tried again for the same event; reforming sentencing processes to end the automatic early release of violent criminals; and round-the-clock surveillance of the worst young offenders.
"For serious offenses, if there is overwhelming new evidence that implicates the accused again, they should go back to court," Mr. Blair said. He also noted that prosecutors should have the power to challenge a judge's ruling to stop a trial for technical reasons.
Although the British legal system has been a model for the rest of the world, the prime minister said it was time to "drag it from the 19th century into the 21st."
"The time has come to build on what we have already achieved by re-balancing the system to deliver a fair balance between the rights of victims, witnesses, the rest of law-abiding society and the defendant," he said.
The prime minister's speech came a day after Britain's Audit Commission criticized the judicial system for delays and inefficiencies that cost an estimated $118 million and allowed some criminals to evade justice.
In a report, the commission also said the system was being exploited by lawyers who lengthen cases that could be dealt with more quickly because their fees rise as time passes.
"The current fee structure for lawyers may be seen to offer an incentive for legal representatives to prolong cases in the judicial process unnecessarily," it said.
Oliver Romain, founding editor of Criminal Justice Management magazine, said the justice sector is the "last bastion of change in the British public service."
"In the 1997 campaign, there were great promises from the Labor Party to modernize the system, but the reality while in government is that dealing with the vested interests of the sector has stymied this change," he said. "There are still parts of the system operating without computers, let alone [sharing information] with other justice services."
Mr. Stevens offered a strong endorsement of President Bush's anti-terrorist law enforcement efforts, saying there is no evidence that his Republican administration is sacrificing civil liberties and promising to pursue similar tough action in Britain.
Some of the harsh measures proposed by Mr. Blair's government are not entirely characteristic of the Labor Party, which champions civil liberties more stridently than its Conservative opposition.
But Britain's role in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, as well as the prospect of Mr. Blair's administration becoming the only center-left government of a major European country by the end of September and eventually losing power, seem to have changed London's thinking.
France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Denmark are ruled by center-right parties and coalitions, and Germany's conservative opposition is ahead of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats in polls three months before Sept. 22 elections.
Mr. Blair has been more cooperative with Mr. Bush in the anti-terrorism war than any of the rightist leaders.
Mr. Stevens said he was "very impressed by the way the FBI and the CIA do business," despite recent criticism of the two agencies. He noted that Scotland Yard has an "incredibly strong relationship with the FBI" and has been "doing a lot of inquiries" initiated by the bureau on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and other terrorist groups.
"When you fight a war, you have to take very strong action. We have to commend the Americans for doing that. There is a balance between people's civil liberties and keeping them safe. Our biggest liberty is the right to live," Mr. Stevens said.
Scotland Yard has responsibilities resembling the combined portfolios of the FBI and the Secret Service, including protecting the royal family and government anywhere in the world.
Mr. Blair has been under pressure from all sides of the political spectrum to crack down on crime, but Britain's civil rights groups have been more vocal than those in the United States.
In June, the government was forced to put on hold plans to extend the ability of central and local authorities to invade people's privacy on national-security grounds and allow for a public debate.
"Mobile-phone and Internet usage has grown enormously in the last five years," Home Secretary David Blunkett said in a statement. "If we get this right, we can get protection and privacy while tackling organized crime. I have no intention that we should be Big Brother."
The government is working with an information technology company, SchlumbergerSema, on designing an infrastructure that would allow "multimedia applications at desktop computers providing officers with a complete view of events, so they will be equipped to make informed tactical decisions about how to manage incidents."
In a strategy paper published late last month, SchlumbergerSema said the new system has the potential to allow wireless transmission of images to officers on the beat via a mobile device.
"At an international level, the Western world must find pragmatic ways to overcome barriers to cross-border law enforcement," the company said. "Following the start made by the exchange of intelligence on money laundering and drug trafficking, the world's democracies must make similar formal systematic efforts on terrorism."


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